Virtual Virtuosos And The Masters Of Virtual Work
For 25 years I have been finding top-performing, niche talent. Most of that time has been supporting global financial institutions along with several visionaries in fintech. I have sourced professionals in just about all functions and professional levels-from high revenue sales leaders, to the most technically innovative Imagineers.
Coming from “old school” retained search has given me what I think is an advantage over my peers even a few years younger than me, and taught me that still even with all this tech, nothing beats talking to people and forming relationships.
I got good at sourcing passive, hard to move candidates, and bringing them to the table. After several wins of bringing 8 figure revenue producers to a few of my banking clients, I started to be called “The Hired Gun.” Because I was reliably on target, expensive, and always got the job done. Always.
Despite my sterling track record and 20 or so recommendations on LinkedIn, I found it disheartening that even many HR and recruiting peers found it hard to believe that I worked from home for almost all of my career. And yet was the “Hired gun.”
Until recently, employers had a general reluctance to hire virtually. Fearful that there would be many distractions affecting productivity, or believing that we would abuse the “freedom” and “screw around all day.”
I even had a few of my bosses that held daily 7:30 AM team meetings on my account to make sure the guy working at home was at least awake if she had to be on her way to work. Yet when asked in interviews with prospective clients what the key reason was for my success, I would always answer: Working virtually.
A Sudden Leap of Faith
COVID suddenly forced companies to take a leap of faith, and I would lie if I said there were not challenges. Of course, there are always going to be those employees that are not the most productive of the bunch. And in those cases, their fears were realized. But to their surprise, the overwhelming majority have done OK.
As a matter of fact, they are doing pretty good, and in many instances productivity has blown the roof off.
The Harvard Business Review published an article just this past May amidst the COVD Crisis entitled “The Pandemic Has Exposed the Fallacy of the “Ideal Worker.” Curiosity got them to take a look at the new virtual worker, citing a 2013 article on the topic. When employers were starting to grasp the concept, but still having problems with that leap of faith.
And what did they find? Now that we all work from home, almost all our productivity is up! Some may say that it’s because we have been quarantined and have nothing else to do. However, further survey questions revealed we spend more time learning and researching topics of interest. While at the same time taking more initiative (not less as old school management has long held true) in completing our work and checking the quality of work.
And that need for an office to drive productivity and keep people on task? Evidently, that was a fallacy too.
As team-oriented and exciting as an office environment can be, it is often the home of distraction, cliquish behavior, and unnecessary rivalry. All of which inhibit performance, morale, and productivity. With the introduction of particular technologies and software such as project and team management apps, managers are becoming more comfortable with the fact that they don’t have to have an eye on each of their team members every moment of every day.
I am most productive when my day is a mix of work-related responsibilities and personal commitments. Soon, they are going to realize what I have been living for over 20 years: The work-life balance is becoming work-life integration.
I have learned to schedule my personal affairs as part of my day. I understand that it is always my responsibility to be there when my customers (internal or external) need me to be. It is also my responsibility to be available whenever my team members, subordinates, or superiors, require my input.
It is expected that I’ll be productive and get my work done, and before the deadline. I will be 100% transparent and ask for help if I need it. It doesn’t matter, therefore, if I had a personal appointment during the business day. Or, if I have to take my kid to the doctor. Or if I get distracted for 20 minutes taking care of a little family drama that each of us has from time to time.
Employers are learning that it’s better to allow folks to handle personal matters as they come up during the day and get done with them so that they can get back to work. Better yet: if one knows these are coming, we can schedule them around our urgent work tasks and meetings so that we don’t miss a beat for our customers.
Most people find they can handle personal matters and duties quickly and effectively when a productive home office is available. Think about how many times have you had to take half a day off work because the cable guy can only give you an appointment that’s a four-hour window. Or the repair person for the washing machine can only promise they’ll be out sometime on Thursday. And then they cancel and ask to reschedule!
These are huge holes in our work schedule that when we are not set up to work from home, our productivity is disrupted. That 20-minute conference with the school teacher can take up most of the morning of work.
Measuring Productivity, not Time
Thanks to COVID, Work/Life balance has sped up Work/Life integration. That means employers accepting that we all have personal lives and responsibilities that need to be addressed. It also means believing that capable and committed employees are going to make sure that their commitment to their employer and customers is complete. No matter how late they have to work. The notion that they can be kept entirely separate is unrealistic. It always has been. But now that our office is right down the hall to our bedroom, it’s impossible.
We as Talent Acquisition professionals need to be strong voices of this new paradigm and take the time to educate our anxious Hiring Managers and executive leadership of how this is going to affect what we consider to be a typical workday.
Productivity is going be measured by tasks achieved, the quality of work, projects completed, and most importantly, customer satisfaction. Instead of how many hours and which hours we sat behind a desk, on the telephone, or behind our computer.
Most of us know we are at our best when trusted and left to do our work with pride. And most of us ask for help when we get in over our heads. Hiring managers roles shift to the support, the coach, the life raft when deadlines must get met.
This is the new paradigm shift that we as talent acquisition professionals face, in helping our hiring managers feel comfortable with hiring the “right” people onto their teams who they’ve never had an opportunity to meet face-to-face. It is also our responsibility to help our new employees adjust to this new normal of integrating their daily lives with their work life.
Tapping into Hidden Skills and Wisdom
Companies had already been moving to help employees manage and grow their skills so that they can have more agile contributions. We are going to find that as we learn more about our employees as people and not just task doers, that they are a store of all sorts of hidden skills, experiences, and wisdom, that we were never able to tap in the typical office environment.
This will allow companies to embrace that more agile approach and find ways to truly capitalize on employee strengths and abilities while creating solid career paths and never before realized job satisfaction. All this trickles down to happier customers, which translates into more business!
Add to that the savings of not spending millions on expensive office space and companies are going to be kicking themselves in the pants that they didn’t embrace the idea of the virtual virtuosos years ago.