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HR Executive Jeff Smith’s Tips for Hiring in the Hybrid Work Era

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On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. More than three years later, its effects can still be seen and felt worldwide. As companies adapt, hiring in the post-pandemic world means adjusting to new norms, including working from home and hybrid work models. Recruiters must adopt new recruitment methods to ensure they attract and retain top talent. Jeff Smith, BlackRock’s former human resources executive, has decades of experience in the industry and recognizes that adhering strictly to traditional recruitment tactics may mean missing out on some talented candidates.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the concept of remote work and the technology associated with it, which Jeff Smith considers to be a good thing. He has confidence in a hybrid work schedule.“Now the challenge is to have the right policies and practices regarding how and when it is used and where people work,” he says.

The role of an HR executive is diverse. At BlackRock, Jeff Smith advised the business and its board of directors on investing in people and culture, and he oversaw recruiting, compensation, leadership development, and employee benefits.

The pandemic elevated some human resources departments “because they were on the front lines of the health and safety of employees and had to balance productivity along with that. Now, the challenge is to remain valuable in a post-COVID world,” he states.

“COVID increased stress and the focus on mental health and support for mental health and well-being. There were lots of difficult decisions made during COVID-19 around business restructuring and layoffs that were driven by HR departments.”

The pandemic was a catalyst for employees to transition to working from home. In 2020, Brent Capron, the design director of interiors at architecture firm Perkins & Will’s New York City studio, predicted such a shift when he told CNBC’s Make It, “People will still gather for work. But the amount of time you work in proximity with others and what your work week looks like — I see that to be the biggest cultural shift moving forward.”

“For more office-type work, you can absolutely do your work remotely, and with technology, you can build it around your schedule,” Julie Kratz, a career coach, told CNBC’s Make It. Companies that embrace remote and hybrid work models are appealing to employees.

“Flexibility is important because it shows trust and allows people to be able to prioritize things in their life in a way that makes most people feel good,” Smith explains.

He continues, “The No. 1 thing is getting the job done and being a strong performer. I have seen that people are much more flexible with folks who get their job done than those who are struggling. It is very hard to give flexibility and time off and other things when someone is not doing what is expected of them.”

With the popularity of hybrid working models, Smith advises that managers and organizations strive to be more outcome-focused than place-focused. Ultimately, “it comes down to the job and the company and what needs to get done,” Smith states.

Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Business

When lockdowns started in early 2020, few could foresee what business would look like in 2023. According to the United States Census Bureau’s 2020 Annual Capital Expenditures Survey, the COVID-19 pandemic affected the payroll of 45.3% of businesses with employees: Of that figure, companies that reduced the hours, benefits, and/or pay of their employees comprised 39.2%. However, 5.9% increased employee hours/benefits/pay and 0.2% experienced some other impact on their payroll.

On an episode of the podcast “McKinsey Talks Talent,” Bryan Hancock, a talent expert, stated, “When you ask people what their No. 1 concern is about coming back to the office, it’s work-life balance. It’s the commute. And at the same time, you ask people what the No. 1 worry about staying at home is, and it’s work-life balance because there’s no boundary between home and the office.”

A survey from WFH Research found that in 2023, 28.2% of full-time employees work a hybrid model, while 12.7% work from home. By 2025, approximately 22% of the United States workforce, or an estimated 32.6 million Americans, will be working remotely, according to Upwork.

Kathy Haan, a business coach, stated in an article for Forbes that it “reflects the workforce’s growing affinity towards the flexibility, autonomy, and work-life balance that remote work offers.”

According to Statista, there are approximately 333.34 million companies worldwide in 2023. That’s negligible growth from 2021, when there were 314.21 million businesses globally. Research from Indeed, a worldwide employment website, asserted that finding the right talent is more challenging than ever.

How does a business find the right person for the job? It starts with excellent HR executives.

Jeff Smith Shares Characteristics of an Outstanding Chief Human Resources Officer

Never underestimate the importance of intuition and purpose. Jeff Smith, BlackRock’s former head of global human resources, told ExCo Group leadership that individuals who make the best chief human resources officers “all have a deep vision and ambition for change. There’s no arrogance, but there is a confidence in their ability to do that.”

Poise and restraint are crucial characteristics of a successful HR executive. “Even though by nature I’m not a very patient person, I think I exhibit [it,]” Smith told ExCo leadership. “As a [chief human resources officer], you have to be very willing to have a bunch of people frustrated with you at any point in time and be able to work through that with a lot of resilience.”

“Unfortunately, some leaders have gotten burned out and are in the world of, ‘I just can’t do it anymore. I’m going to set a date, and you’re coming in.’ While you can understand that reaction, I think some people just aren’t up to the emotional openness required of today’s leaders,” Bill Schaniger, talent expert, said on the “McKinsey Talks Talent” podcast.

And timing is everything. “If you try to push things at the wrong time when the environment around you isn’t going to accept it, it’s not going to be as effective as picking the right moment,” stated Jeff Smith. “I try to be thoughtful about what we are trying to do and the pace at which we’re trying to do it, even though I may feel deeply impatient at times.”

As companies continue to change based on the shifting world of work, HR executives must adjust policies and procedures to meet employee needs and ensure they’re attracting and retaining top talent.



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