Are Companies Getting Cold WFH Feet?

The pendulum normally swings back when we see paradigms shift.  As many companies made the move to work from home (WFH) with the onset of COVID-19, this article (which lacks data, by the way) there may be some rumblings from some companies to bring people back to the office (safely, of course).  Is this really a WFH issue or a management issue?

It is to be expected that WFH will not be a permanent arrangement for everyone who is doing it now.  Whether due to circumstances, preference, or company culture, some people (and companies) are going to prefer to have people in offices.  But, to make WFH effective, companies have to adjust how they manage people and not just pretend that the same approaches will translate from the office to home work environments.

For instance, people experience more autonomy when working from home.  That can either be leveraged for faster decision making (with perhaps less consensus) or problem solving time can be built into weekly schedules.  Or teams can develop new approaches to problem solving that account for WFH.

Others in the article are concerned that it is more difficult to build relationships when working remotely in that there are fewer opportunities to spontaneously interact.  One company’s solution was renting a large cottage where their (small) company could get together.  Of course, there’s nothing awkward about spending “voluntary” week or two in a house with your boss.  I have a better idea.  It uses old tech, but I think it might work.  How about using that calling feature on your phone to reach out to people?

An approach mentioned, and one that one of my clients with “essential” workers has been using, is a blended one.  The HR team determined how much on site coverage was needed to address employee and management issues and the staff has alternated days in the office to cover those needs and doing WFH on the others days.  This has allowed for distancing, having some personal interactions, and a recognition that some work is done better at the office and other work can be done just as well remotely.

One executive in the article mentions the difficulty in training new employees, who would typically go through 6 weeks of classroom training and OJT.  And, if your mindset is that is the ONLY way to train employees, then remote work presents a problem.  If you are willing to innovate, then it is more of an opportunity. Just as pre-COVID not everyone wanted to work at an office, as we adjust to COVID, not everyone is going to want to WFH.  It is reasonable to assume that while many people will go back to working 40 hours a week at an office, there is going to be a substantial number that do not.  Companies should be looking for ways to adapt to that reality instead of forcing old squares into new round holes.

Is Color-Blind Hiring Enough?

I have written previously about blind auditions and interviews.  These are ideas that are now gaining a bit more traction as companies look to reduce potential racial discrimination in their hiring practices.  Others look at these measures as misguided and that taking race into account is the only way to diversify hiring.  I understand that the author is an arts critic trying to make a point about the industry he covers, so being a provocateur is an important part of the article.  However, he proposes ideas that I think should be evaluated.

First is that, basically, all applicants for playing positions at top tier orchestras are all pretty much the same.  I am sure that all of those people in the suburbs who pay top dollar to go into the city to listen to an orchestra would be thrilled to know that they can really stay closer to home and hear essentially the same thing for a lot less money.  But, the author then goes on to say that there are (potentially, as he does not manage an orchestra) other aspects of being an orchestra member that should be considered (e.g., being a good educator and openness to new musical experiences).  The implication here is that these are job duties where there are meaningful differences and can be used to screen applicants.  His point is a good one—we can do a better job of hiring when we consider how job duties have changed when creating selection systems.  And, some of these changes may lead to more diverse selections.

He brings up a good point when he says that the problem with diverse hires occurs well before the audition stage in that few Black or Latino kids get interested in symphonic music.  In the case of those who enjoy the music, they don’t have the same access to training as white kids who also want to make a career out of it.  Whether it is for jobs that have traditionally discriminated based on sex or race, developing interest via training or mentoring programs is one of the long-term solutions to hiring a more diverse workforce. 

The last point addressed is representation—the idea that the racial diversity of an orchestra should reflect…well, what should it reflect?  The people who listen to the music?  The orchestra’s ticket buyers? The city/town where the orchestra is located?  The pool of applicants?  This is where people get queasy about hiring diversity.  We start wading into the murky waters of quotas, tokenism, and how finely we define representation.  The goals may be noble, but it is the process that counts.

I would argue that representation should reflect the diversity of the qualified applicants rather than some pipe dream about how popular a white European art form is to modern day American youth (see this article for a somewhat divergent opinion).  In the near term, that means creating and maintaining unbiased selection systems that reflect what the job truly requires.  In the longer term, it means developing pipelines to all students who are interested in careers where there is and/or has been systematic discrimination. 

Some companies may feel that in the current climate they have to do something now to improve their diversity and they should.  Additionally, they should address systemic hiring discrimination, which requires more foundational changes.  These can include programs that make their industry welcoming to all (e.g., providing classroom experiences) and training/mentoring programs for those who are interested in careers who have come from groups that traditionally were excluded from jobs with them.

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