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2021 Q1: Hiring Planning in the Face of Uncertainty

Think back to January 2020. It feels like a lifetime ago, but, most likely, you eagerly jumped into your Q1 strategies. By March, like many companies globally, you just as quickly tossed out all hiring planning for the year. Your talent acquisition and management teams entered survival mode and have been there ever since. 

Just “getting by” made sense in 2020, but it’s not conducive to meeting long-term goals. Talent is core to any organization’s success, so as a hiring or HR pro, you need to keep the organization growing, even with limited budgets.

Looking ahead to the new year is more challenging coming out of chaos. How do you possibly plan hiring strategies for growth in 2021 Q1 amid ongoing uncertainty — especially when HR often gets hit the hardest with budget restrictions at the first sign of economic instability?

The good (and bad) news is, you’re not alone. The great news is, we’ve looked ahead and compiled some tips to help plan for keeping top talent coming in and maintaining steady growth in 2021, no matter what’s in store:

Determine which roles can stay remote

The most notable change in 2020 is the mass shift to remote work. There are long-term cost savings with remote recruiting and hiring, but you need to determine how much of your workforce you can afford to switch or maintain in remote roles while investing in growth. You should consider a few factors when determining what your workforce will look like in the coming year.

Employee Sentiment

When deciding which roles can remain remote and which must switch back to in-person, the best place to start is in discussions with your employees. Have current team members weigh-in on:

  • Their personal preference for remote vs. in-person work in their role
  • The objective pros and cons of performing their specific roles remotely
  • What resources they (or someone in that role) would need to be successful if the position was remote

An important takeaway from these conversations is fully understanding how working remotely changes each role. Your hiring team must incorporate these nuances into job descriptions for future positions to ensure candidates understand the role expectations.

Talent Acquisition Process

There are many benefits of remote hiring, regardless of whether your roles remain remote. For one thing, remote hiring helps you reach far-off talent easier. Even better, if the roles you are filling are remote, your candidate pool dramatically expands. 

Your quality of hire improves by not limiting yourself to available local talent. By making higher-quality hires consistently, you can reduce long-term hiring costs while boosting productivity, performance, morale, and more.

However, the process by which you source and attract talent, such as job ads, networking, and employee referrals, shifts dramatically when you expand your talent acquisition focus. Be sure to look at the necessary steps your team would need to take to update role descriptions and the screening process, as well as connect with candidates outside the typical talent pool. 

Overall Costs vs. Savings

Naturally, improving your quality of hire saves your team time and money in the long-run. You don’t have to keep going back to the drawing board (and tapping into your budget) to find the right talent. Remote hires can further reduce sourcing and recruiting costs, decrease time to fill, and increase overall productivity. 

In fact, Global Workplace Analytics estimates a typical employer can save an average of $11,000 for every employee who works remotely for at least half of the time each year. According to their 2020 report, the savings result from increased productivity, lower real estate costs, reduced absenteeism and turnover, and better disaster preparedness.

Onboarding remote talent can be tricky, however. Your team may need to invest in updated training software new hires can access from home. You also need to factor in the cost of communication technology and project management tools. Carefully calculate your costs to shift roles remote vs. your savings. The results can vary from company to company and even between internal teams, depending on each department’s size and needs.

Shift in Hiring Strategies

Another factor in your decision is the impact of remote work on your hiring strategies. Since remote work became more wide-spread in 2020, more candidates are looking for those opportunities. This means you’re likely to see a massive influx of applications for remote roles in 2021, and you may have to work harder to attract talent to in-person roles. These changes will consume more of your team’s time regardless of how you transition your workforce in the coming year. 

As mentioned, you need to update your role expectations, descriptions, and branding materials to reflect how your workforce evolves. But you also need to refresh interview questions and evaluation criteria to ensure you’re making the best-informed hiring decisions.

The best way to accommodate these changes and create a fair assessment for talent is to create a list of structured interview questions. Plan to set time with your team to discuss specific questions for each role and assess values and culture fit. Then you want to ensure all hiring team members understand the new evaluation process and are adequately trained to prevent bias from affecting hiring decisions.

Investing in Tools

You may need to purchase new tools or expand your recruitment team to accommodate the landscape change. For example, you could consider updating tools to help your team cut down review time for applications and resumes. Similarly, you might need to invest in a dedicated interview platform to quickly, fairly, and effectively screen talent, such as one capable of one-way video interviews

Additionally, you will likely need to incorporate efficient scheduling tools to help your team stay organized. Specifically, a smart investment is scheduling software that automates the process by allowing candidates and co-workers to schedule themselves into hiring pros’ calendars. 

Keep in mind, you may also need to quickly train your team to work effectively through updates in resources. Look ahead to select tools that are user-friendly and easy to learn while not breaking the budget. Easing the transition and keeping time to hire time low prevents these changes from negatively impacting your candidate experience.

Talent Management

You will also have to consider what impacts hiring for remote roles will have on HR and management teams. They will undoubtedly have to adjust their long-term strategy for talent management with more permanent remote workers on board.

Integrating a permanent remote work environment will also impact your company culture. If the transition is not handled correctly, drops in job satisfaction could lead to decreased performance and productivity. For example, a 2017 study from Harvard Business Review found that remote employees are more likely to report feeling that colleagues mistreat them and leave them out.

To avoid a dip in employee engagement, make sure your HR team members and managers are prepared for changes in the following tasks:

  • Motivating all team members
  • Responding to questions
  • Evaluating employee performance
  • Onboarding new talent
  • Mediating conflict resolution
  • Keeping communication flowing

The study found that nearly half of respondents said the most successful managers frequently checked in with remote employees. Face-to-face time is critical to employee engagement in a virtual workplace.

Define and refine company culture 

It’s clear by now, the new year could bring in a significant shift from your previous company culture. In 2020, most workers understood that things were in flux, and company culture was in a temporary holding pattern. But if you decide to keep much or all of your workforce remote, you will have to ease your team into an entirely new culture.

It’s crucial you provide a clear picture of your new culture to job candidates. A 2019 report from Glassdoor found that 58% of job seekers said company culture is more important to them than salary. Additionally, 89% of job seekers think it’s essential for a company to have a clear mission and purpose.

You can demystify your evolving culture by consulting your employees. Ask them questions to get a good sense of measurable changes in the culture in the last year:

  • Did remote work positively or negatively impact the company culture?
  • What aspects of in-person work culture do employees value most?
  • Can in-person work culture be replicated in a remote work environment?
  • How effective is the remote communication/collaboration process?
  • What could be done to improve communication/collaboration if some roles stay remote?

Whether they feel great about these aspects or are still adjusting, you must reflect your culture authentically in your employer branding. You can show off your new culture through short videos or images posted on your company’s social media and career site. You can also share this content at virtual networking events. Then, when you begin interviewing, you can refer to those materials in your discussions with candidates. 

Refresh recruiting marketing materials and events

For most companies, one of the first budgets to be cut in 2020 was recruitment marketing. If yours was on hold, the new year is a great time to evaluate whether/how you can start to ramp it back up.

If your company looks different than it did a year ago, it’s essential to revamp all of your job ads, social media accounts, careers page, and branding materials. Showcase any changes in your work culture, mission, and the impact your company has made in the last year. You can be transparent about it — let job seekers know if your company is evolving to be more valuable in the uncertain global marketplace.

Your recruitment marketing can illustrate many qualities of your organization that are valuable to candidates:

  • Work/life balance
  • Diversity, Inclusion & Equity
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Employee engagement
  • Making an impact
  • Transparency

Your 2021 hiring planning is also an excellent opportunity to reboot or create an employee referral program. Employee referrals are proven to decrease time to hire and cost per hire while improving the quality of hire and retention, so implementing a strong referral program is a great way to save in the long-term.

To create a successful employee referral program, you’ll need to create a toolkit to teach employees how to build their presence online. Arm them with templates for sharing on social media, connecting via LinkedIn InMail, and more. Then, make it easy for them to share referrals with your recruitment team. 

As a bonus, you can reward your employees when their referrals prove to be quality hires. Rewards don’t have to be huge, but they can keep employees engaged in the program and keep your company growing throughout the coming year.


How to Make the Most of Your Hiring Budget

Josh Tolan

Josh Tolan is the Founder and CEO of Spark Hire, a video interviewing platform used by 5,000+ customers in over 100 countries.