Late last year, when most of the 30-strong employees at Merit Financial’s Alpharetta, Georgia headquarters were working from home, three of the company’s top employees visited the office to conduct a candidate’s final interview. While previous conversations had been about Zoom, management felt that the position of Vice President of Marketing was high enough to warrant a face-to-face meeting. The group gathered in a large conference room, masked and 6 feet apart.
In real life, the job seeker made a clearly overwhelming impression. “This person did not do a good job, did not answer questions thoroughly or directly,” said Kay Lynn Mayhue, president of the company, which has 85 employees and has assets of $ 5 billion. “He seemed to lack the boardroom presence we were looking for.” He didn’t get the job.
As Mayhue can testify, hiring and managing people who work remotely during the pandemic involves a lot more than holding meetings through Zoom. Figuring out what works takes some imagination and planning. With this in mind, companies are taking a number of steps – some of which are to be expected, such as: B. a change in the way they hire new employees, as well as less obvious ones, e.g. For example, learning which employees do well on their own compared to those who need more. frequent check-in.
Interview and onboarding
Of course, not all companies are dissatisfied with Zoom interviews when it comes to hiring. Some are fans. “Zoom is one of those vital body language cues,” said Zulay Labra, GenTrust’s Miami chief operating officer, who has hired three people since the company was phased out in March last year.
Some find that they can learn a lot about candidates by approaching a video interview. Jeff Maas, CEO of Sacramento, a California-based retirement center, recently turned down an applicant whose presence on camera looked sloppy. It made him doubt how effective the individual would be with customers. “It showed me that he’s not quite the best person for us,” said Maas, whose company is worth $ 1.5 billion.
In most cases, companies try to approximate the survey system used before the pandemic. At Aaron Wealth Advisors, a 10-person Chicago company with $ 575 million net worth, Gary Hirschberg conducted four to five interviews with candidates, the last usually taking place at his home where he and his wife had dinner organized.
Now Hirschberg, who made three adjustments during the pandemic, has tried to repeat this last step with a glass of wine over zoom. (He did an interview in his back yard last year when it was still warm). He also conducted a four hour marathon interview with several heads of different business units, which was previously standard practice, to ensure the candidate can take breaks between meetings to avoid zoom fatigue.
Nonetheless, Hirschberg experienced some hiccups. For example, he hired an executive assistant about a year ago, but postponed the start date from April to June. He wanted to find out how the office would work in the new environment before bringing the assistant on board. However, when it became clear that he needed someone who not only stepped in and performed operations, but also kept to his schedule, Hirschberg postponed the start date. “It was helpful to have someone who can handle my calendar,” he says.
When it comes to onboarding, a common approach for new hires is to use Zoom to meet with employees they are likely to interact with on a regular basis to discuss day-to-day tasks. Doug Kentfield, director of asset management at Steward Partners Global Advisory, a Washington, DC-based company with assets of $ 18 billion, says screens are shared to discuss documents they are both working on.
However, setting up such a system is quite complicated. On the one hand, the training practically lacks the natural give and take that occurs when colleagues work together personally. “They miss the interactions that might have occurred in a hallway conversation,” said Kyle Berkley, vice president of human resources at Bailard, a 69-person Foster City, Calif. Company with approximately $ 4.8 billion in net worth.
Figuring out who the best employee might be to train a new hire takes some work – identifying the person’s responsibilities and skills and creating a training plan. At Bailard, Berkley works with managers to identify the various elements of a new employee’s jobs and the first few tasks they are likely to take on, as well as the internal systems they will need access to. All new employees attend four or five initial Zoom meetings, the number of subsequent meetings depending on their role and level of experience.
Hirschberg faced a different challenge. He was used to sitting with new consultants, listening to their calls and giving instant feedback on their technique. Realizing that he had some ideas on how distant newbies would handle these conversations, Hirschberg created a virtual system. He scheduled a two-hour Zoom call every week for about a month listening to the new advisor’s calls to customers.
Of course, a major challenge for companies is maintaining the community spirit. “You don’t have the same connection points when you’re working remotely,” says Labra. “You have to work harder.”
More frequent virtual meetings are important, but that’s just the beginning. In many companies, managers regularly check in with their direct reports by phone or zoom to make sure everything is in order. This is especially important for employees who seem to be faltering. Hirschberg points to a consultant who, despite being a highly productive worker before the pandemic, appeared to be entering a so-called “negative spiral” after remote work began. During their weekly phone calls, Hirschberg helped employees create a marketing plan that focused on a new niche – pre-IPO companies. He is now performing at his previous level.
Even the best check-in systems are not easy. In 2018 Merit Financial created a process in which every employee meets with a suitable person from the management team every two weeks. The company decided to continue doing so during the pandemic. When an employee’s performance began to decline last year, the person’s store manager and department manager developed a 60-day improvement plan that they discussed during their regular check-in sessions. However, the employee failed to improve and even slept during a scheduled review meeting. The company finally decided to let him go.
Another way to monitor employee performance is through surveys. At Bailard, executives regularly send their employees questionnaires about their home work experience and use these responses to design programs and guidelines. A survey last year found that several people felt more productive having printers in their home offices. With that in mind, the next company-wide email included guidelines for the cost of office supplies and equipment. Some managers have also surveyed their teams to get a better understanding of their attitudes on various issues. For example, one person asked if employees like to have virtual daily meetings in the morning or if this is too much. The unanimous answer was a thumbs up for the daily meetings.
Fostering collaboration also requires ingenuity. Take Alfredo La Rosa, executive vice president of Intercontinental Wealth Advisors, who leads trading and research for the San Antonio company, which has assets of $ 1.5 billion. He usually sits at a large trading desk with about six other people who often ask each other questions. To strengthen the collaborative spirit when working remotely, La Rosa has assigned two or more employees to a single task. “It helps them communicate more with each other,” he says.
Another concern of the consultants is to make the entire operation efficient. Many take a technology approach to streamline operations.
For Linda Leitz, president of financial planning for Peace of Mind, which has five employees in Colorado Springs, Colorado, remote working has highlighted the need for more formal, automated processes to keep tasks from getting caught between the cracks.
For this purpose, she made early use of a contact management platform and regularly added the workflow for various tasks to the system. During twice-weekly Zoom staff meetings where a specific task occurs, e.g. For example, to record customer calls and the subsequent steps that need to be performed later, employees volunteer to include the processes in the software for later reference.
“We’re probably a more cohesive team than before,” she says.