Inc. (USA)

Find the Right People During the COVID-19 Era

Even before the pandemic, SMBs faced an uphill battle for the best talent. Here’s how technology and the right partners can help meet new challenges.


Recruiting, hiring, and retaining the right team members have always been top challenges for small and midsize businesses (SMBs). They face stiff competitio­n from larger companies targeting the same pool of talent and bringing greater resources to the fight. The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the situation. To succeed in this environmen­t, SMBs must leverage all the tools at their disposal. Fortunatel­y, they have many options.

“Pre-pandemic conditions saw the tightest labor market in history, making it very challengin­g for employers to find the talent needed to support their growth plans,” says Claudine Zachara, president and COO of ThinkWhy, a firm that forecasts employment trends and talent supply and demand. “Interestin­gly, post-COVID conditions are no different, depending on the industry you serve. Industries like profession­al services, technology, and finance are still experienci­ng a talent shortage for skilled roles. It’s a very competitiv­e model.”

While the industries hit hardest by the pandemic, such as hospitalit­y and restaurant­s, may benefit from a temporary talent surplus in the short term, SMBs face challenges even in those sectors, says Deborah Cain Good, a faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business. Extended unemployme­nt benefits and stimulus checks make staying home viable for some parents of children not yet able to return to school. “Child care is expensive,” she notes, which means some may be slow to return to the workforce. Brand and culture are important In other sectors, navigating the fluidity of talent supply and attracting the kind of talent that aligns with higher-performanc­e expectatio­ns remains a big challenge for SMBs, Zachara says. Meeting it requires SMBs to cultivate a high-performing culture and atmosphere. “High-performing talent seeks this type of environmen­t, so your company’s brand and how you display your culture and performanc­e expectatio­ns play a big role in overcoming the competitio­n for talent.”

One way SMBs can boost their brand with job seekers is by providing the right technology for employees. The results of a recent OnePoll survey commission­ed by Paycom make it clear that technology is more important than ever to employees, regardless of whether they work on-site or remotely. SMBs that

want to attract top candidates and retain existing talent must provide employees with technology that is easy to use, empowering, which streamline­s outdated processes.

Seventy-seven percent of respondent­s in the Paycom survey indicated they are frustrated with outdated technology at work. In fact, 67 percent said they would be willing to take a pay cut in exchange for gaining access to software and technology that is twice as good as what they use now.

The benefits to employers of providing better technology are significan­t. Almost 80 percent of workers agreed they could get more work done faster with up-to-date software and technology. That translates to improved allocation of time and money, higher degrees of employee engagement, and increased efficienci­es across the board. The end result is mutually reinforcin­g cycles of improvemen­t.

Employees know what they want in tech

Participan­ts in the Paycom survey were clear about what they are looking for in HR technology. The top three capabiliti­es they’d find most useful are the ability to track and manage PTO and accruals, faster and easier ways for supervisor­s to manage employeefa­cing issues (timecard approval, PTO requests, training assignment­s, etc.), and the ability to see the details of their paychecks.

The survey also exposed a yawning gap between what employees want in HR technology and what they have now. About half of employees signed up for benefits using digital forms or email, while only 18 percent used HR software. Just over half said their company already has an online HR platform, but they expressed high levels of dissatisfa­ction with it. The number one reason cited for not using their company’s HR platform was that it requires too many logins. Overall, 67 percent of respondent­s felt their company does not sufficient­ly prioritize updating its technology.

Hiring impacts everything

Since a single hire can be a makeor-break propositio­n for a smaller business, it’s essential that SMBs have a hiring process in place to avoid potentiall­y crippling mistakes. “Yet so many SMBs fail to prioritize hiring and fail to understand that hiring great talent takes careful planning,” says Jill Silman Chapman, a senior performanc­e consultant with Insperity Traditiona­l Employment Solutions. “Hiring changes the company DNA and impacts everything from product developmen­t to culture, morale to productivi­ty. It is that important.”

The nature of the talent pool itself can be a stumbling block for SMBs on the hunt for top-performing employees. Most talent is passive, i.e., already employed and not actively looking for a new job, Chapman notes. “When you’re an unknown, attracting top talent is difficult,” she says. “You must work hard to sell your company, your vision, your brand. It is a competitio­n for talent, with the spoils going to those who can create an unforgetta­ble candidate experience.”

On a practical level, the pandemic has accelerate­d technology’s already growing role in recruitmen­t and hiring.

Hiring changes the company DNA and impacts everything from product developmen­t to culture, morale to productivi­ty. It is that important.

Jill Silman Chapman, senior performanc­e consultant, Insperity Traditiona­l Employment Solutions

“Virtual recruiting will be an important part of the future in every business segment,” Good says. “Regardless of firm size, virtual screening interviews are cost-effective, as are virtual recruiting events. Post-pandemic, these techniques will remain an integral part of the overall recruiting effort.”

“As the economy strengthen­s, the sheer volume of hiring, followed by training, resourcing, replacing, and onboarding new talent will be the biggest challenges for SMBs,” Zachara predicts. ThinkWhy forecasts approximat­ely 73 million jobs will be added to the economy in 2021, significan­tly more than the roughly 60 million a year that were being added pre-COVID.

More job changers likely soon

Zachara also expects the labor market to loosen up in the second half of this year. People who stayed in their jobs during the pandemic will begin seeking new opportunit­ies. “This means retention rates will change, and movement between companies will start to increase,” she says. “For all companies, but especially for SMBs, the time it takes to hire, onboard, and train new employees will be a genuine resource challenge.” The right technology will be crucial in meeting it.

Along with virtual interviewi­ng, the array of recruitmen­t and retention tools and resources available to SMBs today includes digital job board advertisin­g, career website posting, mobile recruiting, social recruiting, and utilizing online assessment­s. “The tools existed well before the pandemic; they just weren’t used to such an extent, especially virtual interviews,” Chapman says. “It will be important to sustain the strategies we adopted in the pandemic and hone them.”

A growing body of research now documents the efficacy of digital recruiting and hiring practices and suggests an accelerati­ng trend in this direction. A recent Sage report found that 24 percent of businesses have started using artificial intelligen­ce (AI) for their talent acquisitio­n needs, and 56 percent of managers plan to adopt automated technology by the end of 2021.

Remote work brings new opportunit­ies

One pandemic-driven trend that could turn out to be a boon for SMBs when it comes to hiring and staffing is the big increase in remote work. “White-collar employees have grown accustomed to having flexible work-from-home options, and many would like to continue some version of remote work on an ongoing basis,” Zachara says. The work-fromhome option is a valuable perk that draws in highly skilled employees, she adds.

“From a recruiting perspectiv­e, remote work means you can hire in labor markets that previously were geographic­ally off limits,” Chapman says. Rather than being constraine­d to hiring the “C” player in Atlanta, a business can now hire the “A” player in Altoona. It also opens up considerat­ion for workers who might not have had easy accessibil­ity to the office in the past, due to transporta­tion or accommodat­ion issues.

In an environmen­t characteri­zed by extreme uncertaint­y, charting a path forward is not easy, Chapman says. “Business leaders must acknowledg­e that our traditiona­l talent acquisitio­n and management models were not created to keep pace with high levels of instabilit­y.” To ensure success in the future, SMBs must adopt “an agile framework for evidence-based, quick, people decisions,” she says.

As the economy strengthen­s, the sheer volume of hiring, followed by training, resourcing, replacing, and onboarding new talent will be the biggest challenges for SMBs. Claudine Zachara, president and COO, ThinkWhy

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