Moving Past COVID-19

2021 was a complicated year filled with change, challenges, and opportunities. A ‘Global Trends’ report from IMSA Search, explores more about what top global executive search professionals are focused on today as we turn the corner into Q2.

April 7, 2022 – Around the globe, many economies are recovering and showing strength. Over the next year, consumers are expecting stronger job prospects, according to The Conference Board. From the U.S. to Europe to Asia, economies are improving faster than expected. In a new report from IMSA Search, its recruiting professionals say they are experiencing an acceleration in their business. In some cases, there is a great demand to fill roles that were vacated during the pandemic. “We have one client who cut 60 percent of their 3,000-person workforce,” said Phillip Price, a partner with IMSA U.K. “As the market picks up, they are trying to re-hire as many of their old customer-facing employees as possible.” That boomerang effect is evident across companies in Europe, Asia, and the U.S.

“We experienced the biggest growth in 15 years, which combined with lack of candidates, has resulted in an overheated market,” said Jens Christian Jensen of IMSA Denmark.

In most countries, vaccinations have accelerated and people have accepted that we will be living with COVID for the long term. This acceptance has led to a return to work and a surge in new positions. “In France, 2020 experienced a 20-40 percent collapse in the middle and top executive recruitment market,” said Hervé Gentile of IMSA France. “Now, it’s back to pre-COVID-19 levels. Given the nearly full executive employment market, needs here are critical.”

Global Leaders in Demand

As we emerge from the pandemic, travel returns, and everyone is more comfortable with remote work, international candidates will be in even greater demand. According to the IMSA report, many industries are now moving toward a global recruitment strategy, recognizing that the strongest leaders may be located in other countries or continents. Video conferencing tools have accelerated search and selection, simplifying global recruitment. From Teams to Zoom, it has never been easier to identify and interview candidates in other regions of the world. “Remote work has broken down geographic borders enabling companies to hire resources globally,” said Pedro Hipólito of IMSA Portugal.

“With less business travel and increased use of video conferences, there will be a bigger need for international candidates,” said Jan Gunnar Storli of IMSA Norway.

Work Alternatives

During the pandemic, companies accepted remote work because there was no alternative, and many believed productivity would decline. In most cases, employees adapted, and productivity improved.

In a recent Accenture ‘Future of Work’ survey, of more than 9,000 employees from 11 countries, 83 percent of the respondents said they consider the hybrid work model (25 percent to 75 percent of work time being remote) optimal. Employees who used a hybrid model during the pandemic enjoyed better mental health, built stronger work relationships, were more likely to feel in the right place doing the work for their employer, and experienced less burnout.

As more companies return to offices, employees are demanding greater flexibility. Workers do not want to be in the office full time: In a McKinsey & Company global survey of over 5,000 employees, 52 percent said they prefer hybrid post-COVID, up from 30 percent before the pandemic; 11 percent now prefer remote work, and only 37 percent said they prefer on-site.

Post-COVID Workforce Trends Driving the Labor Market

Experts agree that we’re experiencing unprecedented times in the global labor market. While a few of the buzziest phrases of this phase include the Great Resignation, the Great Realization and the Great Reshuffle, there are many more “Greats” where those came from, according to a new report from Business Talent Group (BTG). Each of these workforce trends center around the same notion, that the pandemic has caused major changes in the labor force at all levels across nearly every industry.

Business Talent Group’s study provides a recap of today’s most superlative workforce trends and reveals why there’s never been a better time to tap high-end independent talent for help with your greatest business opportunities and challenges.

“In the U.S., hybrid is the norm with a maximum of four days in the office,” said Mitch Berger, of IMSA USA. “People increasingly value companies that offer the possibility of working remotely, and companies that don’t will have a greater difficulty attracting candidates,” said Mr. Hipólito.

Related: Three Key Takeaways from the COVID-19 Crisis

“During the pandemic, many employees gained more control and balance, and they appreciated the autonomy to choose what to do and when to do it. That control gave employees a deep sense of purpose and impact,” said David Nirenberg of IMSA Canada.

A Rethink

There is no one hybrid model, of course, as businesses try different approaches, assess the results in real time, and continue to evolve strategies.

According to the IMSA report, phased approaches rotate group and team in-office schedules or bring all employees into the office a few days a week. Some offices are reconfiguring space to allow for social distancing, while others are sharing space to accommodate increasing remote work. People are moving from big cities to suburban areas, with no desire to return. Reductions in headquarter workspace are anticipated.

“Some companies are creating business hubs in different parts of cities, so if employees need to work in person, they can go to an office space near their home, eliminating long commutes and the need to live within city limits,” said Armando Ajuria of IMSA Mexico.

The employee experience has been greatly impacted by the move to work from home, and it is not all positive. For parents with young children in particular, work time spills into family time, family time spills into work time, and for some, the lack of control over their schedule has been extremely challenging, the IMSA report notes.

Related: Pandemic Pause: Job Change Reluctance & Realities in the Age of COVID-19 

“For most people, working from home includes business calls and emails into the night, often infringing on family time,” said Olga Selivanova-Shof of IMSA Russia. For others, isolation has led to great psychological strain. Most of us are dependent upon in-person interaction with colleagues. And, while virtual meetings have tremendous benefits, Zoom fatigue is real, and innovation is better in person.

As a result, leaders will have to work harder to build cohesiveness and trust to maintain favorable employee experience. “We hear more and more from our clients that remote work does not promote creativity and the fortuitous emergence of new ideas,” said Mr. Gentile of IMSA France. “There is a need for developing the management tools to integrate remote work and social conditions.”

“In the future, work hours will be determined by the employees themselves; they will own the responsibility for organizing their workdays,” said Hard-Olav Bastiansen, IMSA Norway. “The proof of the pudding will be the end product, not how many hours an employee spent producing it or where they did the work.”

Human-Centric Leadership and Agility Essential

Pre-pandemic leaders focused on employee engagement as a primary factor for increasing productivity, including a small but growing concern for employee well-being. The pandemic’s physical and mental health crisis is forcing leaders to put employees’ human needs first, driving a move to human-centric leadership, said the IMSA report.

“In practice, human-centric leadership means a greater understanding of employees’ needs and an attempt to meet those needs,” said Monika Ciesielska of IMSA Poland. “It means listening to employees’ voices and providing them with the space to express opinions, share concerns, and not worry about consequences. We are seeing the acceleration of various large-scale human resource shifts and transformations in the areas of: flexible work and hybrid work models, employee experience, holistic employee well-being (physical, mental, and emotional), purpose-driven cultures, new technologies and digitalization (including AI and automation, touchless technologies), global talent pools, and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion).”

“Companies will need strategies in each of these areas to address the changes and prepare their workforces,” said Luminita Potorac-Roman of IMSA Romania. Agility has also emerged as a top leadership skill, focusing on needs of others, acknowledging others’ perspectives, and prioritizing teams over individuals. With the multiple change forces impacting our world, agility is the most valuable leadership skill and will continue to be for the near future.

Yet, agility is a skillset in short supply and most organizations are uncertain how to assess for it. “The organizational design and leadership skills that enable agility are new and complex and can’t be determined simply by asking behavioral event-based questions,” said Mr. Nirenberg.

The Employee Experience

As the pandemic passes, businesses around the world are investing in new endeavors and seeking top talent. The recruitment marketplace is highly competitive. To attract the best and brightest, companies must optimize their employee experience and employer value proposition, according to the IMSA report. “With so many managers in different physical locations, companies need to prioritize building organizational culture based on common beliefs and values,” said Ms. Gunnar Storli.

Today, employers must manage their company’s brand image. Going forward, new communication and management tools are expected to continue building company culture and protecting corporate DNA. “A mindful focus on employee experience and employee journey needs to be a top priority today,” Ms. Potorac-Roman said.

To read the full white paper click here.

Related: Setting the Pace for Virtual Outplacement

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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