Hybrid hiring and working – here to stay?

Written by: Julie Towers is managing director of Penna.
Published on: 11 Aug 2022

Here at Penna, we gain a unique and unrivalled view of candidates and clients at their most pressured times. We spend time with candidates looking at new opportunities for them, and with clients who are looking for ways to attract and retain diversely to add value to their organisation. Hybrid hiring is now the norm – Teams, Zoom and online activity actively supporting essential face to face interviewing and assessment. So, our webinar asked the question: how do we maximise the opportunity but address the obvious challenges for employers and employees here?

Over the last couple of years, with the introduction of home, agile and hybrid working we’ve seen increased appetite across clients and candidates to improve, challenge and change the way they work. Here we heard from a wide range of local government leaders about the benefits and challenges they were experiencing as candidates and clients in this era of hybrid working. 

To be able to attract talent, it was agreed that for most roles the previous model of full-time office work would need to change. Fiona Alderman, head of legal and governance at Haringey LBC, commented: ‘How you approach hybrid working will affect your ability to recruit the best talent – other places will say that a candidate can be fully remote, or only in once a month, for example’. This change brings high competition from other employers, but also great opportunities to widen your talent pool geographically, as well as to those seeking more flexible working or those with disabilities.

It was clear hybrid working was also supporting the retention of talent, too. Even organisations like councils need not be bound by their geographical confines ‘by thinking of work as an activity, rather than a place’, as Abdus Choudhury, chief legal adviser and monitoring officer at Richmond and Wandsworth LBC, remarked. He cited his local authority’s ability to retain a talented individual who was relocating to Yorkshire as an example.

However, Ben Browne, director of people and organisational development at Waltham Forest LBC, recognised that when retaining staff during change, developing guidelines for staff and managers alike was incredibly important. How often should employees come into the office in the ‘new normal’, and what of the person who never has their camera on when working remotely? His Modern Ways of Working guidelines have helped at his council, and he feels this should now be a part of an organisation’s framework – acknowledging  things have changed.

The interview process has obviously changed over the past couple of years, too. Dipti Patel, corporate director of place at Harrow LBC, along with the rest of the panel, agreed remote interviews are brilliant from a time perspective, in helping a candidate cope with nerves, and for engaging speedily with a wide range of stakeholders where required in an interview process. However, the consensus was for senior leadership positions, both candidate and client need to also interview in person, so the organisation can truly measure an ability to react under pressure without interview notes on hand for example, and to allow the candidate a chance to really ‘feel’ the organisation, its people and culture.

This is indeed what convinced Ben to join Waltham Forest in 2021, seeing the way people interacted, seeing the offices and experiencing the environment first hand.

When it came to the onboarding experience, all agreed to build relationships, develop understanding and feel the culture – and even be able to find somebody to go for lunch with – new staff really need to be present in-office during onboarding. There was acknowledgement however, both videos and online presentations were wide reaching options too, supporting the live induction.

Most commented on an increased engagement with online training and development since shifting to a hybrid model, while everyone agreed more should be done generally in local government to truly embed new starters into the business either in-person or virtually. ‘Reorientation’ with existing staff, or those that had joined over the truncated past two-and-a-half years, was a popular idea among the panel and audience.

Overall, it is clear changes made to the processes, policies and people management aspects of organisations and their recruitment needs have been successful by large, but there is a lot of work still to do to get these working optimally for both the employer and the employee. There’s some talk of the pendulum swinging too far one way with some employees demonstrating a real lack of interest in returning to the office, having relocated significantly further afield during lockdown assuming that agile working would be continuing.

For employers, hybrid working has presented major opportunities alongside major challenges like these – navigating them in a balanced, inclusive and fair way will be essential. The focus on HR and OD has never been higher, and the opportunity to affect lasting change that will enable organisations to be successful with hybrid working is in the profession’s hands – a topic we will be returning to in the Autumn with the PPMA.

Let’s keep sharing our experiences.

Julie Towers is managing director of Penna.
julie.towers@penna.com