Long COVID: The pandemic is gone, but so are people employers need to hire
- June 1, 2023: Vol. 10, Number 6

Long COVID: The pandemic is gone, but so are people employers need to hire

by Clive Slovin

What has happened to the U.S. job market? It doesn’t seem to be there anymore, at least not in its pre-pandemic form. I get this same take on the job market from recruiters and my industry colleagues.

Many people don’t seem interested in working anymore, not even doing skilled professional jobs that pay well. Some of this is due to early retirements and others still staying out for relatively short-term reasons such as childcare. And many of those who are willing to work insist that working remotely from home is the only acceptable arrangement.

Although limited remote working was introduced before the pandemic, as employers of professional and office staff, we were suddenly forced into this almost universal remote and somewhat virtual work environment more than three years ago.  It was effective in the short term yet over time the completely remote environment does not result in the most efficient and creative workforce. Now employers are concerned they will lose staff members by requiring them to start returning to the office. They fear that many will go to another employer who offers the same money with currently 100 percent remote work opportunities.

Anecdotally, I have noticed that it’s generally very difficult to hire suitable people, and it’s taking longer to find them. The issue appears pervasive, affecting companies and industries of all stripes.

Clearly, we are an economy in transition.

Let’s not forget that we are people, and that people need interactions with other people. We need relationships, and we get the greatest efficiency and growth when working together synergistically. Meeting in person provides a level of collaboration that is difficult to achieve remotely.

What we have witnessed is the rapid acceleration of the rate of change. These changes were already afoot. When we were hit by sudden major global change driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, we were forced to deal with  immediate solutions just to keep operating. Now we are forced to recognize the long-term effects of the changes that were slowly under way, without the luxury of time to deal with the inevitable challenges that change brings. These issues are now coming to light, and we have to handle them to continue to thrive.

We now read a lot about people having to come back to the office. A growing number of business leaders are beginning to accept there is wisdom in getting many people back to the office because so much is lost by having a full-time remote workforce.

When people work remotely all of the time, you usually cannot get their full attention, you cannot completely impart your company culture, and you really cannot demonstrate the organization’s value proposition consistently. Employee training and development is much more difficult. What has become much clearer over time among organizations working remotely is that people working for one department are losing touch with colleagues working in other departments. This has a further negative of potentially harming employees as a result.

This is not a one size fits all matter. None of this is to say that people must operate in-person five days a week (though that might apply to certain departments or particular jobs). Three or even two office days per week will suffice in many cases. Enlightened managers are feeling their way. But generally, we have come to see a completely remote business environment is ineffective in monitoring and providing the necessary support and development services to a workforce operating from home.

If we don’t find a happy medium, we will lose out and maybe even slide backward.

Most people initially adjusted to their remote working lifestyles and adapted some of their work habits. They became used to their new normal, a term I dislike intensely because it is neither new nor normal. A real new normal is likely to be the hybrid workplace, but there are only going to be a limited number of roles that can operate well in a mostly remote environment. Only a small percentage of people can function effectively in an entirely independent environment.

While there are certain roles that can function entirely remotely, others absolutely  cannot do so all the time. One such example is the human resources executive who is not just making sure regulations are being followed, but an effective manager must also interact with staff members. An HR professional must be available to employees in person. Yes, some of those meetings may be workable in meetings on Zoom, but one must be available to meet in-office as well to fulfill the role.

Eventually, creative employers will find a way to work effectively with the employees they want for their culture, and potentially good employees will find a new work-personal life balance that also meets the need of employers. Currently, we are still in limbo.  We all need to take the time to think boldly and not be afraid to lead in creating a forward-looking hybrid environment for the new economy. The very short run may continue to be difficult, but eventually employees will want to work in an environment that provides personal work-related satisfaction while still promoting needed personal flexibility.


Clive Slovin is a member of the Real Assets Adviser editorial advisory board, and president and CEO of SFA Holdings, Inc., parent company of The Strategic Financial Alliance and Strategic Blueprint.

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