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Rotman Insights Hub | University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management

Hiring for a hybrid workplace? Keep these lessons in mind

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David Zweig

The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work. “We’ve gone through a period of incredible flux over the past few years,” says David Zweig, a professor of organizational behaviour and HR management. “COVID basically threw a Molotov cocktail through the office window.”

Despite the tumultuous few years, Zweig believes that the pandemic has been a catalyst for positive change. Remote working and hybrid office structures are one of those beneficial adaptations. But employers and hiring managers also need to adjust how they hire and what they’re looking for in prospective candidates. As we build out a new “normal” in a post-COVID world, here are three truths and three myths about how hiring has changed. 

Truth: We need to rely more on personality tests for finding the best candidates

Beyond intellectual ability, which is always important for job success, Zweig believes personality traits such as conscientiousness and emotional stability are more important in a hybrid environment where there is not as much oversight. However, determining these qualities through an interview might be difficult, if not impossible, and he has long believed that interviews are a poor way of determining candidate quality. “Interviews are notoriously unreliable in terms of predicting future behaviour,” Zweig explains. Instead, he thinks personality tests, such as the HEXACO six-factor personality model, should be a standard part of the candidate selection process because they’re a formalized, more reliable way of learning more about potential hires.

Myth: People skills are less important in a remote environment

Just because we no longer see each other face-to-face as frequently in the office, Zweig says that doesn’t make people skills any less important. If anything, they’re more valued. “The possibility of misunderstanding someone’s behaviour increases over video,” he explains. “We’re not getting all of the cues that we get from body language.” That means we have to be even more perceptive at understanding behaviour with less information. When sussing out candidates, recruiters and hiring managers should ensure that new potential hires have the people skills in order to thrive in a remote or hybrid work environment.

Truth: Employees who find meaning in their work are less likely to leave their jobs

Since COVID, Zweig says that workers are placing even more importance on jobs and careers that bring them a sense of purpose. A prospective hire who prioritizes or vocalizes this desire is more likely to stick around for longer. “As a hiring manager, I would look for people who have demonstrated that they found meaning in the work that they've done, and they've used that sense of meaning as an important catalyst for doing great things and having high performance,” Zweig says. Managers and employers also play a role here in creating opportunities for staff to feel connected to their work. “Leaders have to build in meaningful interactions, whether that’s intentional gatherings or some other means.”

Myth: Traits like conscientiousness and emotional stability can be taught

Upskilling — training new hires or existing staff with what they need to succeed at their jobs — is a powerful way to enhance their current skillset. But unfortunately, personality traits, like conscientiousness and emotional stability, can’t really be taught or trained. “Personality traits are pretty well established,” Zweig says. He gives the example of someone who is introverted in a role that requires high extroversion, such as sales. “I might be able to do the job, but it’s going to take a lot of emotional labour to fake being extroverted to accomplish my job.” Instead of training someone to change their personality type for a specific job, which can’t really be done, Zweig believes in people finding the best careers or roles for their personality types. “You’re not going to magically go through a training program and become more conscientious,” says Zweig. “That’s just not who you are. You can be a good fit for a particular job, but not necessarily jobs that require a high degree of conscientiousness.”

Truth: Workers with demonstrated success in different environments are more likely to succeed in a hybrid workplace

Flexibility is all the more important in a post-COVID environment. Adjusting to different environments, like switching back and forth from a home office to working in person, or sudden changes like lockdowns, are essential for good performance. “We would want to see that [a candidate’s] pattern of success holds across different situations,” Zweig explains. “That means they’re still able to maintain a level of success, even working through different modalities and different work situations.” On a resume, that might look like hitting and exceeding targets before, during and after the pandemic came about. Or it could also look like high performance in different settings, from a traditional office to a factory floor to a customer service role and a remote-only company.

Myth: The demonstrated ability to use tools like Slack and Zoom are important to select the right hire

Should a hiring manager for a remote-only company be concerned about a candidate who has never worked virtually? Not necessarily, according to Zweig. “Using Slack or Zoom is something you could teach someone in 10 minutes,” he says. “I don’t consider that a critical skill for peoples’ success.”

David Zweig is a professor of organizational behaviour and HR management at the University of Toronto Scarborough. He holds a cross-appointment to the organizational behaviour and HR management area at Rotman.