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The hybrid workforce: Overcoming recruitment and onboarding challenges

A hybrid workforce blends remote and on-site work models to give employees the flexibility and freedom they value – and expect. In today’s world of work, candidates and new hires are assessing companies for fit just as thoroughly as companies are evaluating them. At a time when jobseekers have the upper hand – and where The Great Resignation of 2021 sees employees leaving jobs in record numbers – getting recruitment and onboarding right is more challenging and yet more important than ever.

Defining the hybrid workforce

A true hybrid workforce incorporates HR technology and employee experience best practices to help employees feel more satisfied and engaged, and to make businesses more resilient and competitive.


According to Harvard Business Review, the hybrid workforce gives businesses “the benefits of remote working (increased flexibility, reduced carbon footprint, labor-cost optimization, and increased employee satisfaction) alongside the critical strengths of traditional, co-located work (smoother coordination, informal networking, stronger cultural socialization, greater creativity, and face-to-face collaboration).”

The hybrid workforce: Changing beliefs and assumptions

Many of the traditional objections to remote work were based on the assumption that a lack of supervision and nine-to-five on-site structures would reduce employee performance. However, the pandemic provided an opportunity for organizations to challenge these long-held beliefs. And as it turned out, the deluge of data on remote and hybrid workplace performance told quite a different story.


Evidence shows that a hybrid workforce actually performs better, with greater employee retention, engagement, and even profitability.  A survey of employers by Mercer determined that “productivity was the same as or higher than it was before the pandemic, even with their employees working remotely.” And Gartner reports that “at typical organizations where employees work a standard 40 hours per week in the office, only 36% of employees were high performers. When organizations shift from this environment to one of radical flexibility where employees have choice over where, when, and how much they work, 55% of employees were high performers.” 


Hybrid workplace model

What is it and how does it work?

Employee recruitment and onboarding challenges in a hybrid workforce

While the hybrid workforce offers clear advantages, these gains can only be realized with some radical shifts in HR procedure. The pandemic forced businesses to change their processes – particularly their recruiting and onboarding approach – virtually overnight. While this kick-started procedural innovation and optimization, it also unearthed some new challenges for HR departments. A Mindedge survey of almost 800 senior-level HR professionals found that 35% of those surveyed felt that remote recruiting is more challenging than in-person recruiting and 38% said that remote interviews are less productive than in-person. And in another recent survey, almost 50% of respondents indicated that remote onboarding processes would be one of the “biggest challenges” they would face in the post-pandemic world of work.


Cultural challenges

  • Remote interviews can seem to require less commitment. When all a candidate must do is sit down at a screen, it can seem to recruiters that they are less serious about a role compared to when they take the time and effort required for an in-person interview.
  • It can be difficult to build relationships and impart company culture and values without in-person contact.  If not done well, remote onboarding can leave new hires feeling anxious and isolated because they are missing social norms and feedback they would expect from in-person interactions. 


Technological challenges

  • Legacy software – still used by many organizations – cannot personalize and humanize the recruitment experience nor deliver good the UI/UX and omni-device functionality that are required today.
  • Traditional HR systems without a centralized platform force both employees and employers to juggle multiple software tools and manual processes.
  • When wedged into legacy and manual systems, technologically sophisticated processes like video interviews and recruitment apps actually add more work, rather than reduce it.

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The power of AI-driven HR technologies

Artificial intelligence (AI)-driven HR technologies can make recruitment and onboarding processes more efficient for HR teams by automating tasks at every step of the hiring process – from recruiting to onboarding to retention. As Josh Bersin says, “The way we source, assess, hire, train, develop, pay, and move people is all being informed by AI.”  

Technologies such as machine learning and robotic process automation (RPA) are helping manage and mitigate recruitment and onboarding challenges by offering more integrated, personalized HR solutions. For example, machine learning tools can evaluate and rank applicants by scanning resumes and assessing qualifications and skills – all while using algorithms that help to spot potential and eliminate bias.  And RPA uses bots to perform administrative tasks such as collecting data, triggering responses, and communicating across business systems.

Other benefits of AI-driven technologies include:

  • Borderless recruiting: Integrated HR technologies make it possible for businesses to recruit talent internally, locally, and even globally. According to an SAP SuccessFactors thought leadership paper, Eight Meta-Trends Impacting Human Resources in 2021, developing a hybrid workforce “can yield significant benefits, including greater employee autonomy and the ability to adopt borderless talent strategies.” 
  • Customized employee recruitment process: Chatbots, natural language processing (NLP), and other AI-driven tools customize the employee recruitment process and improve the UX for candidates. Gartner’s 2020 Artificial Intelligence Survey found that 17% of organizations used AI-based talent management systems in 2019.
  • Immersive onboarding experiences: AI-powered virtual reality (VR) provides immersive experiences that include socialization and acculturation. They also help build ongoing personalized learning that responds to employee performance and company objectives. Forbes provides clear directive of the value of technology when it comes to remote onboarding: “Invest in modern, smart HCM tech that helps humanize the remote onboarding experience. Particularly in a remote or hybrid model, everyone will benefit, especially the employee, since it will help them engage with the culture, connect with their team, and feel supported.”

These modern HR solutions aren’t designed to replace people, but instead to free them up – and support them – in doing the work they do best. HR professionals are often known for their excellent intuition and empathy and while these are valuable skills, they can lead to unintentional bias. The right HR strategies can help ensure that businesses can still benefit from the well-honed skills of their HR teams while also using technologies such as AI to help eliminate bias and promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. 

Strategic HR management and the emerging role of HR as a business driver

The goal of strategic human resource management is to deliver long-term business value and competitive advantage via a strong workplace culture and a committed workforce equipped for the future. Strategic HR reflects the changing role of human resources as it’s moved away from a strictly operational offering to one that is purposefully integrated across the business. Beyond providing guidance during the transition to remote and hybrid work, HR leaders are also breaking down silos, supporting confident decision-making and goal setting across the organization.  When HR is a business driver, the whole company benefits. For example: 

  • Strategic HR management can boost talent retention. Studies show that replacing an employee can cost anywhere from one half to twice the employee’s annual salary and U.S. businesses are losing a trillion dollars a year due to voluntary turnover, according to Gallup.
  • Many employees prefer the structure and camaraderie of a physical workplace, and others have roles that demand they be on-site at all times. That said, research has shown that employees overwhelmingly prefer the flexibility of a hybrid model where possible. And recent Gartner research determined that “forcing employees to go back to the on-site environment could result in employers losing up to 39% of their workforce.”
  • Using modern HR technologies such as people analytics helps provide actionable data that allows HR to spot trends and opportunities, provide evidence-based recommendations, and predict outcomes for strategic decisions and initiatives. Further to HR’s strategic integration across the company as a whole, in a recent HBR study 89% of the executives surveyed “said that HR or people data was most valuable to an organization when combined and analyzed in conjunction with financial, operational, and other enterprise data.”

Getting started with digital transformation for HR

To drive digital transformation for HR, leaders need to:

  • Become comfortable with technology
  • Understand the company’s goals and needs
  • Embrace data – people analytics in particular 
  • Get buy-in from internal teams
  • Understand that the digital transformation process is iterative 

Digital transformation for HR starts with good communication and change management strategies. Communicating with internal teams and encouraging the sharing of ideas helps to break down silos and unearth goldmines of information about risks and opportunities. HR leadership needs to think about how the software and technologies they’re adopting can improve operational flexibility and the employee experience and make the company more competitive and profitable.


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