#69 - Taking advantages of our positives when hiring
Remote hiring and diversity; hybrid meetings;
We have several items this week about post pandemic management and continuing to manage a distributed team.
It’s hard to hire and retain excellent staff. We probably can’t offer FAANG-type salaries or perks, and if we’re even trying to compete on those terms we’re doomed. Our only option is to play to every advantage we do have: challenging, meaningful work; flexibility in work - whatever strengths our team does have. And we can play to those strengths while doing our best to attract the kinds of candidates who want the kind of work we offer.
Too often we don’t make use of those advantages when trying to hire. Looking back at my time in academia, I’m routinely mystified by the websites of research projects — often research projects who mention that they have a hard time hiring — that make it hard to find out if there are jobs open. And when one does finally dig up a job ad (typically hidden under two or three pages of transparently meaningless institutional fluff about “how we work at [huge institution with vastly different cultures across department and teams]”), rather than being clear on priorities and goals for the new hire, the opportunities for growth and new challenges, and transparency around salary bands, I often see none of that and instead a laundry list of “3 years experience with technology X”, “2 years experience with technology Y”, etc.
These job ads have been clearly inadequate for years, and fixing job ads and where they’re posted is comparatively easy (even at organizations that have a fixed institutional job ad structure filled with boring boilerplate, no one prohibits these projects from advertising those jobs differently elsewhere and linking to the decrepit HR system for applying).
Flexibility in work post-pandemic is going to have to include hybrid remote/on-site approaches to work. Even the hospital I work for, an organization that is very much not widely known for its forward-looking, innovative approach to HR, is rolling out an institution-wide set of policies and perfectly serviceable materials for staff and managers in this new hybrid world, with near-site team members working from elsewhere some or all of the time.
We’re probably going to have to go further than this. We’ll have to allow people to work from away, probably including hiring people who will never ever commute from their distant location to “headquarters,” while also making sure space is available on-campus for those who want that (and employees who want to feel part of a research and education community will value that, at least some of the time). Hybrid is much harder than purely remote or purely onsite; the typical failure mode seems to be for people who are on- or near-site to feel “part of the team” in a way that the distributed team members don’t, and to slowly lose engagement with this distributed team members until they eventually leave. That means we have to keep up the practices we’ve been using during the pandemic like asynchronous written communications and processes even when they’re not necessary for everyone. It’ll be easy to slip.
We’re girding ourselves for that here; our working hours currently temporarily span six timezones and two continents, and we’re aiming to make that permanent (after what will surely be an epic battle, sung about for generations to come, with the previously mentioned HR department). We’re having to really up our game with building consensus by circulating documents around for comments, writing decision documents, and the like. But this is also already really helping us with collaborators or with team members who are only on our project 20% of the time, and with raw material for what will become papers or blog posts.
What is your team thinking for post-pandemic? What are your plans, and what are your concerns? Let me know by hitting reply, or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PS - the newsletter will be taking a break next week; when we come back the following week we’ll get back to the regular Friday evening (eastern time) delivery time.
And now, on to the roundup!
What It Takes to Run a Great Hybrid Meeting - Bob Frisch and Cary Greene, HBR
It’s pretty clear that the safest way to have meetings with both on- and off-site team members is to erase the distinction by having the meetings the way most of us have been doing them for the past 15 months - everyone connecting in separately from their laptops. That way everyone is on an equal footing.
But if there are a lot of people on site, that might not be realistic. Frisch and Greene offer the following suggestions for those who are on-site (interestingly, they assume that the person running the meeting is necessarily in the office):
Better audio - the old speaker/mic combination in the centre of the table isn’t going to cut it any more
Better video, especially of the distributed participants for the on-site team, ideally life-sized
Design the meetings for all attendees - tools for voting, taking notes/whiteboarding, etc
Have real facilitation, by someone not running the meeting, to make sure everyone is participating
Have on-site participants advocate for individual off-site participants
Honestly, I find this article a little discouraging. It gives some kind of idea how tough this is going to be - this isn’t even the hard case, where there’s multiple in-office teams at different locations as well as some working individually from elsewhere.
Microaggressions at the office can make remote work even more appealing - Karla Miller, Washington Post
Office spaces aren’t equally welcoming environments to all of us. Here Miller points out that for many potential team members, distributed work can mean less of the constant low-level stream of bullshit they’d normally experience in a predominantly white and male workplace.
Working at home has largely spared them from having to deal with such incidents as […] being mistaken for another colleague of the same race (a problem solved by having names displayed in video meetings)
apparently really registered with a lot of readers on twitter, and it’s a point that I had literally never thought about.
Reading this, I wonder if hiring in an increasingly distributed manner will also help recruit from groups that experience this sort of tiring nonsense all the time. We typically have small tight-knit teams, and team members from a lot of different demographic groups might well feel concerned about joining the team as “onlies”, the only member of that group. Will offering distributed work de-risk that choice enough that it would help improve diversity of our teams with new recruits (while of course leaving the work of equity and inclusion?)
A list of sources for project management document templates.