This week’s article is provided by Faris Alami, Founder and CEO of ISM. It is a companion to the interview he and Dr. Christopher Washington did on the Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future. Their interview titled Post-Pandemic Approaches to Developing Future Fit Employees, aired on Tuesday, March 1st, 2022.
For the past few years we have faced the challenges of COVID-19, from the initial shutdowns to the reopening, to the next shutdown and reopening — each part of the “new reality.”
Many have found it devastating. They grieve for the loss of nearly a million lives in the U.S. alone, as well the loss of businesses and communities According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, “the pandemic resulted in the permanent closure of roughly 200,000 U.S. establishments above historical levels during the first year of the viral outbreak, according to a study released by economists at the Fed.” (Simon, 2021)
At the same time, the pandemic also provided opportunities for entrepreneurs to start or grow their businesses.
“The new numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Wednesday… found that a whopping 5.4 million new business applications were filed in 2021, surpassing the record set in 2020 of 4.4 million.”-Andrea Hsu, NPR.org
As with any other challenge, there will always be some who gain while others lose. As we continue to deal with the implications of COVID-19, there are opportunities to create new platforms and paths to explore to pursue the dream of starting a business.
The “New Reality” of the Corporate World
The reality of the pandemic has shifted the workforce in a variety of ways. The initial and most tangible shift is the transition and creation of remote jobs. According to the NCCI, only 6% of employed Americans worked from home before the pandemic. Initially, about 35% of the workforce worked remotely in the first four weeks of the pandemic. As of May 2021, about 24% of employed Americans still work remotely, with no plans to return to the office.
Instead of being in person, working right there in the office, many people continue to work remotely — managing and tending to their business tasks, their personal lives, their kids, and sometimes their elders, all at once, and all in the same place.
The workforce has shifted. These times create new challenges, and also generate new problems to be solved — thus producing opportunities for innovative solutions to accommodate this new sect of employment.
Lifestyle and Purpose as a Priority
The second shift is in the mindset of workers and the realization of their top priorities truly are. The time with family and friends has allowed a reflection on the importance of finding purposeful work. They no longer look for a job just to have a job, they are looking for a job with a purpose — to have a better life, to have a better world, support the underserved, the underrepresented, go to the moon — whatever it is, their purpose is driving their job search.
After the pandemic shifted many Americans’ lifestyles, the flexibility and remote work made many not want to return to the office and maintain that level of flexibility they got to experience as a result of the pandemic.
They ask themselves: Will this job allow me to fulfill my purpose?
Purpose or Wage Ratio Increase?
Many aspects of business have been affected by the pandemic, including the cost and availability of labor. The entrepreneurial spirit of Americans was ignited during this period of reflection. With many Americans looking for purposeful work, they are also looking for purposeful pay. According to the Pew Research center, “the wage ratio increased to 16% by the third quarter of 2020 and had ascended to 19% by the second quarter of 2021.” (Kochhar, Bennett 2021).
This created a new challenge for entrepreneurs — particularly small businesses or startups. Many don’t have the funds to create those jobs. Sometimes there is not enough revenue to justify the payment for that work.
This is why you see the shift today — some entrepreneurs are able to navigate this new reality by hiring and training new talent. They are facing the fact that they can no longer afford talented individuals with experience. Those folks, most of the time, have been able to launch their own businesses or find jobs that will pay them what they are worth.
The End of a 40 Hour Work Week?
That represents a new challenge for entrepreneurs accustomed to having people 40-50 hours a week. And there must be a mind shift, not just a physical shift. They need to find new ways to allocate and articulate their work in a 20- or 30-hour work schedule rather than a 40-hour schedule.
This may mean that looking for a team of people working part time as opposed to 1 full time employee may be the best way to find success. Some of the benefits of hiring a team are the opportunity for innovation with more minds collaborating, less opportunity for employees to feel overworked or burned out, increasing retention, and increased productivity within the time they do work instead of just fulfilling the 40 hours to ‘complete’ their schedule.
It took a few years for us to successfully shift from an in-person workplace to a virtual staff. It will probably take time to reverse that shift. We could be looking at 2023 or 2024 before whatever this “new normal” becomes apparent. Sometimes you are open, sometimes you are closed, sometimes someone’s not able to show up.
I encourage entrepreneurs who are starting or growing businesses — specifically small and medium businesses or startups —to rethink the way they view the workforce. It seems that we still can hire for attitude and train for skills!
Ask yourself two questions:
- Is this really a full-time position, or can these tasks be completed on a part-time basis?
- Can this job be divided amongst a team instead of just an individual?
Why does your business exist? What purpose are you fulfilling for the community or for the customers you serve? The answer might help you attract the talent to want to work with you toward your purpose.
With this article, my goal is not to tell you what or what not to do, but only to inspire conversation for us to think about these ideas.
Keep thinking about the future of work through the lens of entrepreneurs, as they face new challenges every day.
Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible, iHeartRADIO, and NPR One. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.
About the Author
As Founder and CEO of ISM, Faris Alami works with international leaders and entrepreneurs on strategies and implementations, to create an empowering environment for startups and existing businesses to prosper and grow. In the course of his career, Faris has been a special advisor and Entrepreneurial Ecosystem expert with the World Bank, a Business Advisor with Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program, and a Mentor to MBA Students and Entrepreneurs globally.