As the world emerges from lockdowns, business practices need to be reviewed and re-interpreted in the re-set reality of the near future.  At Openspace, we believe that there are some fundamental tenets of hiring and team dynamics which will remain.  However, there certainly will be new ways of doing things and in this article we explore some of our key viewpoints.

Preparing for challenges

It is almost a requirement for each early stage company to be more nimble than the incumbents.  Whether it is to take advantage of openings in the market, or to do more with less, it is a mindset built into successful entrepreneurs, but what about the human qualities that underpin nimbleness and how do you test for that in an interview?

There is the saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. This statement, we think, focuses on two angles.  Do you hire someone with individual talent, or do you hire someone who is a team player?

Our answer, naturally, was we want to go fast and go far!  But as everyone knows, brilliant individuals who work well as part of a team are valuable commodities and they are hard to come by on the job market.

But how do you judge whether someone is a team player in a one-on-one interview? No one ever admits they are not a team player. Therefore, we focus on identifying key attributes that make a good team player such as listening skills, openness, goal alignment, commitment, ownership and willingness to help.

Therefore it is understandable why employers place strong emphasis on their interview processes, challenging as it may be for interviewees on the other side of the table.

Interview strategies in the new normal

Interviews are difficult and it is extremely rare that any company gets every hire right.  More often than not, you would hear of business leaders lamenting that they spend more time dealing with and exiting unsuccessful hires than helping develop successful hires.

So naturally each company will have its own strategy with interviews.  Do you have a single interview session with two or three interviewers?  Do you have an interview in the office meeting room or do you do it at a restaurant over lunch?

In principle, there is no wrong or right approach. But if the world is truly moving towards decentralised work environments and have teams work remotely, the talent pool increases dramatically.

While the world post-covid will inevitably impose some restrictions on international travel, virtual communication has become a valuable part of business communication.  For employers looking to hire, and who have adopted virtual communication as a de-facto internal communication mode, the opportunities are boundless.

If the candidate might need to work remotely, perhaps having a virtual interview might be the best starting point.  Is the candidate amenable to interviews outside normal working hours?  How does the candidate come across on a video screen?  Can the candidate elaborate on and explain their viewpoints through a verbal medium, rather than rely on a physical demonstration?

Regardless, there are some good strategies to interviewing, regardless of the medium of the interview.  Here are some which we wish to share:

  • A good interviewer will try to make the candidate feel comfortable. You will find out more about a candidate when he or she is comfortable, rather than if he or she is guarded and nervous.
  • Don’t forget to dedicate some time to finding out how the candidate deals with adversity.  Their answers to this question could be very informative.
  • Set aside enough time for an interview, and don’t forget to prepare.  An interview is also about the interviewer selling the opportunity to the interviewee.

A new interpretation of team culture

Successful interviews result in a new individual joining a workplace. Most of us would have been a new hire at some point of our life, and this could well be the most challenging period for anyone professional.

In this period, understanding the culture of the workplace becomes one of the priorities for a new hire.  But being a new hire in the covid altered work environment presents a new challenge.

As we all adapt to a new way of working, it is necessary at an organisational level to reflect on team culture and dynamics.  Are the key tenets of culture reflective of the current reality?  Have difficult decisions taken in these times negatively impacted team culture?

While many companies have sought to “overcommunicate” during this time, there is still a period of uncertainty for many companies which will trickle down to employees.  And uncertainty is a litmus test for an organisation’s inherent culture.

It is also important to be honest and transparent with employees about the challenges faced, and to be clear about the targets each team member needs to achieve to help organisations through these times.  Ambiguity and evasiveness will impact how employees view management.

Whatever choices an organisation makes during this time, we think that every organisation should bear in mind that the culture is safe so long as the employee morale is high.

Leadership must find ways to appreciate individual/team contributions and communicate (overcommunicate) the organisation’s ongoing success.  This will, in our view, contribute to keeping morale high in a challenging environment.

Shaping up to challenge the new normal

In our investment decisions, we place equal weighting on “Product” and “People”.  The “Product” segment of the weightage is a topic for another day, but for us, “People” has the ability to tip the scale and work against poor odds.

It is challenging to make great people decisions at every level, but in the months and years to come, people will be the constant that gets an organisation fast and far.