The ideal worker for the new workforce

A distributed workplace can better respond to the way people interact with their work and removes barriers for workers from diverse backgrounds or whose lifestyle doesn’t fit the traditional worker mold. The benefits to employers are vast, but to access these benefits, you must reconsider what your ideal worker looks like.

The pandemic has forced a monumental shift in thinking about the relationship between work and workers. The proliferation of remote work and remote schooling has put a tremendous strain on men and women alike and has caused many of us to rethink our relationship with work. As a result, there are several striking statistics to share:

  • Fourteen percent of women workers have considered quitting during the pandemic as a result of the increased pressures.
  • Eleven percent of men have also considered quitting.
  • The Center for American Progress estimates that the risk of mothers leaving the labor force or reducing work hours to assume caretaking responsibilities amounts to $64.5 billion annually in lost wages and economic activity.

If, as these statistics suggest, one fifth of workers reduce their hours, this would have a significant impact on our economy and many businesses would suffer from a reduced workforce. As a result, many organizations are looking at new ways to adapt to this seismic change.

Distributed work is a major driver in redefining the ideal worker

A huge portion of the workforce moved from their workplace to work-from-home situations overnight in 2020. But teleworking arrangements had been steadily on the rise for the preceding decade. Given that employees with flexible workplace arrangements are less likely to quit, are more productive and cost less, it’s easy to see why this movement was gaining traction.

These factors certainly played a role when we chose to open as a fully distributed law firm with no “office” in 2017.

As we see it, a distributed workplace better responds to the way people interact with their work. It promotes intelligent use of technology — and tech-enabled companies outperform others in growth, productivity and employee satisfaction. Meanwhile, it removes barriers for workers from diverse backgrounds or whose lifestyle doesn’t fit the “traditional worker” mold. New mothers, people with disabilities or medical conditions, workers married to military personnel, or qualified candidates who live in other countries can all access gainful work via the distributed model.

The benefits to employers are vast. You have better access to talent and fewer barriers to entry, which makes it easier to embed diversity. Diversity in the workplace directly correlates to increased innovation, better financial performance and risk management, and customer excellence, among other things.

To access these benefits, you must reconsider what your ideal worker looks like.

5 key traits you’ll find in the ideal worker for the new workforce

By the time your candidates get to the interview stage, we would hope that you’ve filtered for the experience or transferable hard skills and knowledge required. What’s left is for you to determine which workers will bring the most value to your business. We achieve this by asking situational questions of our candidates that give them a chance to demonstrate key characteristics we’ve identified in our ideal workers.

Following are the five key traits we believe are critical in the ideal worker for the new workforce.

1. Your ideal worker wants to take ownership of their role.

The best advice we can offer is to hire people who are smarter than you. Our employees know and understand their roles and they’re ready to own the work we give them. They don’t want to be micromanaged, and we don’t want to micromanage them. So, we tell our recruits that they should be managing up.

They should tell their managers what guidance they need, how they work best and what tools they need to succeed. Our leaders are, of course, available to provide mentorship, advice, quality checks and management as required. They aren’t there to run a day care center.

2. The new workforce needs more workers who welcome change.

It’s likely that in March 2020 your entire workforce transitioned to remote work arrangements overnight. It’s possible that your business operations, potentially even your business model, have undergone significant changes in the following months. Job descriptions have been in flux, processes and procedures rebuilt from scratch, and the average workday disrupted by children requiring schooling or incessant Zoom calls.

Adaptable workers are flexible in their thinking and their actions. They are open to changing processes, using new technologies or working within their skillset but outside the confines of their “job description” box. In fact, they welcome these changes and challenges with open arms.

3. Teamwork and collaboration are crucial traits for workers in the new norm.

As more companies adapt and (at least partially) shift to remote, distributed or telework arrangements, the value of true team players in your workforce increases. Team players aren’t just workers with strong communication skills — though that’s a critical skill they possess.

Collaborative team players understand their role, hold themselves accountable, work within their strengths, and both recognize and play to the strengths of others. When things don’t go to plan, a team player thinks flexibly and focuses on solutions, not playing the blame game. In short, a true team player can bring together and elevate their entire team.

4. The value of creative thinking in your workforce cannot be overstated.

Creative thinkers are curious and ready to challenge the status quo. They’re ready to recommend new processes, find and rectify inefficiencies, and solve business problems — faster. Better still, they bring new ideas to the table, which can be just what you need to amplify innovation in your workplace.

Delve into the “why” during interviews to identify creative thinking. You can ask absurd questions like “If you could only bring three things to a deserted island to survive for one week, what would they be?” Real-world examples work too, like “Tell me how you overcame a recent challenge.” Then follow up by asking the candidate to explain their reasoning.

5. The ideal worker for your business must share your company values.

This trait really covers the concept of “fit.” Your candidate must be a good fit for your company, as well as for the role. Taking CGL as an example, our company values are integrity, excellence, empathy, team player, adaptability, self-assurance and humility. These values guide our decision-making just as much as they impact our daily operations. We know our workforce needs to embody these values to succeed with us, so we make sure they do during the interview process.

How your workplace can attract your ideal workers

Before you start filtering for your ideal worker during interviews, you need to encourage them to apply! Here are the steps we took to start attracting the right talent.

Understand your business. You need to understand your business before you can expect the same of others. Consider what your business needs to do to “be successful.” Then, take a look at how your business practices are helping or hurting you as you strive for that goal. In particular, consider how the traditional “chair warmer” worker model has shaped your business and rethink those practices.

With that new perspective, define your company values — and live by them.

Make your company values public. Your ideal worker reads your job description. This means you need to make your company values very clear so all applicants know what is expected of them and what they can expect. Every public-facing communication you send about your company culture or values should be authentic. There’s little point in hiring people who are attracted to a culture that doesn’t exist. They won’t last.

Embed diversity and inclusion. Be proactive in seeking diversity and promoting inclusion — and hire workers who are happy to champion both. Most important, never turn someone away because they don’t “look” like your other workers.

Lawyers, traditionally, are expected to put in long hours every workday. This structure obviously penalizes women who are mothers and lawyers. While parental equity is becoming more common, it’s widely accepted (and expected) that mothers carry the majority of the mental load of caring for children. In the past, this has been seen as a drawback by the legal industry. We’ve flipped that thought on its head. From our perspective, you should give any task you want done to a mother. She’s capable of doing it — or she wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be working for you. And she wants to get it done as quickly as possible. As we see it, that’s the definition of an impactful worker.

Rethink your rewards structure. If your wage and bonus criteria reward workers for the amount of time they spend doing tasks, it’s time to rethink that structure. Create criteria that reward creativity, good outcomes, customer satisfaction and innovation. Then, set about measuring relevant metrics so you can put it into practice.

Key takeaways

The pandemic has exposed the fallacy of the “ideal worker” being the person who spends the most of their time in a chair. It has paved the way for businesses to rethink processes, hiring standards and bonus criteria, while opening doors for the business benefits that diversity, accessibility, inclusion and flexible workplace arrangements offer. Importantly, it has proved that your ideal worker is out there, if you know where (and how) to look.