Flexibility is key for 2022, Gazette panelists say


This article was originally published by By Robyn Ireland on The Gazette on Nov, 2021.

Maintaining productivity through a pandemic and a derecho and a major movement for social justice — as well as operational success, not to mention continued hiring and retention — over the past 20 months have had a direct, permanent impact on how organizations function.

That was the overall view of participants in The Gazette’s fourth-quarter Business Breakfast panel on Tuesday, “Working Through Workplace Tangles 2022.”

Watch the replay

And when the pandemic began, no one thought many businesses would need continue to function in a hybrid model as long as they have.

“We’ve found checking on employees and meeting them where they’re at works well,” noted Samantha Rogers, Skywalk Group human resources business director.

Writing notes that recognize achievements or offer encouragement, then mailing them to employees who are working at home, also saw benefits, she said.

Terri Davis, senior vice president at Shuttleworth and Ingersoll, pointed out flexibility has been key in the current environment. Most organizations, in fact, now see a hybrid model as more long term than suspected back in March 2020, she said.

Davis emphasized continued flexibility. Employees working remotely or hybrid, she cautioned, might be permanent — “not a temporary fix,“ she said.

With 60 percent of machining manufacturer ESP International’s workforce on-site, Becky Streff, vice president, organizational excellence, found culture building was important, especially as a ESP has worker based around the world.

With hiring remaining a challenge, Rogers emphasized the need to actively develop the talent already employed and to actively retain them.

“Hire for those soft skills, those attributes that add value, and then train them — companies need to invest in employee development or they go somewhere else,” she said.

Brandon Blankenship, an SEC Midwest board member and ProCircular cybersecurity consultant, said it “drives him nuts” when employers in the information technology industry advertise for certain experiences that someone just entering the workforce couldn’t possibly have.

“It’s so unfair and discouraging for the employees looking,” he added.

Talinda Pettigrew, University of Iowa’s senior director of human resources within the division of Student Life, noted the ongoing importance of diversity in hiring choices — even as organizations in the state face a limited number of job candidates.

“It’s so important because diversity brings in people who think differently than we do and forces us to think more creatively,” Pettigrew said.

“With new ideas and different ways of looking at things, it creates a more dynamic (working) environment. Diversity jump starts our brain so that we’re not always working on autopilot, and that’s important … .

“Now more than ever, we need to be searching further and casting our net wider than we used to, to make sure we bring in more people to our organizations,” she said.

Streff emphasized being sure to “invest in building a really great a team of front-line managers.“

The reason? Employees’ relationships with those managers is “the single greatest influence on their work life in terms of productivity, engagement and tenure.”

Blankenship reminded viewers the “perimeter of an organization is no longer the brick-and-mortar, the firewall, the building. The perimeter are people because (now) people are scattered and they have to log into things. … The perimeter is just every person who can access your company resources.”

He emphasized the need for employers to implement dual-factor authentication, among other security precautions, as more employees work from home or in a hybrid model.

The panel discussion was recorded and will be available to watch at thegazette.com/businessbreakfast.

Sponsor for this year’s Business Breakfast series is financial and technology solutions company BerganKDV. Community partners are NewBoCo and Corridors Careers.