The pandemic created a great shift to remote work in 2020. “Work from home” searches on Google increased 309% from 2019 to 2020, forcing businesses and organizations to adapt their business operations, including the ways in which they fill vacant positions. Serving as a conduit between businesses and their incoming workforce, Junior Achievement (JA) of Central Indiana is identifying how leadership can address the increased demand for remote positions by adapting their processes to attract qualified remote workers. We are even applying these processes to our own programs and events.  

While COVID-19 accelerated the transition to remote work, this trend had been growing in recent years. Before the pandemic, 53% of the U.S. workforce operated remotely in some capacity. In 2021, the percentage of employees permanently working from home is expected to double, making it clear that remote work, whether full time or hybrid, is here to stay. This arrangement will be the norm for future workers. 

JA has identified several initiatives for companies to use to attract and hire a qualified remote workforce: 

Incentivize personal communication. Engagement is much more difficult with remote staff, which means employers must find effective communication platforms to keep morale high and attitudes positive. Businesses should adopt a communication platform that lets employees communicate and engage with one another both professionally and personally. Platforms like Slack and Asana are great tools that allow employees to communicate in a more casual manner. Slack features notifications for birthdays and lets employees create channels for more personal conversations like sharing recipes or discussing movies. Just as important as having these platforms is having a proactive attitude about them so employees utilize these tools with enthusiasm. 

Survey employees. It’s important to know which initiatives are working and which should be discontinued. The best way to evaluate employee sentiment is to ask your workers directly. Consider regularly issuing companywide surveys that can be completed anonymously to continuously gauge employee sentiment on your remote strategies and tactics. 

Partner with student-facing organizations and events. It’s never too early to begin grooming your workforce, and companies can take preemptive measures to ensure their workplace will meet the needs of future employees. Organizations like JA are already engaging with students on career exploration pathways to help them find their place in the workforce. Partnering with organizations already working with students can help businesses capitalize on the research and outreach these entities are already conducting. 

A real-life example is TechPoint Foundation for Youth (TPF4Y), a JA community partner dedicated to getting students involved in STEM activities and potential careers in the industry. Among other indications, TPF4Y was tipped off by a report from FlexJobs, a leading website specializing in remote and flexible job postings, which showed a 50% increase in remote job listings during the pandemic in the fields of computer science, IT, accounting, finance and project management. TPF4Y is taking proactive steps to meet the rising demand for more remote work by transitioning more programs to virtual platforms and investing in communication channels that deliver an impact similar to in-person interactions. 

They’ve also partnered with JA on programs and events, including JA JobSpark, a two-day career expo that includes either an in-class or remote curriculum with supporting activities prior to and after the event. Each year, TPF4Y volunteers in this career showcase, which attracts more than 10,000 Indianapolis eighth graders annually.  

Both JA and TPF4Y have redeveloped every program and event to be completely virtual for the foreseeable future so as not to deprive students of an opportunity to learn about careers in different industries. In the process, JA found that its programs could eliminate capacity and geographic restrictions and reach more students. In 2021 and beyond, JA will maintain its virtual elements, including JA JobSpark, to ensure organizations like TPF4Y and our many corporate partners, will be able to share their expertise and resources with more students and maintain their pipeline of future employees.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed many aspects of our work and private lives. While businesses have faced significant obstacles, they can survive and even thrive through timely adaptation, communication, cooperation and evaluation. What’s more, by preparing for the increasingly virtual world, and supporting today’s young people in pursuing high demand career pathways of the future, they will find themselves ahead of the pack in the competition for a qualified, and possibly remote, workforce. 

Jennifer Burk has served as President and CEO of Junior Achievement of Central Indiana for 11 years.

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