As the business landscape evolves, so do the dynamics of work environments. CEOs, private equity investors, Boards of Directors, and people leaders face critical questions about creating value for investors, team effectiveness, and maintaining a positive culture. The seismic shifts caused by Covid-19 have accelerated the need for innovative approaches to managing workforces.

To gain insights into how leaders are addressing these workforce challenges, we reached out to CEOs, CHROs, and Talent Partners within the private equity sector to discover the best practices they recommend for optimizing work environments, whether in-person, hybrid, or fully remote. Let’s explore how organizations can thrive in this new era of work.

1. Build a Detailed Plan

Having a people plan matched to your organization’s specific work environment is more vital than ever to ensure the success of your business. Plans are highly dependent on the executive leadership team and business model. From designated in-person workdays to regularly scheduled C-Suite on-site meetings and daily employee touch points, developing a plan tailored to the specific needs of your business is a priority.

“You need a lot more planning when you operate remotely. There is no one size fits all. Being intentional and thoughtful about communication, meeting cadence, and personal style in a way that reflects the makeup of your organization is critical. Ask yourself, what makes you, your team, and your business most effective? There is a tendency to want to schedule more meetings in a remote work environment to ensure communication. Ask yourself as part of planning how to work more effectively in a remote environment – what meetings and topics should be planned up front (reoccurring v. one off), which topics are okay to reach out as needed, and how do you determine or limit the amount of meetings in a remote environment to ensure you are not overloading calendars unnecessarily.”  – Laurie Colasanti, Chief Human Resources Officer, Upstream Rehabilitation

Plans should be comprehensive and extend across all facets of the business. From technology (like communication software and cybersecurity) to culture building opportunities (such as employee spotlights and in-person events) having a plan that tackles the whole business will best prepare your team for success in today’s work environment.

2. Define & Align Culture

Leaders must create a culture that starts at the C-Suite and is woven into the overall fabric of the organization. The development of employee recognition programs, internal communication channels, and robust orientation programs can help unify the company, regardless of geographic footprint. Particularly, in hybrid and remote environments, creating a consistent communication mechanism (like internal portals, town halls, and messaging platforms) can help ensure all levels of the organization feel connected.

“Culture has to be intentional. It is something that is ever evolving and requires alignment across the organization. Through programs that recognize great work, creating development opportunities, and believing in the mission of the organization, we aim to create a collaborative culture that starts at the top and transcends all levels of the organization.” – Geoff Gross, Chief Executive Officer, Medical Guardian    

3. Provide Leadership Training

Specialized training can equip leaders with the tools to navigate the unique challenges associated with remote, hybrid, or in-person organizations. While leading a distributed workforce is new to many businesses, industries like professional services have long navigated such work environments. Many of the lessons learned by these leaders can be applied across industries, proving that with the proper training leaders can be successful.

“If we hire the right CEO, we trust that they are making the right call for their business, whether that is a remote, hybrid, or in-person environment. In our hiring process, we thoroughly assess a candidate’s experience leading in the environment of a specific business. We also address the tools or training they will need to succeed. This ensures we, as an investor, can effectively support our CEOs and leadership teams.” – Melissa Mounce, Managing Director, Leadership Talent & Diversity, GTCR

4. Recruit with the Work Environment in Mind

During the recruiting process, it is crucial to go beyond the traditional resume review. Hiring committees should consider capturing insights into a candidate’s versatility and adaptability to evolving business landscapes early in the recruiting process. Conducting references that target communication capabilities, engagement levels, and the ability to drive culture in in-person, remote, or hybrid roles is necessary. Additional tactics like case studies and external assessments have also proven beneficial in the vetting process.

“Companies within our portfolio have varying structures. We have found that a robust assessment process can help to ensure we make the right hire for the business. To get the best talent, in certain situations, we have been flexible on location and made individual accommodations around commuting. Ultimately if they meet our assessment criteria, have evidenced previous success in commuting/remote situations, and they commit to being an engaged member of the team, we have found success in several flexible work accommodations.” – Ashley Aronson, Director Talent Acquisition, Gryphon Investors

Industry and function also play a significant role. Certain industries, such as technology, lean towards more remote work environments. To access top talent in such industries, hiring remotely may be necessary.  Other businesses, such as business services and home healthcare providers, tend to have field-based workforces. Their management teams may be more successful traveling and operating in a hybrid or remote environment.

 “When hiring talent, there are many factors at play including company needs, industry norms, and what percentage of time an executive will be ‘out in the field.’ We aim to make accommodations to get the best talent. Practical flexibility is key – from hybrid set-ups to dedicated in-person time and commuting arrangements. Going forward, we aim to develop guidelines that enable us to get the best talent for the business. These guidelines will seek to ensure we can attract top talent and simultaneously drive value creation at the portfolio company.” – Kate Berkeley, Managing Director, Gryphon Investors

 5. Measure Productivity & Create Accountability

Creating accountability is top of mind for executives. For executives leading remote and hybrid teams, measuring productivity, and fostering accountability requires a delicate balance between trust and transparency. For some this has meant shifting to outcome-based metrics that focus on quality and impact rather than hours worked or tasks completed. The utilization of project management tools, which enable process updates, have also proven impactful in assessing an employee’s contribution.

We sat down as a leadership team and developed a charter designed to keep us accountable. We set goals around clear communication and defined expectations – from establishing channels for regular check-ins to implementing monitoring technology and creating an environment of open dialogue; we sought to create accountability and provide our team with the resources to be successful.” – Christie Carlisle, Chief Human Resources Officer, Innovation Renal Care

Based on our conversations, CEOs and leadership teams within private equity-backed businesses can drive success regardless of work environment, team geographic distribution, and business model. The overall impact of these work environment changes on value creation, business performance, and employee development will not be known for years to come. Where the market will ultimately level out is unclear. For now, leaders should continue to plan with a focus on communication, expectations, outcomes, and employee engagement.

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