As pandemic restrictions begin to lift, we are entering into an employee marketplace. Attracting and retaining workers will become more competitive as project pipelines return. Many people have enjoyed the time saved by forgoing their office commute. Employees wearing multiple hats, such as that of caregiver, have enjoyed the flexibility some employers have allowed during the pandemic.

While some firms have committed to a more hybrid way of working moving forward, they may not have worked out what employee recruiting, hiring, and developing will look like. Without developing proper people frameworks that give employers faith in their people and empower employees to make progress, regardless of whether they are remote or in the office, many employers will revert back to pre-pandemic business practices. Ultimately, companies that move forward without providing employees greater flexibility will be at a competitive disadvantage.

Regardless of whether you pursue a hybrid work model, the cost of not having a good framework is immeasurable. It can include productivity loss, departing clients, a blemished employer reputation, diminished team morale, lost time supervising a bad hire, increase in recruitment and training costs, and even legal fees. Gallup has found that a disengaged employee can cost their organization 34% of their salary—and this does not fully account for the burden placed on other employees who must compensate for their deficiencies.

[A] disengaged employee can cost their organization 34% of their salary.

During the pandemic, architecture firm partners have told me they are wary of bringing on new hires, especially recent graduates and interns, in a hybrid workplace. But why is considering a new training path hard? Recent graduates, for example, have been balancing multiple remote courses on top of studio while attending class in-person for, perhaps, only a few hours a week.

As architects, we invite our clients to place their trust in us, to share how they live, work, teach, and care for their users, and to design a place that both meets their needs and helps them do what they do better. Firm owners should apply this creativity to rethink employee collaboration and development.

For new hires and firms to trust each other from day one, firms can evaluate their people framework from recruitment to retention and redesign as needed. Start by examining how your firm manages the following five-part framework.

1. Recruitment and Employee Selection
In addition to finding the right talent, many firms have committed to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in their hiring practices. Be proactive in the hiring process by creating a career page on your website. Though this page can list opportunities, it should focus on your firm’s culture and values. Add video testimonials or quotes from employees sharing their personal work experience.

If you are not happy with the candidates responding to your job listing, you should first rewrite the listing. Similar to how firms cultivate potential clients, you can actively seek candidates via LinkedIn and referrals rather than waiting for candidates to find you.

Do you need to hire for a particular project, or do you find yourself generally understaffed? If you need someone with specific modeling skills and knowledge to work on construction documents on their first day, add a skills test to the hiring process.

During the interview process, involve as many team members as possible and ask every candidate the same set of questions. This helps eliminate implicit bias and can start the team bonding before you even make the offer.

Finally, be responsive to every individual who applies to your firm. Create a great candidate experience even when you have to turn away individuals without bringing them in for an interview.

2. Orientation and Onboarding
Does your firm differentiate between the orientation process and the onboarding process? Typically, orientation is a one-time, one-day to one-week event. Ideally, onboarding should run an entire year and provide regular opportunities to ensure the new hire understands their job duties and responsibilities, learns the ropes while creating personal and career goals, and has an opportunity to give feedback. New employees who go through a structured onboarding program are 58% percent more likely to be with the organization three years later, according to an UrbanBound article.

A comprehensive onboarding process might have check-ins after the first day and first week; at 30-, 60-, and 90-day intervals; and at six months and finally one year. After the initial orientation, a new hire should feel that joining your firm was the best decision. It should also be the best first day they've ever had at any job. By the end of their first week, employees should have a clear understanding of their responsibilities and expectations for the coming month, and of internal processes.

New employees who go through a structured onboarding program are 58% percent more likely to be with the organization three years later.

At one month, employees should be meeting their expectations as well as be happy and engaged in the firm beyond their project responsibilities, participate in social events, and know to whom to direct their questions. At the three- and six-month check-ins, employees should still view their firm positively. Ninety days is a good time to have an informal check-in and start encouraging individual employees to develop their own goals. This is a crucial time. Approximately one-third of new hires decide in the first 90 days if they are interested in staying—and whether it's for months or for years.

The six-month check-in should be a little more formal and aim to make sure the new hire is delivering on their expectations and developing strong relationships with their co-workers.

At the end of their first year, a hire should ultimately be fully engaged, confident, and trained. They should understand the firm’s culture and values and how their work directly contributes to the firm’s success. Throughout the process, they should have an opportunity to weigh in on the onboarding process and identify areas for improvement. They should also co-design their future goals and seek relevant learning opportunities within and beyond the firm.

3. Performance Management and 360 Reviews
All firms—but particularly those functioning in a hybrid manner—should be willing to become transparent about performance management and to engage in 360 reviews. According to the Stanford Graduate School of Business, more than 85% of all Fortune 500 companies use 360-degree feedback process as a cornerstone of their overall leadership and development process.

Similar to the hiring process, involving more individuals in the review process helps remove implicit bias and provides different data points to judge the overall development of an individual. Additional benefits include increased self-awareness, increased dialogue, better working relationships, increased accountability of managers by their peers and reports, and enhanced overall performance.

4. Career Pathing
Whether you have fewer than five employees or more than 100 employees, career pathing is critical to employee retention. A 2015 Ranstad Employee Survey estimated that 26% of employees leave their companies due to a lack of career development. After all, what is the point of staying if there is no room for growth?

Career pathing can be as complex as succession pathing, or as simple as understanding what skills employees—especially recent hires—need to take on roles with greater responsibilities.

5. Lifelong Learning and Development
The final piece of a successful people framework is the annual investment a firm makes in their employees to help them grow and reach their goals. One way to establish a culture of learning is to have employees with greater experience actively host lunch-and-learns and internal training seminars. Another is to allow individuals to attend seminars and classes during the workweek. Firms can also provide a monetary stipend or create an internal grant program that gives individuals access to additional funds for research or development.

In many firms, regardless of size, employees who oversee operations tend to wear multiple hats. This means that there’s not necessarily a ton of time to commit to the redesign of people frameworks. Consider reworking them one component at a time. Continuous improvement even in small increments can lead to meaningful change over the long run.

This is the third article in a series on what building and running a successful hybrid practice requires. The next article will cover lessons on team management and productivity.

The views and conclusions from this author are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine or of The American Institute of Architects.