Strategic Staffing: How Remote Work Flexibility Could Change in 2021

Direct selling field members typically work from home, yet, companies resisted the notion of a remote corporate workforce until COVID-19 forced their hands earlier this year. Founders and industry leaders feared degraded job performance, company culture loss, and control slipping away.

“Because of the pandemic, a lot of the fear many organizations had about a remote corporate work force have been eliminated because they are seeing so many positive results. Not only are sales numbers growing, employee satisfaction is as well. The pandemic just served to move this inevitable change forward more quickly,” says Sean Eggert, CEO of Hanna Shea Executive Search.

The ability to focus without interruption, less time spent in meetings that could have been emails, better overall employee energy due to work surroundings, and the likelihood of remote work extending beyond the typical 8-hour day seem to be boosting at-home productivity.

“Basic human nature dictates many would be very comfortable to return to pre-pandemic normal—including return to the fiscal footprint,” says Kate Gardner, principal, GardnerCo LLC dba C3 Executive Search.

Yet direct selling management is growing more comfortable with staff relationships forged through technology. They are slowly discovering positive economics associated with fewer new hire relocation expenses, fewer in-house employees, and more.

“They just haven’t made a commitment to what they are actually going to do with that information in the long run,” Gardner says.

This can mean maintaining a pre-pandemic status quo as some companies explore staffing needs and new hire requirements for 2021. For example, a regional sales position may qualify for remote work, but a VP of sales may need to relocate and work internally.

Trading Relocation for Remote Work

Debbie Squier, owner at Impact This Day, believes that may be shortsighted in the current era.

“I think that companies are going to have to rethink that a little bit because there is a lot of push back from people [candidates] who have been working remotely and doing so successfully,” she says.

“This is the [remote work] dream that many direct selling companies have been selling to their field prospects, but have been slow to adopt for their corporate employees,” Eggert says.

The pandemic has fast-forwarded the need to offer a more flexible work environment or lose out to companies who do provide that flexibility.

“We know that millennials weigh work flexibility as heavily as they do compensation when considering a job offer. Many of the younger candidates in today’s work environment are going to steer clear of your standard 9-5 desk job, and our industry knows this,” Eggert says.

In the era of COVID, however, it’s not just millennials who seek this flexibility. Across the board, people are carefully considering the risks associated with work norms everyone once took for granted.

The remote work transition has also created a broader, more national candidate pool from which every direct selling company can draw if they will adapt to it. One of Squier’s clients, who was not amenable to remote work pre-pandemic, opened remote-friendly marketing and product team positions in order to attract the best candidates.

Executive searches, the on-boarding process and new hire productivity are all expedited if companies forgo relocation requirements. The burden of relocation costs disappears, and the pressures associated with re-evaluating an underperforming new hire—who moved across the country—are alleviated.

“It has always been frustrating for us to have an incredible candidate interested in a role with one of our clients, only to have the relocation requirement cause the candidate to remove themselves from consideration. We are seeing the best candidates getting hired for a role based on their abilities and not on their location or willingness to relocate,” Eggert says.

Right-Staffing Amid Uncertainty

“Direct selling companies are cautiously looking to the future and trying to “right-staff” their organizations. But “It’s not as simple as it sounds. There are infinite people and program components to consider,” Gardner says.

Companies are faced with a set of variables made more uncertain due to the impact of the pandemic. While health and wellness direct selling companies have thrived in this upending moment due to demand for the products they sell combined with well-established e-commerce platforms, not all product categories have been so lucky.

“Consumers want certain things right now, and there are other things that they might want, but they don’t need so they don’t buy. Sales growth is being driven by consumer behavior during this specific time frame like never before,” Gardner says.

Compounding this is consumer purchasing behavior, which has trended more digitally over the last few years, and accelerated due to the pandemic. Some direct selling companies, especially party plan, were caught off guard because they had baby-stepped toward e-commerce
pre-COVID. Gardner indicates pressure from legacy relationships in the field held up the digital leaps which could have helped the party plan model weather the pandemic more effectively.

Of course, no direct selling company could have predicted the pandemic; however, the resilient ones are shifting gears this year, exercising their flexibility and opening themselves to a more digital marketing mindset by expanding or establishing e-commerce, and direct to consumer marketing. And their 2021 staffing decisions, about who will join and who will remain on corporate teams, should reflect all of this.

Finite answers will be hard to come by heading into 2021, but for now, executive search firms are seeing upticks in roles that speak to digital and e-commerce expansion, as well as broader issues facing the industry, the country and society as a whole.

Digital marketing is a hot role for hire in direct selling now. Gardner says companies are realizing they can create digital assets producing a promising degree of the “warm and fuzzies that getting face-to-face does.”

Roles in compliance and diversity/inclusion are gaining traction too and could provide systemic change to direct selling companies. Rather than focusing on the punitive, these proactive roles are responsible for communicating, educating and providing up-front input and best practices within planning and decision functions across an entire organization.

“Compliance is not your attorney red-lining every new marketing or promotion strategy you come up with. It’s about someone who helps you and the field understand when you do it this way, you will get the results you need and want without attracting unwanted regulatory scrutiny,” Gardner says.

Recent Washington Post reporting details a hot new job within the tech industry possessing plenty of mid-pandemic, crossover appeal. “Head of Remote Work,” they say, could be an evolutionary step for chief operations officers.

Much like chief diversity officers, who keep equity and inclusion top-of-mind when companies develop policies and take action, the Head of Remote Work brings HR, communications and tech experience to the table to benefit the company and a remote corporate staff. Whether an individual or a C-suite committee endeavor, the curation of remote work is becoming increasingly necessary for the tech industry with hundreds of thousands of employees working from home indefinitely.

No one can know for certain if this transition to remote work will remain post-pandemic, but the unpredictability of coronavirus flares across the country seem to dictate a continuation throughout the remainder of 2020 and well into 2021.

Adapting to these conditions means front-end work now: assessing technology to ensure systems can support remote employees, introducing or expanding hybrid remote staff positions, setting forth clear employee expectations, reducing employment redundancies, and identifying employees overloaded with work they weren’t hired to do. Another consideration is budgeting for and building a relationship with a good executive search firm so HR remains focused on the needs of internal employees.

“By being forced to work remotely, employers have to be crystal clear in their expectations and can only rely on the work that is produced to measure a person’s performance. Employees are being forced to track and report their work more regularly than ever, which creates better transparency within an organization and thus illuminates areas of weakness or strength. Transparency is going to benefit all the great employees and their employers, and expose those employees that have simply been riding the coattails of the all-stars around them,” Eggert says.

Sidebar: Transitioning Tips to Attract Prospective Employers

As the pandemic plays out and direct selling companies make decisions about the future, industry professionals may find themselves in transition—voluntarily or not. Here are some tips to attract prospective employers:

Up Your Compliance Savvy—Embrace compliance in every product, program and promotion, as well as compensation plans.

Be Customer-centric—Selling real products to actual customers is the future of direct selling.

Adopt New Language—Shed the old income claims, curative statements, and MLM vibrato. Embrace soft skill strengths like collaboration and strategic thinking and always highlight digital.

Know Your Value—Define what you want and what to avoid in a new position. Stick to your rules and know how to articulate your value effectively to anyone you speak to within the industry.

Detailed Expectations—Understand performance expectations, units of measurement, travel requirements, and the company’s amenability to remote work.

Find the Right Help—Connect to the right sources. Online platforms like Upwork and Indeed can be useful for a non-industry-specific jobs like manufacturing, shipping and some operations roles. But direct selling industry-specific and management roles may require alternatives like industry niche executive search firms.