As small businesses across the U.S. continue to navigate the post-pandemic world, they are faced with a multitude of shifting business trends that impact their workforce. Uncertain economic conditions, changing consumer and employee expectations, and the growing hybrid workforce remain big challenges for companies that want to achieve sustainable growth and success.

To help entrepreneurs stay ahead of the curve, CO— by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted a special extended Start. Run. Grow event about hiring challenges in the current economy, as well as how to attract and retain employees in the modern world of hybrid work.

Small Business Update: Dealing with worker shortages in an uncertain economy

Nearly every business is contending with the impact of rising inflation, a significant workforce shortage, and the threat of a possible recession. These economic challenges are compounded by a widespread struggle among small businesses to hire qualified talent.

According to Neil Bradley, Executive Vice President, Chief Policy Officer, and Head of Strategic Advocacy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, this struggle can be attributed to a shrinking labor force as baby boomers retire, parents leave the workforce to care for children, and new small businesses get created. Rather than trying to compete with larger companies that have more resources and more benefits for candidates, Bradley encouraged small businesses to play to their natural advantages.

“Working for a small business gives you the ability to respond to those things that are unanticipated, without having to do a change of policy that covers their entire workforce,” explained Bradley. “[Small business owners can] really sell the benefits of being part of a small business family, and being treated like extended family.”

[Read more: Are We in a Recession? What Small Businesses Need to Know]

Working for a small business gives you the ability to respond to those things that are unanticipated, without having to do a change of policy that covers their entire workforce. [Small business owners can] really sell the benefits of being part of a small business family, and being treated like extended family.

Neil Bradley, Executive Vice President, Chief Policy Officer, and Head of Strategic Advocacy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Start: Ask employees what they want and consider repurposing your space

If you’re thinking about adopting a hybrid work model to attract and retain existing talent, Bill Rossi, owner of Rossi Enterprises, recommends involving your existing employees in the decision-making process along the way.

“We sent out surveys to all of our staff… and asked them what they wanted and we tried to accommodate the majority,” he said. “We did not make any promises … and made the surveys anonymous so that people felt comfortable sharing what they truly wanted.”

In terms of office space, Rich Crawford, CEO of talentReef, encouraged small business owners to rethink their current space and whether it can be better used to accommodate hybrid schedules.

“If I were to design [our] space today … I'd probably design more collaboration areas [such as] more open areas or small offices,” said Crawford. “And I would probably design a space that allows more of a dynamic use pattern as opposed to a kind of daily pattern.”

[Read more: How to Develop a Hybrid Office Policy]

Run: Offer employees the right technology to work remotely

Allen Clingerman, Chief Technology Strategist, Server+Workloads, and NA Channel for Dell Technologies, stressed the importance of being able to attract and retain the right talent — especially amid the current Great Resignation.

“It's extremely important to be as flexible as you can to make sure that you're bringing [talent] in and activating them back into the workforce,” he said.

This includes equipping formerly in-office workers with the right technology, such as mobile devices and collaboration/communication tools, to allow them to work seamlessly from anywhere.

“We just went through the greatest client refresh in the history of technology,” said Clingerman. “We're catching up or just buying mobile devices to enable … our business to continue to function [remotely].”

For business owners looking to accommodate remote workers, Clingerman suggested offering stipends for employees to supply the proper technology and provide them with fully functional offices.

Grow: Follow your passion and hire the right people

Small businesses that want to grow and scale in the modern world should look to successful startups for inspiration and lessons on how to get there. For instance, Pacaso, a real estate platform designed to help people purchase a second home, reached a $1 billion valuation within six months of being founded. Most people would call that an “overnight success” story; however, Co-Founder and CEO Austin Allison disagrees with that label.

“In my experience, [overnight successes] generally don't exist,” said Allison. “What oftentimes appears to be an overnight success was a lot of work and effort leading up to that perceived overnight success.”

Allison credits Pacaso’s success to two factors: following your passion and surrounding yourself with great people. To persevere against the inevitable challenges and resistance new entrepreneurs will face, Allison advised “believing in your mission deep down in your heart” to keep you going.

Allison also recommended surrounding yourself with people who have experience building companies in your space to help you focus on the mission. For instance, Pacaso was founded by people Allison had known and worked with for a decade or more.

“Over the course of my career, from dotloop to Zillow to now, Pacaso, I've been really fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of great people,” he told CO—. “I think that had a lot to do with why we were able to … hit the ground running with this business: We had a lot of the right people in the right seats, right out of the gate.”

[Check out our feature on Pacaso here.]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published August 12, 2022