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Smarter Workplace Awareness Month Week 3: Organizational Agility in the Age of COVID-19

By Kenneth P. De Meuse & Erin E. Bowen

Winston had worked at a Tampa-area law firm since graduating from law school 5 years ago. It was a good fit: He liked the employees he worked with, his boss, his clients, and living on the Gulf Coast. He worked very hard and even took on the role of being the “social director” at the firm, organizing the annual office golf tournament, being captain of the co-ed soccer team, and spearheading the United Way fundraising drive. He loved working there! Then a headhunter came calling, offering a position in a prestigious law firm near Miami. The deals were bigger, the corporate connections greater, and his paycheck much higher—he was in! So why was it that 5 months and a cross-state move later, Winston found himself accepting another new law firm position and another move back to Tampa?

The coronavirus had taken its toll.

His new colleagues in the Miami law firm were mostly working from home, as were his new corporate clients. Reading cases, becoming familiar with the company’s policies, writing opinions, and staring out his condo window quickly became monotonous. It seemed like the most challenge Winston had was to decide whether to conduct the virtual meetings in Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams. No officemates, no friends, no fun—and no one in his new firm or new city who noticed he was isolated and disengaged.

Now, Winston isn’t the only one who changed jobs and locations since March 2020 (one of this article’s authors did the same, moving her family to Texas so she could take a new position). In I-O we often talk about hiring employees who are “agile” and “adaptable”—able to respond to changing circumstances, think flexibly, and incorporate new data. But, as we can tell from SIOP’s #9 workplace trend, Building Cultures of Agility and Adaptability, what’s needed is organizational level agility if more firms are going to recruit and retain the high-potential employees they need to succeed. 

As the two of us talked about what leadership, agility, and employee engagement look like in a COVID (and post-COVID) world, we realized we had more questions than answers: How should onboarding programs be improved to accommodate recently hired “stay-at-home” employees? Are different personal attributes and KSAs required to work in this new disjointed environment—and how do companies modify their selection procedures to capture them? How do interview protocols need to be altered to fully evaluate candidates who you never see face to face? What are the new potential biases that appear when virtual interviewing is new to both candidate and interviewer? How do companies maintain employee engagement when neither leaders nor coworkers see them or interact with them outside of technology mediation? What are the short- and long-term impacts on organizations? How do companies lead and manage a virtual workforce?

So, in a shameless encouragement for more I-O science AND practice dialogue, we want you, dear readers, to share your answers with us on social media! Tag it with #SmarterWorkplace and #AgileWorkplace—we can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Additionally, our efforts to highlight Smarter Workplace Awareness Month all month long continue in the latest episode of Bias Check-In, an I-O and career podcast hosted by SIOP members Susana Gómez Ornelas and Claudia Della Pona! This week's episode features Top Ten Trend Champion Stacey Boyle. Dr. Boyle and cohosts Claudia and Susana will be talking about Top Ten Trend #10: Virtual Learning. Dr. Boyle is passionate about helping L&D professionals to build high-impact learning organizations and continually advance the learning and development field. Tune in each Monday throughout the month of September for a connection with one of the Top Ten Work Trend Champions!

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