COVID-19 is here to stay. Now what?

by Betsy Shaver, VP of Operations

How do you evaluate people when “in-person” is out?

Today is July 17th, and in Virginia, where I live, it is four months to the day of when the state went on a mandatory lockdown consisting of multiple phases. One of the major frustrations of lockdown is that there is just enough inconsistency on the national scale to completely bungle well-intentioned attempts by localities to control the spread of the virus. The resulting consequence, which was perhaps always inevitable in a nation as large and diverse as the United States, is that we’re stuck with COVID-19 as a reality for the foreseeable future. 

I continue to see people lamenting this, and yearning for a return to normalcy. I understand the sentiment; and I too would enjoy returning to movie theaters, dining in at restaurants, and spending over a day in an airport and on a plane without feeling as if I’m in a first-person zombie game. But let’s be clear: That reality is gone. “Normal” life as we knew it last year is not coming back, probably not for what could be a generation. 

If you have spent a good chunk of your life in corporate America, you knew several months ago that this pandemic was going to change everything. As an example: Company X sells durable goods, and has a centralized location where everyone reports to work. Leadership allows people to work remotely in extenuating circumstances; but they feel that hampers productivity, so they try to discourage it. The exception to this is if Company X has added enough jobs that the centralized location has been outgrown; in which case the company, before undertaking a move, converts the most readily-transitioned departments (like tech support) to remote work. 

As a general rule however, Company X’s B2B salespeople are the only segment of the hierarchy who, as a group, enjoy the privilege of working remotely. But still—they’re salespeople. They have to be on the road—not at home—to be closing deals. At least once a year, there is a large in-person conference where hundreds of Company X employees gather to review progress and plan the year ahead. This framework, for the most part, “copies-and-pastes” to VCs and angel investing, academia, and NGOs. The common denominator is the prioritization of in-person interactions. What happens when that’s off the table?

In many ways, there is no blueprint. Since the dawn of humanity, in-person interactions have formed and informed how we go about our daily lives. We continue to seek wisdom learned from remedial actions taken in times of crisis over the last century. But how well can we replicate actions from a world where computers (if they even existed yet) were the size of the largest piece of furniture in your house? I have 5 smart devices on my desk as I write this. How helpful are learnings from 1918 going to be in 2020? 

It’s clear that a pandemic in the age of smart-everything is going to require smarter solutions. Zoom, with its superior accessibility and UX (user experience) became the darling of the pandemic; leaving clunky (but more secure) analogs like Citrix and WebEx in another epoch. But even the best of video-conferencing solutions are insufficient. I have heard hiring managers say that things like handshakes and the shine on one’s shoes can carry outsized weighting when making a hiring decision. I couldn’t even tell you the last time I wore a workplace-appropriate pair of shoes or shook someone’s hand.

Joe Navarro, a former FBI agent and now national speaker, is considered one of the foremost experts in body language. He has authored numerous books on reading body language and detecting “tells” that a person might not even know they are emitting. The science and art of reading nonverbal communications is an industry unto itself. The percentage of nonverbal communication varies widely depending on the source (ranging from about 55% to up to 93%), but it is generally accepted that the vast majority of our communications are done nonverbally. 

This article by Steve Blank is a great exploration of how and why even great videoconferencing still feels inadequate; and why we are so fatigued at the end of a week of Zoom calls. To summarize it, as humans, we are accustomed to amassing a comprehensive profile of information about a person: Dress, demeanor, energy, movements, etc. Now, we have a view from the shoulders up from which to glean information, and if we’re lucky, without latency. Unfortunately, this is likely to be our reality for the foreseeable future.

The information we gain about prospective employers, employees, investors, entrepreneurs, and collaborators must now be done almost through a periscope. But does that mean that Zoom (or a comparable service) is the only way we should gather information about a person? No. Rather, we should see it as one piece in a full complement of our intelligence-gathering endeavors. If you’re in human resources (or on an admissions board), you already know this, because you have Googled candidates and also checked out their social media accounts. 

Social media accounts are a favorite of HR professionals because of this: You learn what and how a person thinks. You gain a glimpse not only into their technological competencies; or how they treat security and privacy; but rather a broader view of how their minds work, and how they’d fit (or not) into your culture. From a few minutes of amateur-sleuthing, you can get a pretty good idea about the person you’re bringing into your organization. Of course, some of the younger (and tech-savvier) individuals won’t volunteer this information as readily as someone who doesn’t know how to toggle security settings; in which case, you have to take a new approach. 

At MindCette, we use scientifically validated data to evaluate how individuals think. Humans have a propensity to rely on ‘gut-feelings’ when making decisions, but there are over 100 cognitive biases identified in research that skew our perceptions. Our proprietary MindCette Entrepreneurial Test (MCET) is an academically rigorous, peer-reviewed evaluation tool that generates a psychological profile of an individual or a founding team. There are certain traits entrepreneurs have in common regardless of nation; and the MCET has reliably and predictably distinguished entrepreneurs from others. 

Judging a founding team has become exponentially more difficult in the time of COVID-19, as founding members are rarely in the same physical space where their chemistry can be observed. However, by examining the MCET results of a founding team, it would be possible to see strengths and weaknesses of each individual, and to learn if profiles are complementary; or if there is homophily among the team. This way, it becomes much easier to determine if you’re looking at an “A-Team” with a “B” idea; or a “B-Team” with an “A” idea. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how to make smarter personnel decisions in an unprecedented time, click here to get started.