Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Digital contracts are helping companies tackle the skills shortage

Ronan Copeland, GVP General Manager, EMEA, DocuSign

Skills shortages are impacting businesses large and small. According to the Open University’s Business Barometer report, carried out in partnership with the British Chambers of Commerce, more than two-thirds (68%) of small to medium-sized businesses are struggling with low staff numbers. This figure rose to 86% for large organisations. 

The study surveyed 1,300 organisations. Respondents said COVID-19, Brexit, the war in Ukraine, and rising business costs were all to blame for the skills shortage.  The report found a growing number of UK businesses are suffering from reduced growth due to skills shortages across the UK, with the skills deficit impacting company performance.

According to the report, 78% of surveyed firms reported reduced output, profitability, or growth, while 28% of businesses said that they have had to turn down work because of staffing problems. Notably, the report shows employee wellbeing to be suffering, with 72% of organisations surveyed saying the workloads had risen as a result.

The report also found that micro-organisations, which have less than 10 employees in total, were least able to invest in staff. Only 39% of micro businesses plan to increase investment in staff training in 2023.

These findings emphasise the need to create attractive, collaborative, and flexible working environments to attract and retain talent. Whether you're a multinational organisation, or a local startup, here are some things any business can do to attract staff, and importantly, keep them.

Be visible

We are all pressed for time but don’t just rely on online job postings. Meet talent in person. Attend trade and job fairs, and enter trade awards. Many are free to enter or come with a minimal cost. Volunteer to speak at your local school, or university, or offer a skills workshop there. If you are alumni, this may make the processes easier. Don’t make your speaking or engagement opportunity an advert for your company or a recruitment event. Rather, present it as an opportunity for attendees to learn, and network. This can result in some great hires down the line.

Make it easy to join you   

You’ve met the talent or new business prospect, and you are ready to formalise your relationship. Momentum is key now. If it's a new hire, your HR should engage with them within 24 hours. If you are doing your own contract signing, make sure you get that agreement over to them quickly and enable an easy online signature. Nobody wants to wrestle with trying to edit a PDF or print up and fax back a contract. Get the job done and dusted online as soon as possible. Ultimately you want to simplify and accelerate the way organisations and individuals come to an agreement with you, and this must happen visibly and with accountability by making terms in any contract, visible, easy to understand and amendable in real-time.   

Show great leadership with customer focused culture

You’ve made a great hire, someone who will grow your business. That won’t stop them from being wanted by others. It’s not too late for competitors to approach your star-signing with a counter-offer and snatch them away. That’s why your employee’s first few days on the job are so important. Give him or her confidence in the organisation they’ve just joined by demonstrating good leadership, and positive reinforcement of them and your team. Show that you take personal responsibility for building and nurturing a customer-focused culture, and support your employees in the service of that goal. Actions not words are important here. When leaders embrace a customer-first mentality, it cascades through the organisation, and will bring the best out of your new hire and existing team.

Foster creativity and collaboration

Give your new hire space to be creative. Encourage them to think beyond their job description and trust them with autonomy and responsibility. Where possible automate manual tasks to remove administrative roadblocks and free up time for creativity and research and development. This will foster a nimble environment that allows for quick adaptation to changing business needs. Unlock remote collaboration to fuel growth by using mobile tools and collaboration platforms. Videoconferencing will enable collaboration amongst a distributed workforce, and document sharing will enable co-authoring. Electronic signature and contract lifecycle management platforms help anyone sign and manage contracts from anywhere, and this is critical when managing a new, and distributed stakeholder network.

Enable hybrid and remote working

Allow your new hire to work anywhere, and anytime, and your team and customers may already need to work with each other around the world.  To do this, your stakeholders will need the right software to operate on any device.  Whether you're hiring remote freelancers or giving your team some space during the holiday period or their dreaded commute, the right remote working tools will ensure your team remains active and delivers on their goals despite the disruption. Remote work tools can increase productivity, promote better collaboration and help keep business running smoothly while allowing individuals to work away from a traditional office environment. These will now be expected by your new hire and you must be able to deliver on this flexible promise.

Keep in mind that just because employees are remote or operating on a hybrid basis, this doesn’t mean that they will be happy, or looking after their own welfare effectively. Make sure you schedule social events, and informal welfare meetings, and make sure your remote team are taking breaks throughout the day. Be always prepared to listen and respond to employee feedback, and allow this to happen remotely, anonymously in person. Likewise, create an employee buddy system, even if this must happen between team members separated by whole continents. Employee welfare is key and it is tied to communication and collaboration implemented in the office or out of it.  

The skills shortage cannot be solved by any one company or sector, and the tough economic circumstances we are seeing may well continue. By making your organisation as flexible, transparent and accessible as possible, you will assemble and keep your best team.