Team building — although this isn’t a new trend, I think the absence of team building during the pandemic highlighted its importance in a business. Team activities at Four have always been a high priority, and as a growing business we want to ensure we don’t lose sight of this. We’ve implemented a wellbeing and events schedule for 2022 and will have lots of exciting activities planned for our team.

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Claire Sofield.

Claire Sofield is the Co-Owner and Managing Director of Four Recruitment — a British Recruitment Consultancy based in the North West of England. Claire has over 15 years experience in the recruitment sector and has led on major strategic shifts at Four. She is also involved with various regional business groups helping to grow companies and support young professionals.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

There have been a number of events, both on a personal and a business level, that have tested me throughout my life and helped me to develop resilience.

Losing my dad at the age of ten and my mum seven years ago meant that I was forced to view everything with a different perspective. After losing my mum it made me reassess my purpose and my reason for being here and forced me to maximise every opportunity in life. This was the main driver for me when I decided to set up Four Recruitment as I wanted something that I could be proud of and a legacy for my family.

For me, it’s simple — when things get tough you have two options. You can either bury your head in the sand and wait for it to pass by or you can tackle it head on. The latter is how I choose to deal with situations and I think that has helped me become the business woman that I am today. I don’t shy away from the issue and will channel all my energy and determination into finding a solution.

However, it was my personal life that took a back seat when growing the business. In 2019 I decided I wanted to start a family and therefore chose to become a solo mum. This is not a journey for the faint hearted and I salute anyone who has chosen this route. Running a business and bringing up a daughter on my own has its challenges but this is the perfect example of how I navigate obstacles in life — it may not be the most conventional option but it works for me.

My resilience was tested again during the covid pandemic, as it was for everyone. It was in the initial weeks, amongst the panic and uncertainty that my fighting spirit kicked in and helped me to initiate our response. We took action to ensure our business and our workforce were secure and I’m certain that our decisions and our approach in the early stages allowed us to exit the pandemic stronger than ever. I honestly believe that without covid, we wouldn’t have had the success that we’ve had over the past two years.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

Whilst this is a good question it’s inevitably hard to predict because I don’t think anyone could have predicted the past two years and everything that has changed in that time.

Reluctantly, I envisage that the remote culture will increase across certain sectors and the need for social interaction will sadly decrease. I say reluctantly, because although we have successfully adopted a hybrid working scenario that is delivering results, it’s not all about productivity for me. The benefits of a team environment and the social side of the workplace are irreplicable. The results may be less revenue-driven, but they’re undeniable for the wellbeing of your team.

If the social aspect of the workplace reduces, then there is no doubt that this will have a negative impact on individuals mental health and social skills. It’s not a healthy world to live where we’re constantly meeting people online and hiding behind emails.

When it comes to hybrid or remote working, I think there needs to be flexibility from both parties to find a solution that works for everyone. As a business owner, I don’t think it’s possible to run a business efficiently with people coming and going whenever they please. There needs to be a certain amount of structure in order to achieve results as a team. Creating a social environment that delivers an enticing and collaborative culture for your workforce is essential, as it allows for a sense of belonging which is much needed to achieve a successful hybrid working solution, particularly in a post-pandemic world.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

The biggest piece of advice that I always offer to our clients is to ensure that your talent strategy is high priority and on the agenda of your exec team or board. Company objectives and people strategy shouldnt be seen as independent of one another. After all, you can have the best strategy in the world but you need the right people in place to deliver it.

Instead of being reactive to your hiring strategy like a lot of small to medium businesses are, it’s important that you plan and strategise for your growth. Having those plans in place will allow you to identify the talent you need and allow you the time to find the perfect fit for your business.

Building an effective employer brand is also integral to your talent management strategy and will ensure you attract and retain the right individuals. If you have the resource, then it’s beneficial to have a project team building your brand in the background, whilst your internal or external team help you to find your new hires.

It’s important as a business owner to recognise your own strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes leaders can be an expert on the operations and financial side of the business, but don’t fully understand the importance of culture and people. This can often lead to restricted and limited workplace incentives such as full-time office working, 20 days’ holiday (the UK minimum) and no perks. In this scenario it’s essential that you have knowledgeable people in place to create an environment and culture that will appeal to individuals and attract a diverse workforce.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

With the introduction of The Great Resignation came the power of the candidate. Employers are now in a position where they need to recognise and respond to the needs of candidates in order to hire the right people. In recruitment, we’ve seen inflated salaries and additional benefits such as fully remote working being offered in order to encourage people to join.

However, this situation, coupled with a post-pandemic world, is leading to a sense of entitlement, particularly among Generation Z and entry level candidates. The expectations of these individuals tend to be very far removed from what is realistic. We’ve noticed a huge trend in the number of junior candidates demanding fully remote roles and expecting higher salaries despite not having a proven track record. I also think this is partly to blame on the perceived successes of social media influencers that this age group are particularly aware of. There is an illusion that it’s possible to be successful and make money from essentially very little time or commitment.

To reduce the gap that exists between the expectations of an entry level candidate and what is realistic for the employer, I would suggest there is an element of education that needs to start at University or college level. These individuals need to be aware of average salaries for a starting role in their industry as well as understanding what benefits are considered as standard or extra. This will help to prepare them for employment and hopefully allow them to find a role for the right reasons.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

The introduction of Teams and Zoom opened up a window into everyone’s lives that had never been visible before. It became commonplace to hear dishwashers beeping in the background or the dreaded appearance of a child, and for me it was refreshing to see the ‘real’ side of people. I think the “working from home” experiment has demonstrated that above everything, we are all human. For that reason I am hopeful that the pandemic will have a positive impact on the support and acceptance available to working parents.

There is considerable disparity for working parents, and there has always been a constant battle that the majority of people will go through to not only be a parent, but also to be successful in their role. However, I think improvements to childcare and what is accessible to working parents needs to be improved in order to attract, retain and value parents in the workplace.

I am hopeful that the government and workforces will step up to offer more support, both financially and personally to allow working parents to reap the benefits of parenthood and a successful career. There also needs to be an element of education and openness within exec teams to increase equality and understanding across the workforce.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

Diversity & Inclusion is on business agendas far more than it ever was before, but there is still a long way to go before workplaces are fully inclusive. There needs to be an education piece which reaches further than just the workplace but society in general to support and accept anyone and everyone.

Workplaces need to concentrate on equity over equality to ensure every individual has the right resources and opportunities to achieve and develop themselves. It’s not about making separate policies or incentives, it’s about offering the same to everyone to create an equal and diverse team of people.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

I’m amazed at what we, as a business community, have achieved in the past two years. People always say that as a human race our adaptability is our biggest strength, but I think recent times have really proved what can be achieved under extreme circumstances. It’s a real testament if we look at the number of new inventions, new markets and new environments that have been explored due to the pandemic.

For us as a business we didn’t just survive, we thrived. 2021 proved to be our most successful year and if we can achieve success at that scale during the most challenging times then what else can we achieve?

I think there is optimism for every business owner on those tough days to look back at recent years and think “we’ve had it worse”.

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

Any decent employer was offering wellbeing and mental health support before Covid, however I think the impact of the pandemic has improved awareness and understanding. Many employees are now more empowered in regards to the help and support they can expect in the workplace.

As a business leader myself I think it’s important to be prepared to show our own vulnerabilities to our team. If one of my employees approached me and said they were struggling, I would absolutely share my own personal experiences to help them. This creates an open environment where employees feel more accepted and willing to maintain open communication which can help to avoid long term absence in a business.

However, there is still a stigma around this and business leaders feel they cannot show any form of vulnerability or weakness in fear that it would lose them respect or hold them back in their career. I think responsibility for changing this lies with individuals and businesses to encourage open communication and sharing in the workplace. It needs to be considered part of a company’s culture and the entire workforce should be required to take steps to acknowledge and improve it.

The increase in the number of mental health cases during the pandemic has forced businesses to reconsider their offering. However, the issue we now face is that mental health support is seen as an incentive, and part of a company’s benefit package. For me, access to help, resources and trained professionals should be part of the induction process and something that employees can rely upon as an integral part of the company.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

As a business leader there are some factors you can’t control, but there are elements you can put in place to avoid or lessen the impact. Ensuring you have an inclusive, collaborative and content workforce will go a long way in improving attrition rates and reducing your recruitment budget.

I believe that people want to feel a part of something and a sense of belonging, which can help to nurture loyalty and longevity amongst employees. The more you can engage your team and encourage open communication, the more buy-in you get in return. At Four, we operate with complete transparency and always keep them in the loop. Our team has a better understanding of the business dynamic and how their role directly impacts performance which leads to increased job satisfaction.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. ESG — more companies are starting to recruit individuals for ESG roles, with the responsibility of monitoring and implementing eco initiatives. As a business we have created the ‘Four our planet’ programme, which will help us to reduce our carbon footprint and become a more sustainable business.
  2. The virtual world — as hybrid working is now accepted across many businesses, there is likely to be an influx of new products and technologies that support remote workers. As a business, we are exploring technology platforms that will create a collaborative environment no matter where you’re working.
  3. Team building — although this isn’t a new trend, I think the absence of team building during the pandemic highlighted its importance in a business. Team activities at Four have always been a high priority, and as a growing business we want to ensure we don’t lose sight of this. We’ve implemented a wellbeing and events schedule for 2022 and will have lots of exciting activities planned for our team.
  4. Robotics & AI — We’re seeing more businesses using robotics and AI, and this will only increase as technology improves. Although this is great for productivity and efficiency, it decreases the need for a human workforce, which is terrible for the service industry. For me, nothing can replace that human interaction and seeing the whites of someone’s eyes. As a business we pride ourselves on our interaction and providing a personal experience and will continue doing so.
  5. D&I — Diversity, equity and inclusion will be high on the agenda in the future. Understanding your business and your people is essential to create an inclusive and enticing place to work for everyone. At Four we work hard to support and provide everything our employees need to be productive and feel valued.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

“Never forget that something amazing is coming your way — you just can’t see it yet”

I’m not a spiritual person, but from years of experience I know it’s so important to trust and have faith in any situation. As a business leader we often have moments of chaos, where we feel out of control and overwhelmed, but it’s during these times that we need to remember that something good is coming.

It’s horrible to look back at the time when I lost my parents, but I honestly believe that if I hadn’t experienced that trauma in my life I wouldn’t be a business owner today and have achieved the success that I have at Four.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

For anyone that knows me, they will probably consider this person as a bit of a curve ball, but I recently listened to a podcast of his and saw a whole new side to him. Jimmy Carr is a well-known comedian and what some people might consider as a one-dimensional ‘funny man’. However, after listening to his podcast it was clear to see that he is constantly striving to achieve his purpose and recognising his life goal.

For me this is very admirable and something I aim to mirror in my own life. I often like to take a step back and rethink why I’m doing something. It’s important that I’m always living by my own personal values and everything I do should drive me toward my overall purpose.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

I love connecting with people from various backgrounds, so whether you’re a business owner, an aspiring entrepreneur or even a mother who can relate to my story, then please get in touch or connect with me on LinkedIn. My email is [email protected].

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.