The Top Challenges Managers Will Face in a Hybrid Work World: Q&A With Ryan M. Sutton, District President, Robert Half

By Robert Half on March 1, 2022 at 5:00pm

Welcome to the latest post in Robert Half’s Thought Leader Q&A series, which features insights from those who have made our company a great place to work and a premier provider of talent solutions.

In this post, we feature Ryan M. Sutton, a district president at Robert Half who leads our technology talent solutions practice in New York City and New England. Ryan is based in Boston, but before the pandemic, “spent pretty much every waking minute, Monday through Friday, in New York City.” But Ryan is just fine with Massachusetts becoming his center of operations: The native Ohioan moved to the greater Boston area more than 40 years ago and considers himself a true New Englander.

Ryan attended Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in accounting while playing NCAA sports and serving as a class government leader along the way. When he graduated and was looking for a job in the 1990s, his mother suggested that he reach out to Robert Half.

“Robert Half offered crucial career support to my mother throughout her finance career,” Ryan explains. “They helped her locate several key positions over the years — most notably, in the late 1980s, after she was laid off during the savings and loan (S&L) crisis. Robert Half placed her at a leading Boston financial institution where she led a ‘recall project,’ which involved reviewing and cleaning out all the defaulted S&L loans. That experience led her into corporate accounting as a credit director.”

As it turned out, Ryan’s mom was right that Robert Half could help him. “Robert Half placed me in my first corporate accounting job at a public relations firm that’s now part of IPG,” says Ryan. A few years later, in 1999, when Ryan was searching for a new accounting position, the Robert Half recruiter he met with asked if he’d be interested in a recruiting career. “I was — and the rest is history!” Ryan says.

That history includes helping Robert Half expand its management resources business, starting in 2003. “Being a public and corporate accountant by trade, it piqued my interest to focus more on the consulting side,” says Ryan.

Within a few years, Ryan was overseeing the technology, management resources, and marketing and creative groups at our company as a regional vice president. That led to the opportunity to become a district president in 2015, helping Robert Half grow its technology and marketing and creative talent solutions in New England and New York City.

Here’s more of what Ryan shared with us during our interview, including what types of technology skills many employers currently need, and what key challenges companies and managers will likely face as they transition to a hybrid work model.

The pandemic has spurred many companies to accelerate their digital transformation efforts. What impact is that having on technology hiring? What skills are many employers looking for?

Cloud-related skills are in high demand right now as more companies pursue cloud migrations and upgrades and adopt new software and applications. And the need for cybersecurity expertise is increasing as organizations shift to the cloud. DevOps, software development and microservices development are all red-hot areas as well.

We’ve also seen a tremendous increase in the need for help desk and IT support specialists. That’s due partly to the remote work trend, but aging IT is another factor. Many companies are moving to the cloud and beefing up their security, but they’re not upgrading infrastructure or devices due to costs or supply chain issues. So, there’s a much higher need right now to support end users relying on older technology.

What trends are you observing in the broader hiring market?

It’s so competitive and fast-paced right now. The demand for talent far exceeds the pool of available professionals. I think you’ll see a lot of transition in the year ahead, with more people quitting their jobs and looking for new opportunities. It’s already happening — just consider data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that more than 4.3 million people in the U.S. quit their jobs in December. That is only slightly lower than the figure for November, which was 4.5 million.

Companies should take a proactive approach to reviewing compensation plans and starting salaries to ensure valued employees don’t leave the organization searching for a raise. With the wage growth we’re seeing in the market, people will absolutely make a move if they aren’t earning an appropriate salary.

What’s your vision for the future of work, looking out over the next decade?

I can tell you without hesitation that the hybrid work model is here to stay. Before the pandemic, your work life and home life really were two different things, and you had to balance both. But that “balance” was more like a seesaw, always tipping more to one end. Now, with everything so compressed, many people have been able to keep that seesaw more balanced.

For example, speaking from my own experience, I can take my kids to school in the morning more often now. I also have more time to watch them play sports and help them with their homework. So, there’s a lot more balance in my personal life. It would be a monumental shift to go back to how things were before, when I was traveling so much.

My story is certainly not unique. And smart, savvy companies are going to realize that hybrid work is a way to finally give employees the opportunity to find and maintain that critical balance we’ve all been talking about for so long.

Productivity won’t be a concern in most hybrid work worlds. Companies already know their employees can be productive working remotely. Instead, I think these will be among the top challenges many companies and managers will need to grapple with in our “new normal”:

  • Finding the right key performance indicators to measure remote and hybrid team performance.
  • Building a strong rapport with team members through digital platforms.
  • Leading remote teams confidently, comfortably and effectively.

Because of those challenges, which will take time to work through, I expect that business leaders at all levels will be weighing questions such as, “What does it mean to be an effective hybrid team leader? And how do I become one?”

What other silver linings have you found during the pandemic, in addition to achieving a better sense of work-life balance?

Another positive thing is that our family now pays closer attention to the little stuff in our finances. Like what digital services are we paying for? We now have a great handle on that kind of spending, which can really add up, and we’re saving more money now than we did in the five years prior to the pandemic.

Also, we’ve been making plans to travel. It might not happen this year, but we’d like to see more cultural venues in Europe. For example, we’re thinking about visiting Paris because my youngest child, who is 9 years old, loves city life. I think she’d really like to see Paris.

Do you think you’ll want to work in an office regularly again?

Oh, definitely. In fact, I’ve gone into the office several times over the last few months. While I appreciate having more balance, I do like to maintain some separation between my work life and home life.

There’s another reason I go to the office: I want to do my part to help support local businesses. I don’t bring a lunch with me, for example — I buy food from the cafes nearby instead. I also go into the sundry store in our building regularly to buy a few small things, even though I may not need those items! I think it’s important to do this, because if these businesses don’t survive, we’re really going to miss those amenities when more of us start working at the office again.

Follow Ryan M. Sutton on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Meet other Thought Leaders at Robert Half, such as Jordan Quigley and Steve Saah. And be sure to subscribe to the Robert Half newsletter for future installments of our Q&A series and to discover more unique stories, experiences and perspectives on the latest hiring trends.

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