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Jonathan Abell is Managing Director for our Professional Services specialisms, Energy and Scientific at Search. Read his view take on how COVID-19 has impacted recruitment.
How lockdown accelerated change
Time, travel and technology
Unearthing latent value among our target market
If someone had said digital transformation would be a key achievement that could be ticked off most business’s bucket lists in 2020, it would have been a wild prediction to make.
However, as the nation adjusted and continues to adapt to new working patterns that have emerged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis has accelerated a number of elements of positive change. Digital transformation is one such area.
We observed with trepidation and pivoted like most when COVID-19 began to surface and the subsequent lockdown hit. Following our experience of an initial knee-jerk across the market in terms of hiring, what began to play out was an interesting and positive reaction to the new environment we found ourselves operating within.
Aside from flexible working (and the proof that it is a viable option on a mass scale), operating in what appeared to be a frozen landscape effected change that none of us in the sector could have foreseen at the beginning of lockdown.
As the term ‘furlough’ entered our vernacular in spectacular fashion, and as businesses cut back their staff, the recruitment marketplace shifted to one that was client-led, awash with higher volumes of candidates, each and every one in their own geographic bubble.
This synthetic moment in time provided a market pivot that I believe will change the way we work and recruit for good.
There is no denying we had to pivot hard and fast and embrace new technologies.
It enabled meetings to take place online, but in the absence of commuting and business travel, it also focused a different investment in time from teams and individuals who were working with fewer resources.
It became increasingly clear early on, that many businesses can operate without the need for continuous, and often unnecessary travel. However, it also shone a light on opportunities to enhance focus and place less reliance on physical geography Vs success in a local market.
For all the negatives, lockdown confirmed that with the right technology in place, flexible working does in fact work. That meant more quality candidates available for roles as they come to market, and it’s a prospect that’s now here for the long term.
It also begged the question, are local markets no longer as important?
Research from O2 Business suggested that over a third of UK workers actively want to scale back non-essential business travel. This has forced businesses to reconsider the future of work-related travel in a post-lockdown world, and our experience in the marketplace suggests the market has already accepted that this is a good thing.
Historically, there’s been bravery required to operate and recruit in an area in which you’re not physically located. But with location being all but irrelevant to those outside of industries with key workers and frontline staff – we may have reached a tipping point; while employees are more inclined to work remotely, their potential employers are also reaching the same conclusion.
The net result is the opening of a talent pool and a greater volume of quality candidates.
And for our staff, it’s meant new ways to collaborate, knitting together as teams like never before, sharing insights, ideas, resource, and knowledge. It’s also been a path to finding new approaches to networking and uncovering new leads.
With time committed to talking and researching and travel times obliterated, it’s allowed us to get closer to candidates and clients, having the space to connect, update and research. That’s meant greater volume and value add in this client-driven marketplace.
And, coupled with the client demands to place candidates, it’s forced some fairly radical rethinking about the time and approach taken to placing someone in a role.
Time is one of the biggest killers in recruitment, but time and space has led to a reduction in how long it takes to complete a hire. It goes without saying that too many interviews or too many rounds of interviewing can lose you access to the best talent. For our business-critical professional service roles, people were being hired twice as quick.
From pre-lockdown to lockdown the number of people being interviewed reduced to 2.6 from the usual 5.7. Yes, we were putting forward immediately available candidates in a difficult market, and clients were keen to see a commercial impact in the shortest time possible. However, it was also an insight into a market that had quietly adapted (albeit quickly) to video conferencing and technology, in turn meaning they were happy to reduce to a two-stage method with less lag to hire.
It’s definitely changing the way we conduct our recruitment in the future.