New Expectations

Martin Wainman, Managing Director at Omni Resource Management Solutions, discusses the impact of the current situation.

We’ve seen the COVID-19 pandemic quickly change how organisations attract, recruit and retain their employees, with virtual events, fully-remote recruiting and digital collaboration tools rapidly becoming the ‘new normal’. However, what’s been the effect on human behaviour and attitude towards work?

We keep hearing that it’s ‘business as usual’ from organisations, but is this the case when it comes to recruitment?

While recruitment has continued throughout the nationwide lockdown, it’s been sector or skills specific. The NHS and care sector, along with food retail and the grocery supply chain, has seen unprecedented demand for permanent and contingent labour. Additionally, forward-thinking businesses with greater financial resilience are using this time as an opportunity to onboard the best talent.

Those public and private sector organisations still hiring have had to adopt a new mindset and transform existing processes. Just a month ago, the prospect of remote interviewing and onboarding would have been a topic for debate, whereas now it’s the only option. Such a shift has required faster decision-making from leadership teams to ensure they don’t miss out on talent and, crucially, still deliver an excellent candidate experience.

What’s been the biggest challenge employers have had to face?

Of course, those businesses that were not previously technology-enabled have encountered the significant obstacle of mobilising their teams and enabling secure cloud platforms that allow for remote working.

Another massive challenge for organisations has been building a culture of trust. More than just trusting that employees remain productive and keep delivering results while working remotely, this extends to placing trust in suppliers to continue putting forward quality candidates.

Additionally, workplace culture has suddenly come under the spotlight. After all, how can a candidate’s cultural fit be assessed remotely? Video conferencing and collaboration tools mean employers can ‘e-meet’ candidates, but those who previously relied on an office tour and an intro to colleagues as a means of communicating culture find themselves reassessing the nature of what workplace culture really means.

With the workforces operating remotely, is culture important right now?

It’s vital. A robust culture is imperative for ensuring the team is working towards a common goal. For a long time, there’s been confusion around the meaning of culture, with too much emphasis placed on the working environment. Author and business coach Tony Robbins sums it up best: “Organisational culture is the core belief system of a business and its employees, covering how they interact with each other, with their product and with the clientele. It ties into a company’s values and is the basis of their brand.”

Indeed, culture is directly linked to a company’s values and, now more than ever, it’s up to organisations to bring these values to life. The COVID-19 pandemic means people are thinking differently and gaining a renewed perspective on what truly matters in life. So, for business values to resonate, they need to be personal, not corporate.

At Omni, we live by our values which were created by the team and are continually assessed to ensure they still apply to the modern world. These values have been crucial in navigating our business through the current situation, more so than we could have predicted. Staying agile, collaborating and always taking responsibility are just some of the messages we live by and, in turn, are the direct result of a culture that encourages us to pull together, no matter what life throws at us.

What about businesses that weren’t closely aligned to their values until now?

First and foremost, it’s not too late to get reacquainted. Revisit your values to make sure they still apply. It’s not about spending hours redrafting them but perhaps considering adding new ones that pertain to creativity and collaboration.

Provide examples to your team as to how the values have guided the business through this time, explaining how that translates to individuals and the ways they can embed them into everyday tasks.

Already, we’re seeing the culture of our clients improve thanks to a renewed focus on values, especially when it comes to new starters. Initiatives including appointing mentors, holding virtual inductions (both company and team level) with different team members (not just HR) and developing dedicated collateral for attraction and onboarding have been successfully introduced.

What about the effect the pandemic will have on the attitude of jobseekers?

There’s no doubt that both candidates and current employees will retrospectively hold employers to account by how they behaved throughout the pandemic. Whereas previously, questions regarding loyalty and ambition were solely aimed at candidates in a recruitment process, employers are likely to find similar enquiries fired back at them. We fully expect (and will actively encourage) candidates to ask prospective employers about how the company and its senior team managed during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as what measures were in place to protect employees.

We’ve seen large employers publicly reverse decisions that although protected them in the short-term were quickly identified to be damaging to their brand as well as their ability to recruit the best talent in the future. Sports Direct, for example, found itself on the wrong side of popular opinion following attempts to keep its stores open, arguing that exercise equipment counts as an essential service. Following public backlash and a YouGov poll that revealed eighty eight per cent of Brits did not class sports equipment stores as a key service, Sports Direct closed its doors. Additionally, Liverpool FC performed a stunning U-turn after announcing it was going furlough non-playing staff and subsequently facing fierce backlash from fans. Both moves demonstrate the changing employer/employee dynamic and a heightened sense of social conscience.

It goes further than putting a positive PR spin on things too. The likes of Glassdoor, Indeed and Google Reviews will have more eyeballs on them than ever as people seek to gain the inside scoop on what’s really going on inside businesses right now. In other words, poor or unfair treatment can’t be brushed under the carpet and, for some, will stay around for many years to come.

While securing a good salary will always be paramount for candidates, it will be equally important that they work for an employer that’s demonstrated compassion, been transparent in their communications and, crucially, treated its people well throughout this challenging time.

Which businesses will be successful in attracting and retaining staff when doors re-open?

It’s difficult for any business to set a clear vision for the future right now, but knowing the direction you want to head in and putting a plan in place for your new normal is crucial to gain employee buy-in.

Those being transparent and delivering regular communications will more likely retain their best people. Even if you’ve made tough decisions where employees have had to take salary reductions, be furloughed or made redundant, you can still emerge positively on the other side as long as you’ve communicated with care and clarity.

From a practical perspective, employers must ensure they implement the right technology and selection processes to handle the predicted increase in applications when the lockdown lifts. Remember, having more candidates to choose from isn’t always easier than none at all, as there’s a greater chance of the best talent falling through the cracks. That’s why it’s essential that proper screening and selection processes, coupled with a robust infrastructure, are in place to support all future hiring.

The current situation has highlighted weaknesses in traditional recruitment methods. Going forward, it’s critical that businesses can scale up or down based on demand and be in a position to continue operating if a number of key workers are out of the office. As a result, we’ll see a rise in outsourced and hybrid recruitment solutions that enable businesses to remain agile and flexible in any circumstance.

One major thing we can take from this is that ‘business as usual’ no longer applies. This is just the start of our journey to a new world of work. We previously had a choice whether we embraced technology or decided whether employees could be trusted to work from home. That choice has been taken away, which we should try to embrace as a potentially exciting new era for everyone.


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