At the end of May, the Brookings Institution reported that in an analysis of 20 rich democracies – representing 660 million workers – 38 million people filed for unemployment during the pandemic. Topping the list is the U.S. at 13% unemployed, and during the second week of June, it added another 1.5 million to the ranks, marking the 13th consecutive week of filings over one million.
There’s a wealth of talent available, yet COVID-19 is keeping company plans in limbo. At the same time, the remote work migration has proven it’s not only a viable alternative, the cost savings can be dramatic. Decision-makers are now wondering if office space and overhead can be cut, even eliminated.
As for employees, some enjoy the convenience of working from home, others miss the social aspects of the office, most all wouldn’t mind having the option to choose.
How do we know this? In the center of it all – with a finger on the pulse of companies and candidates alike – are recruiters. We spoke with three highly regarded pros for insight into how COVID-19 has changed working and recruitment, now and possibly in the future.
Ken Downey, CEO & President
CareerMaker Executive Search
Retained executive search firm for senior management, board directors and advisory boards
There’s widespread recognition that employees can work remote and still be effective – and that can drive down overhead immensely. I’ve spoken with clients who realize they can eliminate a tremendous amount of square footage; one already has cut 2 of 3 floors, which they now sublet.
Cloud-based tools and services are accelerating advancements. Prior to this, there was a substantial shift in the willingness of people to use technology in the recruitment process, and this (COVID-19) has helped prove value. There’s also been a dramatic change in the way companies look at travel budgets for executives. Work is still getting done, yet there has been almost no travel expenses.
A noteworthy example is a search we began late last year for a medical college looking for an executive to oversee business development with partner companies. We asked if remote would be an option? The President said the position had to be on-campus. We began interviewing over the holidays, but when coronavirus kicked in, nobody wanted to get on a plane. So, we created a vetting and interview process – virtually – that mirrored the traditional approach and accurately reflected a day-in-the life at the school.
It began with the President hosting an introductory Zoom call with a candidate, followed by a real-time campus tour via Zoom covering conference rooms to lab areas to the cafeteria. We used a virtual whiteboard for the candidates to lead a problem-solving exercise with the interview team, conducted a panel interview with 10 participants and incorporated many other “touches.” The selected candidate even received and accepted the job offer virtually.
The President was so impressed with the process, he said as long as the executive was willing to be on campus 40-50% of the time, he was fine with them working remotely. He’d even consider making the position remote, with no relocation required.
Tahl Wilson, Owner
Tahl Wilson HR
A boutique firm focused on senior and mid-management tech positions in Israel and the U.S
Working from home has brought into focus people’s ability to maximize time and control distractions – and employees responded very well. Many discovered they could be even more productive and enjoy a better work/life balance, all without wasting two hours in traffic every day. The c-level has been skeptical of remote in the past but they’ve also seen productivity isn’t an issue and that the cost savings are real.
Everyone is more accepting of working from home; hopefully neither group will take advantage of the situation because it opens up amazing opportunities.
Some employees, usually younger, aren’t as happy, and that’s understandable. They enjoy the office building, workplace perks, social interaction and hustle and bustle of a city. But after time, the shiny elevators, corporate lunchroom and after-hours activities become less important. So, remote could actually end up raising job retention because these types of things wouldn’t matter so much.
Many companies may look at measures to accommodate all groups. Maybe they’ll allow remote but keep a smaller office for those that want to come in? Offering an option – whether it’s full-time remote or a combination with on-site – could be attractive to candidates and help recruiting efforts.
Another benefit I’m seeing, one I think will grow, is that remote can level the playing field. For instance, some people don’t do as well in face-to-face interviews as others, so the limits of video could make skills and hiring tests more important criteria. Remote could help reduce bias and discrimination; the excuse of a person not being a “cultural fit” would be harder to justify. Also, a lot of people leave positions due to issues with managers. A little distance could provide a useful buffer.
Stephanie Heinrich, Senior Recruiter
Seattle-based provider of a top learning machine system for customer education with +100 employees
Seattle was hit by a lot of layoffs and furloughs due to the volume of tech companies involved in business areas highly affected by the pandemic. We immediately got a huge influx of resumes. We posted on our career page that there were no open positions, but candidates should feel free to submit their resume. That alone quickly brought in 30 applicants – and a role didn’t even exist. Since then we’ve opened a few different roles and we’ve seen very high volumes of resumes come in.
There’s a lot of people in Greater Seattle struggling to find work. We’ve been trying to be mindful that most are in a situation which isn’t fun. So, we try to be honest and provide feedback to advance their job search in other ways. We’re working with customers to make connections for candidates and many area businesses are doing the same. This started organically but has taken off – and I see it happening across the recruitment industry, too.
As for recruiting itself, interviewing has to be 100% virtual, and that includes assessing the technical aspects of engineers. There are sites where candidates and employees can exchange code, which helps. We’ll see a lot more of those types of tools emerge, and, greater use of specialized technologies like virtual labs for more complex applications.
Of course, software as a service (SaaS) companies are going to have even greater traction. With SaaS, companies can just give their employees laptops and they can work anywhere in the world, just as easily as they’re now doing so from their kitchen tables. I think that’s one of the beautiful things about tech; regardless of circumstances, we can create and produce wherever we are.
While no one can be entirely sure what the new norm will be – what business will be like a month from now, never mind a year – three points are abundantly clear from recruiters. Changes are coming, remote work will dramatically increase and for good, and technology will be the great enabler.
Yet, beyond how to conduct business – and to do so with greater cost-efficiency – a social and cultural evolution will take place. The c-level has seen remote is viable, many employees are finding it can provide a better work/life balance.
Despite the uncertainty of these times, advancements are being made and the future is coming into better focus for those willing to embrace new technology and approaches.