Business as (un)usual - How to recruit during COVID-19

By Rob Green

Published Date: 2020/03

The past
Whilst I would never be blasé about the swift rise of this virus as it has had (and will continue to have) effects on everyone across the world, I am old enough and experienced enough to have seen this type of thing before and need to remind everyone that the world is still turning. 
It is business unusual, but business and hiring still continue.
We’ve worked through the Millennium bug when people were apoplectic about the fact that the world was doomed and definitely coming to an end the moment the clock struck midnight on the entrance to the year 2000.
We’ve seen markets crash and frightening panic grip the world after the tragedies of September 11th. 
We’ve seen the Internet bubble burst. We recruited through BSE/Mad cow disease, which threatened UK farming and the markets.
We’ve seen the global economic meltdown of 2008/9, and we came through it to record highs and stronger regulation in the banking sector.
We’ve recruited through SARS, MERS and the Zika virus, all of which gripped the world as COVID-19 has done, and we came through these relatively unscathed. 
We’ve seen European economies collapse and be rebuilt, Brexit and a whole host of other instances that have had an effect on the job market and people’s careers, the world over. 
More recently we’ve seen locusts decimate farming in parts of East Africa and fires ravage Australia.
All under the umbrella of a threat that one day, a robot is going to take my job!!!
And yet we are still here, stronger than we have ever been
Business must retain vision of their long term goals. “Stay in the market” and keep aiming for the objectives they set out a few short months ago. 
This includes adding strength and skills to your existing team.
The now
Like most people, I’ve been reading and watching everything I can in order to be informed for my family, keep our team informed and speak to our clients about the status of the virus and the effect it may have on business.
I, like some, have tried to take a measured and long term view rather than react to the click-bait headlines of an ever-increasingly desperate media, who confuse sell-offs for profit as “crashes” and whip up a storm of frenzy to ensure their headlines are clicked on and advertisers can be squeezed for more money.
People are still working - they may be working from home, but they are still working. In fact, the community spirit I am feeling around me is amazing, my grandma would have called it the “blitz spirit”, that we are all in this together – and together, we will get through it.
One of the most sensible quotes I have read (via an article by Chris Brooks of St James’s Place Investments) has come from BlueBay (A Fixed income fund manager) who stated, 
In our own assessment, we are inclined to believe that in the weeks and months to come, everyone will learn to live with the existence of COVID-19 as a fact of life,” 
“Everyone will calm down and carry on and life will return to normal. However, to reach this point, there probably needs to be more hysteria in the short term until policymakers and public opinion begins to adjust. Financial markets will try to be forward-looking, but at the moment there is just too little visibility and therefore current levels of volatility may persist for a time with risk reduction the order of the day”.
What I am pleased to report is that most of the clients we are working with, are strong, robust companies, with solid strategies and growth plans.
This is what we’ve always looked for in a client. When we invest our time in servicing their recruitment needs, we are not in it for a quick buck – we’re in the market for a long time and we want to help our partners grow, by making the best investments in human capital for the long-term.
Firms that take themselves out of the recruitment market now risk losing top-class talent to their braver competitors – who will be x10 stronger when the market inevitably pick up again because of aggressive hiring strategies
You may think “of course you would say that”, but I’ve seen this before, those that “buy” or in this case grow when markets are in a dip, benefit hugely when they go back up again. Down times are often the best time to upskill your teams and departments, grow when others are not, bring in the best talent so you have stronger foundations when the markets inevitably rise again.
Advice for clients
Candidates are still willing to meet and a lot are active in the market right now. 
When interviewing don’t shake hands, for obvious reasons – even consider doing the first few rounds via an online meeting platform such as Zoom.
Some of our clients have already installed this style of interviewing for the first 2 to 3 rounds of interviews, which to us, seems very sensible and involves less organization for candidates traveling on public transport or in Ubers
Talk openly about what your firm is doing to counter the Coronavirus – job seekers who speak to us daily are keen to know that the firm they are meeting, is at least taking this seriously. 
Discuss working from home arrangements whilst the virus is being contained.
Remember, candidates want to join firms that have solid backing, are liquid and have a strong clear strategy for growth – they are less interested in joining firms that get spooked easily.
For some roles and projects, you may consider pushing back the start date a little. We recently had a client in Hong Kong that delayed a start date by 6 weeks which proved perfect timing for things to settle down and for the city to come back to a sense of normality.
Keeping the new hire informed of what you are doing about the virus even before he/she has joined, will also help with the integration phase and make them feel included and part of the team.
Most importantly, whether you have them start by working from home, or in the office – constant communication is the key to a successful onboarding process.
The markets view 
Bond investor Howard Marks’ recent note "Nobody Knows II", he opined about the Coronavirus and its impact on markets - a statement stood out in which he referred to the substantial market moves over the last 25 years.
"Every one of them was gut-wrenching. And they were followed by recoveries that produced significant gains for stalwart investors".
Those that stay calm, strong and on point when it comes to their strategy, whilst also treating the virus with the respect it deserves, will win the day.

The future
At GRM, we believe this is the final opening of the door for remote working to become the norm in most companies. If you don’t really have to be present in the office, it may make more sense to work remotely.
GRM has been encouraging this for years and now 75% of our staff work remotely either full time or part-time, and check-in each day via Google Hangouts. This has increased happiness and productivity tenfold, whilst also cutting down on dead time in travel.
Now more than ever this seemed a good strategy and hasn’t stopped us from adding new members of staff and growing our team.
It’s likely that firms will start to do the math, and realize that remote working, whilst it won’t work for everyone, is a great option for some, saving on rent of office space, dead time lost to travel and lead to a happier workforce who can achieve real work/life balance.
There is a myriad of platforms available for firms to utilize, from Slack to, to Google shared sheets, there are thousands of apps available to streamline teamwork and enable seamless remote working. 
GRM’s Tech Recruitment Partner, Mishkah Wahab, recently wrote a piece about how she is seeing a trend that may lead to 100% of developers, globally, working remotely, on projects where the clients are also dotted around the world – it may soon become the one job where you can be anywhere you choose to be.
She also commented that if you insist on making your talent come into your physical office space, you are limiting yourself to hiring only those that are within a 30-mile radius, disqualifying yourself from considering 99.99% of the world's talent – if you think remote, the skilled pool of potential candidates, suddenly becomes a lot larger.
We believe the virus will show us all, that in the workplace, you can still have community of thought and achieve your common goals, whilst not sitting in the same office. It is going to be a very interesting rest of 2020.