Covid 19 – The New Normal or A New Beginning?

What a difference a few weeks makes. It’s probably just as well that February 29th only comes around once every four years, for that date in 2020 will be remembered for generations to come. What started out as a vague whisper of an epidemic in China, arrived with an unstoppable force on our shores on that day and the daily trickle of new cases soon became a surge as we went into lockdown mode.

Terms that had been wholly unknown to my ears up until that point suddenly became an everyday part of the lexicon as we familiarised ourselves with “self isolation”, “social distancing” and “immunocompromised”. All of the certainties which we took for granted had been replaced by uncertainty and tentativeness as even a simple trip to the shops took on expeditionary nature. Face masks and assorted facial coverings meant that faces once familiar took on eerily distorted and freakishly unrecognisable forms. If you didn’t feel isolated before you left the house, you certainly felt like you’d missed the email once you’d been outside and realised that you were now in the minority if you hadn’t adorned your face mask.

From a recruitment perspective, the industry mirrors what’s happening in society as we individually and collectively hunkered down for what could be a long period of inactivity. Openings which had up until early March been worked at with feverish intent suddenly went quiet and then dead as hiring managers priorities shifted understandably from hiring mode to survival mode. A call around the market over successive days saw all of my industry contacts in one of three modes: Pure panic (as they don’t know what’s coming next); Holding Pattern (which is the majority of clients) and some proactively called to action, either to fix a problem or move toward an opportunity.

Most hiring managers now share common challenges, the principal one being how to do more with less – less space, less privacy, less time and less interaction. The water cooler moments have now been replaced with daily zoom calls and facetime with co-workers and colleagues. A simple exchange over a coffee is gone for the foreseeable future. Who’d have thought they’d ever host a “virtual coffee”? Maintaining productivity is important but as one CEO puts it “maintaining staff morale is the bigger challenge”.

In spite of all these enforced changes and impediments, some are choosing to pivot and grow for a post Covid 19 world. I’m speaking with CEO’s and hiring managers at all levels for whom this downtime represents an opportunity to reassess and reevaluate where they and their respective companies are going. One of the most obvious consequences of having your entire workforce working remotely from their homes may be the acknowledgement that companies don’t need that mega office with six floors and space for 1200 staff. At an average cost of €60 per square foot, that’s an expensive piece of rental property or real estate to be potentially idle.

Employees who’ve been used to daily commutes of two – three hours will no longer want to commit to those schedules, having witnessed first hand the benefits of home working. Sure their days are longer now with all of the distractions that come with working from home whilst homeschooling, but once kids go back to school and full time care, the urge to go back to the office five days a week may not be the pull that it once was. If there is an obvious upside to this pandemic, it may well have hastened the demise of the “office worker” and ushered upon us a whole new era of hot desking from home.

I’ve no idea no more than anyone else how long this lockdown or the pandemic will last but I know with certainty that the jobs market will rebound at some point and will look vastly different to how it looks now. Business as usual will no longer be “usual” but “unusual” as companies may be forced to reconsider how they attract, induct and retain staff going forward. The question I’m asking employers now is – Are you prepared for the bounceback and are you geared to pivot for recovery? Because when the recovery does happen, the floodgates will potentially open as employees will want to explore new work/life balance choices. In a sense this is the best time to be talking with potential hires. I’ve had several first and second round interviews happen in the past two weeks over Zoom, Skype and video conference. I’ve even had my first placement post the pandemic arriving start a job opening virtually. This is the new normal now.

If you’re an employer right now, the questions you should be asking yourself are:

  • How is this industry going to change and what talent will you need once we get over this hump?
  • What skills will you need in your team to be the company you want to be in the post Covid 19 market?
  • How is our company positioned to pivot for growth and continue to play a part in our chosen space?

Businesses and the way we conduct business will be different from now on but all roads don’t lead to failure or disaster. Ireland and our economy will bounce back from this. It will take time and effort no doubt, but if we all individually and collectively choose to play a bigger game and adopt the new modes of working in a socially isolated yet highly productive manner, then recovery is possible.

If you are concerned about what the future of the jobs market will be or want to explore ways to play a bigger game as an employer, call us at Campbell Rochford for a discreet and confidential discussion.

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