The COVID effect on talent acquisition

- By Dave Rees

It’s no secret that Covid-19 has had significant impacts on our workplace culture and environment. The lockdowns of 2020 required many of us to suddenly work from home, forcing immediate changes to the way businesses operate.

Remote working compelled companies large and small to engage in an enormous ‘live experiment’. Leaders had no choice but to manage teams remotely, however sceptical they might have been about the efficacy of their teams working from home.

The jury is still out on the long-term impact of these changes, but we have observed some emerging trends that provide insight into the possible long-term ‘new normal’, and how companies must adapt in order to compete for talent.

The ‘un-productivity’ myth

While many leaders had embraced the remote working dynamic prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, plenty subscribed to the belief that their teams would use working from home as an opportunity to put their feet up and slack off. This belief was tested by the unsettling effect of a global pandemic and, in many cases, employees dealing with the additional presence of young children at home while trying to remain as productive as possible - no easy task, as many of us can attest to!

Most businesses we’ve spoken to have reported, however, that productivity levels have been maintained or increased, providing positive reinforcement for the benefits of remote working. The exact reasons are not clear - increased productivity could be due to any number of reasons, ranging from a feeling of unity during a pandemic, to a fear of potential redundancy. Nevertheless, it does show that leaders who are still railing against flexible working policies need to reassess the validity of their views in the light of contrasting data. Otherwise, they risk damage to their employment brand by looking staid and reactionary in the face of employees’ and prospective employees’ evolving appetites for hybrid working.

Hiring across borders

Now that businesses have acknowledged teams can work effectively remotely, they are seeking to leverage its potential, from reducing office lease expenses to tapping into global talent pools. The trend toward a more globalised workforce means an increasingly competitive landscape for talent that manifests in a number of ways.

For example, in a recent global search process the U.K. based preferred candidate received a counter-offer from his current employer. They were open to him relocating and working remotely from Sydney, where they don’t have an existing corporate office, in order to retain him. This is an increasingly common competitive dynamic which will make it harder for Kiwi firms to compete, given the compensation differential. Similarly, we recently undertook a search where the preferred candidate would continue to work remotely from his home in Brazil, a trend that indicates locally based candidates are increasingly competing against a global talent base. A third example is a candidate who had recently returned home to New Zealand and is now contracting back to a start-up in the UK, where he is part of a global team. These are not isolated examples - they have become increasingly common. As location is no longer a barrier to employment, employers who can embrace the concept of a remote or even global workforce will be first in line to secure the best talent.

Adapt or be left behind

Leaders who are yet to become hybrid working advocates must quickly adapt to the new normal. Flexible working is no longer a ‘nice to have’ on candidates’ agenda. Covid has legitimised what was already a nascent trend, and we have observed remote working becoming a higher priority for candidates, as well as an increasing confidence in stating their preference for it.

In our experience, candidates prefer two to three days per week working from home, on average. Increasingly, organisations that offer no flexible working tend to be seen as not progressive in their thinking. Even an offer of one day a week at home is generally regarded as lip-service. In an increasingly competitive market, these organisations are starting to lose the battle to secure top talent.

Leaders and managers alike need to examine what they really fear about their team working from home. Is it simply a reaction to change, or a feeling of losing control? Either way, they need to evolve to meet the new normal, as so many of their people have already done.

Hire for the new normal

The rise of working from home means that leaders are now required to have more faith in their teams. To help build this trust, hiring processes should place an increased focus on determining which candidates best suit remote working.

When hiring, employers should more closely evaluate for the following attributes in candidates:

  • Self-motivation: can the candidate work effectively outside of the office environment - whether in the traditional 9-to-5 mode or across different hours -without the presence of a team or manager? How do they organise and motivate themselves to get the job done?
  • Conscientiousness: can the candidate show that they can make a remote working situation work with their team, as they would in an office? Have they blended their personal and professional lives successfully under one roof?
  • Industriousness: can a candidate demonstrate a results-driven work ethic and achievement while working from home? How have they gone above and beyond for their team in this environment? In the new normal, industriousness is more about dependability.
  • Communication: can the candidate communicate virtually as well as they can in person? Are they proactive about keeping in touch and have they embraced the use of new technology? Are they considerate of their colleagues’ availability and can they adapt to schedules that might not fit with their own?
  • Self-management: can the candidate achieve a work-life balance from home, or will they need extra support to manage their time effectively? Can they switch off when they need to and practise self-care?
  • Adaptability: can the candidate demonstrate how they adapt their working style for remote working? What challenges did they face and how did they overcome them?

Lockdown was a snapshot, not a crystal ball

Covid forced almost all of us into working from home, but it provided a limited view on what is flexible working. How it will work in the longer term, and especially during non-pandemic times, is still unknown.

What we do know is that trust will remain a critical factor. The big picture is that employees have been wanting and asking for more flexible work options for years. Covid has simply fast-tracked their adoption.

Organisations that want to attract and retain the best talent -whether locally or globally -need to decide on a strategy mix and ensure their leaders and teams can successfully deliver on it. By defining and adopting a progressive attitude to hybrid working, companies stand a greater chance of retaining high performers and being more competitive in the market for top talent.

This article provides general information on trends in recruitment and is not intended to be used as a substitute for personalised advice.