By Louise Green

COVID-19 is changing the world of work as we know it. Not one business is unaffected by the current situation to some degree. Our check-ins with clients resonate with themes of ‘no one is untouched by the impact of this pandemic’ and ‘we’re all in this together’. It seems that people within businesses (leadership and employees) are banding together and doing whatever they can to ensure they come out the other side, or at least ensure that the business survives. In other words, I get a strong feeling that everyone is working toward a common goal. As a result, this situation is encouraging innovation and lateral thinking, and we are continuing to see examples of this all around us on social media and in our communities. LinkedIn is packed full of examples of people innovating and offering conferences, workshops and other unique ways to connect. It’s interesting that this technology has always been here, but now that it’s become a necessity, it has exploded in terms of its use. ‘Telehealth' and Videoconferencing are becoming the new norm - something that no one would have predicted even one month ago. So whilst COVID-19 is changing the way we work, it is also opening our eyes as to what’s possible.

For us at Sheffield it is very much business-as-usual, with a focus on exploring different ways of working and experimenting with technology to perform our services to support our clients. Interest remains high with the career opportunities we are advertising, as a steady stream of applications are coming in. This week one of our executive appointment’s started her first day in a new role remotely – with a two-week induction period organised completely online! 

As we keep in touch daily with our clients, we are in the fortunate position to get feedback from a wide range of businesses, so we thought it may be of value to share some insights.

Videoconferencing - This has become the new essential tool. We’ve always conducted video interviews but now it’s taken to another level. There’s a myriad of free and paid tools available, and platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams — among others — offer options that can be tailored to each company’s needs. At Sheffield we are using the Zoom platform for interviewing and for team meetings, as well as the essential Friday virtual drinks. We are successfully conducting panel interviews with multiple stakeholders dialing in. Only last week we had a group of 12 panelists around NZ zooming in for a full day of interviews. Having done this for some time now, we’ve compiled a few tips to make the most of conducting interviews using Zoom:

  • Mute when not talking (so they can’t hear your partner making coffee or the dog barking);
  • Use headphones or an earpiece with a microphone;
  • Everyone have cameras on (unless the internet gets the wobbles);
  • Best to use a computer, not a mobile phone as they move around a lot;
  • Use the reaction button for quick and easy feedback;
  • Use the ‘hand up’ option to indicate you want to add a comment or question into the discussion;
  • Screen sharing of documents is possible;
  • You can use the chat function to contact everyone in the group (or individuals) in real time;
  • We have been typing the interview questions to the chat box each time a panel member asks one – so there is both an audio and visual prompt;
  • Virtual backgrounds are a fun tool to experiment with! 

Virtual delivery - Virtual delivery of coaching sessions and leadership development workshops are a focus for some of our clients. It’s actually pretty straightforward for us to run facilitated sessions for groups using Zoom. We are finding that the ‘screen sharing’ option is an excellent tool to support the sharing of information and data. And with the chat and handup tools, it can be extremely effective.

Recruitment - For recruitment in general, we are noticing that roles with a strategic component to them (i.e. tiers 1 and 2) are still considered vital to the business. However, we are finding that tier 3 and 4 roles are being put on hold – unless the business is deemed an ‘essential service’. There is definitely a trend for internal redeployment wherever possible, particularly across some of our larger clients. 

Flexibility - Our clients have certainly begun to embrace the concept of flexible working arrangements and remote working as they are forced to confront it - prior expectations for roles requiring the person to be face-to-face/on-site are changing now more than ever. Clients are open to exploring new ways of working and the possibility that unexpected efficiencies may bring to their business. We have a great example of a client who had strong reservations a month ago about the merit of taking a candidate forward in the process, who wanted to work remotely one day a week. The client was adamant this arrangement would not work successfully with this senior role. However, now that their own leadership team has been established and working successfully remotely, they have seen the benefits of this arrangement and will now progress with the candidate. 

Staying afloat - With many of our clients being SME’s and looking for new ideas, there seems to be no end to the various ways they have been doing whatever it takes to stay afloat. The following is a short list of what we’ve heard some businesses action: 

  • Staff going down to 4 days a week;
  • Staff reducing their pay; 
  • Staff taking unpaid leave;
  • CEO's and directors taking pay cuts (often quite publicly);
  • Staff using up annual leave;
  • Freezing annual salary reviews at the end of the financial year;
  • Paying out the government subsidy only and/or topping it up with annual leave;
  • Freezing incentive payments. 

Whilst we’ve only just nudged over the one-week mark of level-4 lockdown, it is clear that the way we do things, and the “new normal” has changed dramatically. What has become very apparent is the fact that an open mind, good communication and strong leadership goes a long way in times like this. The GFC of 2008 and the Christchurch quakes of 2011 affected us greatly and, if anything, taught us resilience and to be prepared. We’ve still a long way to go in terms of lockdown and eradicating the virus, but for the immediate future we remain optimistic, as we witness many clients adapt, evolve and do whatever it takes to survive. Who knows what the following weeks will present to us, but if the recent innovation, generosity and resilience we’ve witnessed is anything to go by, we can remain hopeful.

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