COVID-19: the recruiting game-changer

By Philippe Riboton, Managing Director at HR Partners International Executive Search.

What’s the future of work? – we asked throughout this series of articles. But let’s be more specific here: what’s the future of recruitment? Will we recruit differently from now on because of the pandemic? How does COVID-19 change the game in terms of talent acquisition and talent sourcing? I have turned for answers to Ruxandra Irina Ciocîrlan, Senior Relationship Manager at LinkedIn, and Rustam Ziganshin, Reseller Partner CEE at Facebook. I have also asked for an illustration of the transformations to Christian Barakat, the CFO for Central Europe at BNP Paribas Personal Finance.

Six weeks after the start of this series of articles around “the Future of Work” one can finally see a little light at the end of the tunnel. As a matter of fact, pharmaceutical companies across the world are now engaged in an incredible race to deliver vaccines to the planet, stock markets are gaining strength and confidence and businesses are getting visibility about what 2021 could look like. It is also probable companies will finally lift their “hiring freeze” instructions and get back to recruiting again. 

Virtual recruiting is “the new normal”
It is obvious that COVID-19 has changed the way we work and the way we live. For companies it has also transformed the way they hire. With the consecutive lockdowns and travel restrictions in place, companies have had to quickly turn to virtual recruiting. This is the first lesson in LinkedIn’s “The Future of Recruiting: How COVID-19 is Transforming Hiring” report published this fall. The world’s largest professional network surveyed over 1,500 HR and talent professionals from 28 countries during July 2020 to understand the impact of the global pandemic on hiring.

According to Ruxandra Irina Ciocîrlan, Senior Relationship Manager at LinkedIn: “Data shows that virtual recruiting is undoubtedly here to stay. The vast majority (84%) of recruitment professionals in EMEA agree that virtual recruiting will continue post-COVID and 70% say it will become the new standard.”

Shavonne Gordon, a vice President in charge of Enterprise Diversity Recruiting at the American banking organisation Capital One, illustrates in the LinkedIn report: ”Now that we’ve proven we can run our recruiting shop virtually, what does the new normal look like? We won’t go back to an environment where everything is fully in person again because we don’t have to. It’s likely going to be a hybrid of in-person and virtual.”

Let me add a personal note here. Even if virtual recruiting seems to be the new normal with end-to-end virtual recruiting processes applying to a certain number of roles (resulting in time and cost savings for companies), it raises important questions that companies need to consider: where are sincerity and authenticity in the online experience? How do you touch the heart and the soul of people online while trying to understand what they are made of? How do you get to understand what their true values are when exchanging through a call on Zoom or Teams? How do you see them engaging with other people while being stuck on a computer screen? I suggest that 100% virtual recruiting may not turn out to be quite the cure-all we think it will be – and I will remain among those advocating the necessity of a blended experience, striking the balance between virtual and in-person. 

Remote work on the rise
Another major consequence of COVID-19 is without a doubt the rise in remote work – which will affect considerably the sourcing of talent. So shall we expect a boom in remote working as a result of the transformations generated by the pandemic? How will it influence the talent sourcing strategy of companies? Shall we expect they will recruit across borders rather than only locally?

Ruxandra Irina Ciocîrlan has noticed that change in the making, pointing to “a burgeoning marketplace for remote work” as illustrated by job seeker searches and applications, as well as jobs posted by employers on LinkedIn: “We’ve seen 60% more remote job searches and a 2.3x increase in remote job applications between March and July 2020. Remote job postings have also grown by 2.8x within the same timeframe”.

Facebook may serve as an exemplifying case about the surge in remote work. I asked Warsaw based Rustam Ziganshin, Reseller Partner CEE at Facebook, to give me a glimpse into Facebook’s vision: “At Facebook we’re shifting to remote work ourselves”, he told me. “Many people can now choose where they do their best work – while we continue to lay the technical foundation for a more flexible and fair future of work for all. We build our technology to break down barriers to access information, advancement and recognition”, he continued, “while empowering individuals and helping companies transform.” Rustam says “Facebook’s vision is to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale. Our ambition is to have up to 50% of our workforce working remotely within five years.”

According to the company’s internal surveys about 40% of Facebook employees are interested in full time remote work (while more than 50% say they want to get back into offices as soon as possible though), pushing Rustam to acknowledge that “still we don’t have all the answers: This will continue to be a learning process”, he says.

But one thing is certain according to him: “What Facebook as a business organization learned is that remote work works. And we also know in some cases companies even believe their culture improved, as they worked harder than ever to look after their people.”

How to make remote work work
It is not difficult for most of us to imagine a tech company like FacebookGoogle or Twitter with an army of remote workers across the globe. One could say software developers were actually COVID-19 friendly before COVID-19 even appeared, with a large number of them working from home, way before it became first fashionable and then indispensable.

But does remote work actually work for “traditional businesses” or let’s say it differently non-tech companies? According to Christian Barakat, CFO for Central Europe of the consumer finance company BNP Paribas Personal Finance, it works. Christian leads a team of 85 people in finance across the Central European region (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria) including a shared-service center in Sofia. He says remote work has changed his approach towards talent sourcing by expanding access to a broader talent pool: “If we need to fill a position within our regional finance team”, he says, “we will look for the best person across the region rather than try to replace the person in the same location of the previous job holder”. He explains that “our model calls for teams split wherever they are on home office basis rather than delocalized structures. The way we work simply allows us to look for the best talent wherever they are. Therefore COVID-19 is a test of agility for us.” As a result flexibility – namely the ability to work from anywhere – will become one of the central points of focus for talent acquisition and “a challenge for our recruiters”, he says, explaining that “flexibility will become one of the key requirements in the selection process.”

Yet there are still some question marks when it comes to remote work, one of them being the risk on work/life balance. Ruxandra Irina Ciocîrlan illustrates: “Regardless of how remote work will be incorporated into their future work model, companies will need to balance flexibility with employee wellbeing.” She says that “the shift to working from home has posed significant wellbeing challenges for employees, with burnout rates reaching a two-year high in August 2020 according to a report from the people success platform Glint.” 

The massive digitalization of recruitment and the shift to remote work are only two examples of the revolution in the making and offering a glimpse into the post-pandemic rules of talent management. I will leave the last word to Rustam Ziganshin at Facebook when saying: “COVID-19 has brought great challenges – supporting employees, managing disruption, pivoting business models. For many companies it has catapulted them five years into the future.” 

In conclusion
I hope this series of articles about “the Future of Work” will have been beneficial and inspirational for you. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to all executives I interviewed and who shared their experience and their insights, and especially: Karel Bor, Glyn Evans, Jana Vlkova, Milos Halecka, Petr Zidek, Olivier BauduinSophie AndréAnnette ReissfelderMartin KonicekRudolf Urbanek, Jindrich FremuthJoachim DehmelPeter HradiskyRobert ChvatalOmar KoleilatThierry WellhoffRuxandra Irina Ciocîrlan, Rustam Ziganshin and Christian Barakat.