Post-COVID: What Companies Will Do When the Reset Button is Pushed (Part 1)

22 May 2020 James Sullivan

Start button into 2020. TheDriveGroup

The coronavirus pandemic has shut down economies across the world, forcing businesses to take dramatic steps to stay afloat. Focus has shifted from long-term growth to short-term survival. But as countries begin to emerge from lockdown, companies need to get back on track as quickly as possible. With that in mind, TheDriveGroup has put together this actionable guide on what to do once the reset button has been pushed:

Rebuilding your team

I.T. recruitment placements. TheDriveGroup

It’s no secret that the pandemic has hit the job market hard. Economists believe unemployment in Australia and New Zealand will more than double to over 11%, the highest level in three decades.

Post-pandemic, all (viable) companies will attempt to rebuild their workforces, so we’re expecting to see a rush for top talent. And there’s no reason to assume that demand for techies will be anything other than high – the number of job ads for software engineering roles grew by 1% year on year in the three months to March 20th, according to figures from employment marketplace SEEK. We’ve even seen some companies building out their tech teams during the lockdown.

Rebuilding teams that have been dramatically reduced in size will be no easy task. Some companies have had to cut hundreds or even thousands of jobs. In some instances, those employers have set up partnerships with companies in different sectors to help laid-off staff find work straight away. What happens when things return to “normal” and those employers want their old staff back? And what do they do if those people are no longer available or interested?

Action points:

1.    Work on your employer brand

Now is the time to update and build out your employer brand to give yourself the best chance of attracting talent. Just 19% of employees strongly believe that the experience their employer promotes publicly is matched by reality, indicating that many organisations are not practising what they preach when it comes to looking after their workforce.

Remember that the best employer brands stem from a clear purpose and values, which – when implemented effectively – help businesses to attract and retain talent that shares those same beliefs. Consider the example set by outdoor clothing brand Patagonia, which claims to blend “work, play, family and environmentalism”. This might sound like a grand promise, but the brand delivers through numerous initiatives, from offering paid environmental internships, to reimbursing staff for commuting in a way other than driving.

The results have been impressive: 91% of employees describe Patagonia as a great place to work, compared to just 59% at an average US-based company.


2.    Demonstrate how you helped employees during lockdown

Businesses that are perceived as having “let down” their staff will find it hard to recruit in a post-lockdown world. This isn’t to say that any business that has had to reduce staffing numbers will automatically struggle to attract talent. Instead, it’s about highlighting the ways in which you’ve helped your workforce, and providing context for your actions:

  • Have you furloughed staff? If so, what have you done to keep those furloughed employees engaged with the business?

  • Have you made redundancies? How can you demonstrate that this decision was taken as a last resort, only after all other options had been exhausted?

In the era of employee review sites like Glassdoor, organisations can already ill afford to even appear to mistreat their staff. This situation has been further exacerbated by the launch of sites like Did They Help?, which rates the actions of companies and celebrities during the pandemic.

None of this should be seen as a negative. Instead, it’s an opportunity for businesses that did something out-of-the-ordinary to help their workforce during the crisis. Airbnb, for instance, has earned one of the most positive ratings on Did They Help?, despite laying off a quarter of its workforce. Its founders are taking no salary for the next six months, while its executives have accepted a 50% pay cut. Additionally, it has offered a variety of measures designed to help its newly redundant workers, from entry to an alumni network to placement support and career advice. Every employer is having to make tough decisions right now – but those that do it with empathy, while going out of their way to genuinely help their staff, will be best placed to rebuild their teams when some sort of normality returns.


3.    Ramp up your networking and talent engagement

Even when lockdown is over, there are going to be more candidates in precarious positions and at home than ever before. These candidates will be easier for employers to reach. What’s more, the candidate pool as a whole is going to be larger. So how can you make the most of networking and engage with as many relevant candidates as possible?

This could be a great time to work in partnership and build a strategy with a recruitment partner to help you capitalise in a candidate-rich market. The recruitment agency will have greater clarity on how wages have been affected and what benefits are attractive to candidates. In general, their experience of speaking to candidates will help them to understand exactly what people want from an employer going forward. Expect job security to be a huge factor.


4.    Offer fixed-term placements

Given the candidate-rich market, it’s likely that more people will be willing to take contracts. What’s more, contractors will probably be cheaper than they have been for a long time, and many will be looking for security in an uncertain market, making them less likely to leave.

As an employer, can you make greater use of contractors to rebuild your team? Could you offer six-month temp-to-perm contracts to effectively “try before you buy”? Or hire temporarily while keeping your options open?

 Retaining talent

Diversity in I.T. recruitment. TheDriveGroup

Following on from the last point, companies won’t just find themselves facing a battle to rebuild their workforce – they’ll also have to take steps to retain talent as the job market starts to recover. 

This is particularly true for people working at companies that handled the lockdown poorly. We’ve heard of a lot of employers reducing people’s hours, forcing annual leave and imposing pay cuts. Most staff have not welcomed this. Far from simply staying put and riding out the crisis, a lot of candidates we’ve spoken to are still employed but looking to jump ship for a company that’s still paying full-time wages and generally putting its employees first.

Other employers have taken a different tack, launching initiatives that allow them to save money while retaining staff. Domain Group has introduced a voluntary programme that sees employees receive 20% of their salary package in share rights over the next six months, with more than 90% of staff agreeing to opt in.

Of course, a lot of candidates have found themselves accepting jobs for short-term security, with little intention to stay when normal service resumes. As soon as salaries and rates go back up, or their old employer is ready to take them back, they’re planning to quit. How will their current employer cope with this? Can they realistically retain these people?


Action points:

1.    Highlight ways you helped your workforce during the crisis

Did you go down the Domain Group route and launch an innovative programme to protect redundancies while still reducing payroll costs in the short term? Or perhaps, like Microsoft, you pledged to continue paying hourly workers regularly, even if they ended up doing less work as a result of the pandemic? Ultimately, if you did everything in your power to support your team during the crisis, you should demonstrate this and use it as a tool to support your talent retention and attraction efforts.

Likewise, take steps to recognise and reward employees who have made sacrifices to support the business, such as agreeing to take reduced salaries or working longer hours to keep operations running. Can you offer long-term loyalty incentives to make these people feel suitably valued and reduce the risk of them leaving?


2.    Entice former staff back to the business

Re-hiring former employees who have taken up new roles during the pandemic can be an effective way to rebuild your internal teams – provided you treated them well before they left.

Find out what they’re lacking at their new employer, and consider what incentives – both short and long-term – you can offer to coax them back. Financially, you may not be in a strong enough position to offer a “golden hello”, but there may be other benefits you can provide, from subsidised commuting to helping with the equipment costs associated with working from home.


3.    Listen to your employees and communicate honestly

Now more than ever, organisations need to listen to their workforce if they’re going to retain talent. Understand what they want and do your best to accommodate it.

For instance, many employees won’t welcome an immediate return to “business as usual”. Continue to allow flexibility around working hours and locations, and keep checking in with staff regularly to ask how they’re doing and support them as necessary.

Importantly, don’t fall into the trap of overpromising. Employees understand the hardships facing your business – after all, they’re facing plenty themselves. Be open and honest about how your business has coped during lockdown, what the immediate future holds, and how priorities have shifted. This is the time to reconnect your team with your vision.

How can you bounce back from the crisis and position yourself to scale up, fast? Click here to find out in Part 2.