Like most people, I was taken unawares by the scale of the changes to our business the coronavirus pandemic that hit back in March. Only a few weeks ago, in reality, but so much has changed since then. As we head into May it seems a good time to take a breather and see where we are and how we are faring.
Not all, but most businesses are having to adapt to the new landscape and although we are managing to keep most of our temp workforce out at work at the same kind of level as before, permanent recruitment has slowed massively. HR GO Recruitment has been around for more than 60 years and has weathered many storms. We know there are times when it’s not about how much profit we make, it’s all about balancing the books to ensure we come through the crisis in one piece.
I remember worrying back in March about the way that permanent recruitment fell away, with offers being put on hold and interviews being cancelled, about the small businesses being forced to close their operations, hopefully temporarily, and about the effect on our own people of the sudden move to working from home. I worried that it would be difficult to maintain the passion, motivation and enthusiasm of a sales team when they were all dispersed and, potentially, isolated. And about the employees that we had to furlough because we didn’t have work for them right now.
At the same time, me and the rest of the Board were suddenly busier than ever before, as we refocused all our energy to where there was a growing and urgent demand for people.
The fact that the HR GO Group had invested massively in our IT systems over the last year or so started to pay off exponentially. Our consultants were all able to set themselves up working from home, not just able to email but to access our candidate databases, carry out job advertising, manage responses and conduct interviews over video. Our new online registration platform was fast-tracked to enable remote hiring of temporary staff. All of which meant we could move very fast to adapt to the changes in the market.
It turned out that those key clients that national sales have worked hard to build up brilliant working relationships with, such as Serco, G4S, NHS and Royal Mail, were suddenly at the sharp end. These companies were desperately trying to find staff to meet the increasing demand for re-stacking shelves, answering calls, delivering goods, staffing hospitals and pharmacies.
As a lot of our ongoing temp supply business is traditionally in soft FM roles we found we could help by redirecting temporary staff from those employers scaling back to the areas where demand was growing. It wasn’t without its challenges, as many of the new jobs needed people with DBS clearance, but we quickly created a hot-house team to fast-track DBS applications.
And as we proved ourselves capable of delivering quickly and efficiently the clients kept on asking for more. We’ve now supplied staff to 8 of the new Covid-19 test centres, mostly people from areas like hospitality where their customer service skills and experience are just what is needed.
The Board’s attention now is turning to the next phase, how do we transition out of extreme lockdown? Many clients are pivoting their businesses to providing equipment required to manage the virus, such as ventilators and pumps, and we are working with them to find the skills they need. The needs of other clients are also changing, for example, councils that we have mainly been providing sickness cover to, will be re-opening their waste sites and allowing people back to the beaches. We are starting to get people lined up to take on these roles.
Gradually the business that is Covid-19 related will be replaced by opportunities from companies that are emerging from lockdown and our employees on furlough with gradually return to help us meet their needs.
We are still in the thick of it and there are plenty more challenges ahead I’m sure, but I’m pleased to say that my initial worry about people not coping with working from home has not turned out to be a problem. Being able to have video calls with people makes a huge difference, and lets you see how well they are coping with the new regime.
There are definitely some things that have changed in ways that I’d like to see us stick with going forward. The way that everyone has pulled together to make things happen has been really inspiring – at all levels of the company. The HR GO plc board has a daily call to manage issues in realtime which has improved our engagement and decision-making. And we are tracking the business on daily figures so that we can quickly match capacity to where we see growth opportunities.
Out of any crisis we need to ensure we are able to emerge stronger and I know that what I have learned from steering HR GO Recruitment through the pandemic thus far will be put to good use in shaping the business and ensuring we can provide a great recruitment service to our clients and candidates for many more years to come.