Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Coronavirus and its impact on the recruitment industry

There are varying opinions on the severity of Coronavirus, or COVID-19, and what our response to it should be but it is undeniable that it is affecting the majority of the world.

And the situation is changing at an hourly rate. At the time of publishing, the confirmed cases across the globe had hit 114,549 and total deaths reached 4,028. The whole of Italy – a country of circa 60 million people – is now on lockdown.

The UK has had more new cases in the last 24 hours than China and the deputy chief medical officer has said “thousands” of people in the UK will be infected. The UK’s chief medical adviser has warned that those who show “even minor” signs of respiratory tract infections or fever will soon be told to self-isolate.

The virus is, unsurprisingly, having a huge impact on businesses and the recruitment industry is certainly not immune to that. Businesses are having to adapt quickly in order to survive and it is very possible that the legacy of COVID-19 may forever change the nature of recruitment and the workplace landscape.

Travel sector facing crisis

Those recruiting for the travel sector will perhaps be hardest hit in the short term. TUI, Virgin Atlantic and EasyJet have all announced recruitment freezes due to steep reductions in bookings and many UK-based carriers are also offering employees unpaid leave in an attempt to mitigate a financial downturn caused by COVID-19. Flybe folded last week, blaming Coronavirus for being the last straw in an already ‘difficult situation.’ Hotels, cruises and tour operators are also being hit hard as travel is being scaled down, both for business and pleasure. The travel industry is experiencing its worst crisis in 18 years and the IATA has warned that the revenue cost to the global aviation industry in 2020 could reach $113bn.

Remote online recruitment aided by digital tools

Of course, the very fact that recruitment is an industry that often necessitates face-to-face contact is also something to consider given the push to contain the virus and people’s own fears. Data uncovered by WaveTrackR, a multi-poster and data analytics tool, reveals a 19% dip in applications in January as compared to January 2019 and a massive 47% reduction in applications in February compared with February 2019. This certainly seems to indicate that jobseekers are becoming  hesitant to enter the process, due perhaps to a combination of a desire to stay in the security of their current job in uncertain times and concerns over the face-to-face nature of the recruiting process. 

While the former issue is harder to tackle, the latter is something recruiters can do something about. Recruiters in areas that have so far been hardest hit by COVID-19 have increasingly turned to online communication tools to avoid face-to-face meetings where possible. Video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams are being used both to communicate with clients and to interview and ‘meet’ with candidates. HSBC’s Hong Kong office has posted the following message on their recruitment page: “Due to the current situation related to the Novel Coronavirus, we’re leveraging our digital capabilities to ensure we can continue to recruit top talent at HSBC.” The post goes on to say that candidates will be asked to use one of their digital tools as they proceed through the application process and will be guided through that by one of HSBC’s recruitment advisers. This is something we may see more and more in the UK as a way to continue to safely recruit as the situation develops. As a recruiter, it is worth ensuring you have the tools needed to effectively carry out this type of remote online recruitment should you feel it is warranted. 

Long-term change to workplace practice?

Across much of China, Japan, South Korea and Italy, public transport, event spaces, entertainment centres and workplaces are empty and ghostly silent as companies and anywhere that amasses a crowd have shut down and schools have closed. It is unsurprising that such organisations are doing everything they can to contain Coronavirus and lessen the impact on their workforce and it is still very possible that the UK could follow suit. Whichever way this virus progresses and whatever the outcome, it may have a lasting effect on workplace practices. Employers are currently being forced to think outside the box in order to manage a rapidly evolving crisis. If people need to self-isolate but can still work, if we are encouraged to work from home by the government, or if schools close for a period of time, we could see an unprecedented number of people across the UK working remotely.  

Currently, businesses across the world are increasingly reducing business travel, encouraging remote working and having to be fluid as they keep up to date with public health advice. The Financial Times reported that international banks based in Japan have brought in split teams to prevent a situation where whole departments could be incapacitated. This has been effected largely because Japan has only recently come onboard with remote working (due mainly to cultural ethos) and so many businesses don’t have the framework in place to allow for it. 

A reduction in business travel and an increase in remote working

Unlike Japan, many UK businesses already allow for remote working in some form. Online communication and file-sharing tools could help businesses continue to operate if a prolonged period of home working is necessitated. Many companies have imposed a ban on non-essential business travel, nationally as well as internationally, and such online tools will provide ways to communicate with clients without having to travel to them. Given the increasing desire felt by many for flexible working opportunities and the ecological impact of travel by air and car, the adjustments made in response to Coronavirus could very well change the way we work in the long term.    

What can we take from all this and how do we progress forwards? COVID-19 is a global issue and as such will affect the recruitment industry in some, if not many, ways. WaveTrackR’s data indicates a reduction of applications on average across all industries and no-one knows how this will play out. However, there are ways we can mitigate the impact, such as utilising online communication tools in the recruitment process and encouraging employers to emphasise the benefits of working for their organisation, including, where possible, flexible working. The recruiters that weather the Coronavirus storm will be those that adapt as the situation unfolds. 

By Emily Buckley, Copywriter, Wave