This article was published in May 2020.

To provide a space for global talent acquisition leaders to share questions and solutions for managing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic with peers, Cielo has hosted virtual client Town Hall sessions. Our latest round of discussions focused on preparations for recovery and how organizations are staying focused on the health and engagement of their people. Below is a summary of the key insights we heard that can help HR and TA leaders reframe their approach for a safe and positive recovery.

Cultural shifts leaders are working to maintain

Virtual collaboration
Effective virtual collaboration was the most common cultural shift that leaders acknowledge as a positive impact of COVID-19 that they want to protect and maintain. Especially considering flexibility in work location will continue to be a reality for many roles – and could be a compelling benefit to attract new hires in the future.

A global semiconductor company shared an impressive learning from their engineers, whose work had always been considered an in-person team activity. They feared innovation would suffer and project deliverables would be delayed without their standard collaboration format. Their teams successfully shifted to a fully virtual way of working, and they have maintained productivity to meet expected timelines and innovation has continued to thrive. The company intends to find ways to retain the ability and openness to remote collaboration, weaving in in-person collaboration for core business activity when possible. They will explore the IT infrastructure needed to support their desired blended model of in-office and at-home.

If organizations can maintain their openness to remote working, talent pools for future hiring will widen. If the role can be done remotely, recruiters have more flexibility in where they look for skills, potentially impacting quality of hire (capture talent no matter where they live), time to fill (decrease time spent looking for talent in restrictive geographical markets) and total cost (talent can be found in lower costs geographies that deliver the same needed skills).

Technology adoption
With the rapid shift to virtual working, organizations quickly adopted new technologies and new ways to get things done. This acceleration in tech usage proves that when there is a burning need for a platform, adoption and maximization are possible.

Several organizations shared that hiring leaders quickly became comfortable using video interviews to assess candidates and, in some cases, make hiring decisions. Even companies that had pushed for these types of tech-enabled approaches without full buy-in prior to the pandemic finally saw the willingness to engage when it became the only option available.

If organizations can prove the time and cost savings of a virtual hiring process, they can embed this change with hiring leaders and deliver a compelling candidate experience that is faster and more efficient.

Efficient decision making
This global health crisis has required swift action from organizations to respond. From shifting business strategies to critical employee communication, time has been of the essence to deal with the pace of change.

A regional health system discussed that their ability to quickly make decisions has been one of the most impactful changes. Historically, decisions were assessed and made by committee, looking for input and approval from several leaders and/or functions. While they still see the value in some large decision-making groups, their goal is to retain the comfort-level with quick decisions made by a select few when speed is important.

If organizations embed a framework to be enable quick decision making when it matters most, they can make impactful changes when time truly is of the essence versus missing out on an opportunity because of bureaucracy.

Grace and forgiveness
Times of uncertainty have pushed organizations to connect on a deeper level with their employees, bringing understanding and empathy to how they operate and communicate. Josh Bersin shared similar thoughts listing a “reset in leadership” that integrates compassion into the management culture as a key outcome of the coronavirus crisis.

A global high-tech organization shared that they will be working to keep this “culture of forgiveness” that encourages humility when things do not go as planned or when a challenge arises.

If organizations bring a more personal approach to business interactions and leadership, they will create a work environment where individuals feel safe to push and strive for more, fueling creativity and productivity.

Process changes leaders are fighting to keep

Virtual interviewing
The shift to virtual interviews was the most common process change that talent acquisition functions will be working to integrate as a permanent solution.

A global semiconductor company has seen organization-wide acceptance of video interviewing. They intend to maintain this for initial interviews, and due to the highly competitive talent market and competition with global players like Apple and Google, they will return final interviews to in-person as soon as it’s safe. This stage is critical for selling the candidate, and there’s an important social element with meals and site tours that cannot be effectively replicated virtually.

A global pharmaceutical organization has seen success with moving their panel interview format to a virtual setting, but even with the virtual panels, offers for leadership positions are on hold until they can meet with candidates live.

If organizations integrate video interviews as standard practice they stand to save both time and money during the interview process plus add an additional level of flexibility for candidates and hiring managers.

Accelerated selection
For organizations that have maintained their hiring, especially for critical roles, speeding up selection has been an important change in process. Accelerated timelines can vary by role, but pushing for quick decisions from hiring leaders is speeding up time to offer and improving the candidate experience.

A regional hospital system in the US has streamlined their interview process, helping hiring leaders recognize that they can complete an effective selection process in two days instead of two weeks. They have built a simplified schedule to only integrate the critical pieces required for verifying culture-fit and care competency. They’ve removed job shadows and large panel interviews, a change they intend to integrate into their permanent process.

A medical products distributor encouraged hiring leaders to make immediate offers after virtual interviews. But as hiring volume decrease, some leaders are shifting back to their old ways. They will work to embed the behavioral change and sustain the quick offer-making.

If organizations can keep hiring leaders engaged for quick selection decisions, time to fill and even time to productivity will be positively impacted. A quick selection process also allows organizations to capture critical talent in a competitive environment where candidates could be considering multiple options.

Simplified background checks
Making quick selection decisions is one thing, but a slow and inefficient background check process organizations can delay start dates and decrease productivity. Several organizations have instituted simplified background checks to keep candidates moving quickly through the hiring process and get them into the organizations and working as soon as possible.

Two companies shared plans to keep their shortened pre-employment process, including immediate contingent start dates post-interview and onboarding while they process checks. Candidates and hiring leaders have benefited from this change. They will continue to monitor for any compliance issues and what level of risk that adds. Leaders agreed that they will keep an eye on quality of hire and retention to see if changes in the background check process impact these important outcomes.

If organizations maintain a streamlined background check process, they will shorten the cycle time between offer extend and onboarding, getting new hires into the organization faster and improving the candidate experience.

As the summer internship seasons arrives, a high-tech manufacturing company is reimagining their internship program in a remote model. Beyond creating a compelling program for the original group of interns, they also asked program participants to refer any friends or classmates that may have lost internships to capture additional talent. Another change that they intend to keep is to provide interns access to all learning and development tools. Historically these systems were not open to interns.

If organizations are able to reimagine their internship programs, they won’t lose access to a valuable pool of quality talent and the diversity of thought and experience they bring to their work.

Components of return-to-office plans

With every industry and organization on a slightly different timeline for starting a return to facilities, one theme is consistent: No one is in a hurry to be first. Leaders on our calls are focusing on building out a slow, phased approach. Organizations are being very deliberate about how they communicate return-to-office plans, especially if they have essential workers that have continued to operate in-person in offices or facilities. Across industries, organizations are taking special care to show appreciation and understanding for the continued commitment and safety of their workforce.

Key considerations:

  • Continued social distancing and face coverings
  • Limiting or removing access to conference rooms
  • Increased access to sanitation supplies
  • Altered and more rigorous office cleaning schedules
  • Keeping all fitness centers and social gathering places closed
  • Cafeterias or food service will be for takeout only, no group dining
  • Managing capacity by assigning days/times to rotate between work from home and office days
  • Phasing the return function by function based on highest need to come back
If organizations stay focused on transparent employee communication regarding return-to-office timelines and policies, they will continue to earn the trust of their workforce. Health and safety of employees must continue to come first.

Ongoing strategies for employee engagement

Promoting time off and flexibility
To combat increased stress and potential burnout, organizations are focusing on policy updates and leading by example. One common theme is a focus on consistency within teams for days-off or shortened hours. People feel like they can truly disconnect when they know others are off too.

Example changes include:

  • Four-day work weeks or extra paid vacation days
  • Instituting “summer Fridays” with shortened hours
  • Dedicated “quiet hours” where emails and meetings are not allowed, giving uninterrupted time to focus on work projects or personal needs

Leadership communication
During the initial response to the pandemic, most organizations quickly jumped into action to increase the frequency and transparency of their communication to employees. The need for human connection was important, especially from leadership, as employees sought information and assurance regarding how the business was adapting to the evolving situation. But as this new way of working and operating continues, organizations are decreasing the frequency of their communication. Still more than pre-COVID-19 strategies, but less than their initial response.

From virtual company-wide or region-wide meetings to virtual happy hours/coffee dates and CEO town halls, organizations are starting to experience the law of diminishing return as employees hit a level of too many video calls and communications. Leaders talked about finding the right balance between keeping employees informed while not overwhelming them with too much communication.

Employee surveys
In addition to frequent communication, HR teams are partnering with the business to create pulse surveys to capture real-time feedback and feelings of their teams. These types of surveys are falling into two categories:

  • Well-being: How are employees feeling? Where do they need support? What is on their minds?
  • Future planning: How do you feel about returning to an office? What concerns do you have about recovery plans?
If organizations lose focus on employee engagement and tailoring the strategy as the world continues to shift, they may face decreased productivity in the short term, and retention challenges in the long term.

Pushing for change in recovery and beyond

HR and talent acquisition functions have risen to the occasion to support their candidates, employees, and organizations during this challenging time. The best thing a function can do right now is get laser focused on what really matters and what can make a meaningful impact. Whether it’s advocating for more budget to continue to digitize the recruitment process or capturing internal advocates to maintain process changes, the ultimate goal is to increase the value TA delivers to the business.


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