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As we sink back into lockdown in Victoria and deal with some of the toughest restrictions yet in Melbourne, the chance of normality being restored feels more unlikely than ever. Like the rest of the world, the recruitment industry is learning to adapt. Candidates, recruiters and employers have been quick to embrace new hiring processes – which are no longer being viewed as quick fixes and temporary work arounds. People are finding new ways to connect with their colleagues, and the initial anxiety-fuelled boom of Zoom hangouts has levelled out to a healthy amount.  

 But what are the most important learnings for recruiters and employers so far, and what new attitudes and ways of working are here to stay?  

Virtual hiring processes are just as effective 

This theory has now been tried, tested and proven thousands of times – and I can confirm it’s true. By using a combination of telephone calls, video meetings and online tests, it’s absolutely possible to find the perfect candidate for your role without ever meeting them in person. Providing communication remains consistent and frequent – like it always should – virtual recruitment processes are just as effective.  

 Both our clients and candidates have adapted extremely well to virtual hiring and we have seen many hires onboarded remotely without any issues. At Accountancy Options, we manage our registration processes, timesheeting, compliance checks and contracts online and can avoid the dreaded printer forever.  

Of course, I still miss having a coffee with my candidates and clients and sharing a congratulatory handshake – but our virtual selves still get along just fine.   

 It’s possible to feel like part of a team without ever seeing your colleagues  

Some other good news: we’ve seen a lot of companies do an excellent job of driving employee engagement and nurturing team spirit during this tough time. Many of our clients have been sending thoughtful care packages to their staff, arranging standing desk deliveries and coordinating team fitness challenges and checking in with their teams more regularly.

There’s also been a renewed focus on employee health and wellbeing. In general, I’ve noticed that managers are more understanding if someone needs to take time off, and many employers are actively encouraging staff to take more breaks and get away from the computer as well as logoff the second they feel a little under the weather. Some companies have also started paying for subscriptions to meditation apps for their staff, and there has been an increase in Employee Assistance Programs being offered– with employers now understanding more than ever the importance of mental health support.    

If companies keep this up post-pandemic, we call all look forward to a more considerate, healthy work culture where empathy reigns supreme.

But the physical distance can expose cracks in culture  

 Unfortunately, the pandemic has also exposed cultural issues in some companies. Many employees have felt micromanaged due to a lack of trust or cohesion in the team, or worse – forgotten about – feeling isolated, alone and generally unsupported. These problems need to be acknowledged and addressed ASAP.  

My immediate advice to employers would be:  

  • Be proactive and establish clear communication channels where employees can have open, confidential dialogues about their grievances. Staff aren’t always comfortable to raise issues in team forums – give them the safe space they need in one-on-ones.   
  • Urge people to be mindful of how their tone comes across via email. We no longer have those coffee machine chitchats and casual hellos to balance out forwardness and brevity, and people are more sensitive during these trying times.  
  • Always, always put the mental and physical health of your employees first. If you don’t have a designated member of staff looking into ways to provide a healthy working environment and minimize OH&S issues, find one.  
  • To cultivate a sense of supportiveness, how about blocking out a few hours in your calendar every week for a ‘drop-in’ hangout with your team? It’s a nice way to let them know you’re still there for them, and happy to have a quick chat at your desk.  

 Working from home and flexible hours are here to stay 

Welcome to the 2020’s – the decade the office died. Plenty of people have adapted so well to working from home they’ve decided they prefer it. Companies have also been surprised to see that productivity levels haven’t been affected by the pandemic, and many people have reported that they get more work done in less time without the usual office distractions. From the businesses’ perspective, this also presents a golden opportunity to reduce the overheads that come with expensive office space.    

Now, companies need to rethink their policies around working from home. More forward-thinking businesses are sending out questionnaires asking staff if they would actually like to come back to the office at all, and if so, for how many days per week.  

Working in CBDs is much less appealing than before   

Something else I’ve noticed when recruiting recently is a major shift when it comes to desirable locations. Pre-pandemic, it always took a little longer to fill roles in the outer suburbs or regional Victoria compared to the CBD, but this is changing. Today, candidates are much more aware of how much time they spent commuting into city centres, and how expensive it was! My LinkedIn feed is full of posts from people who have tallied up the number of hours and amount of cash they’ve saved since avoiding the CBD. Naturally, people are still worried about contracting COVID-19 too, and many jobseekers are hesitant to accept roles in areas with heavy footfall. 

The market will bounce back  

 Of course, Australia’s economy has been shaken to its core since the outbreak and Victoria hit hardest. It will be a long slow recovery for us all.  But I have been amazed at how adaptable, resilient and opportunistic many business environments have been when forced to re-think the way we do things, become more efficient, more competitive and more innovative in order to survive.  The recruitment industry has of course been hit hard by COVID-19, but there are more candidates than ever needing our support and clients that need a genuine consulting service to navigate this challenging market. Relationship-driven recruitment, which has always been our strength, is critical. Recessions do end and when the market bounces back we will have learnt some important lessons, evolved and become better for it.

Candidates with these traits will become increasingly sought-after, which is worth bearing in mind during the recruitment process. Prioritising essential soft skills over hard skills which can be learned could be an effective strategy for attracting and retaining top talent. 

If you’d like to discuss current recruitment trends in more detail or would like some impartial expert recruitment advice, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.  

Andrea Ogden - Director of Accounting and Finance Recruitment

Andrea Ogden, Recruitment Director, Accountancy Options

Andrea started out as an Accountant but is now a career recruiter with over 25 years recruitment experience. She has been instrumental in the start-up of two successful recruitment agencies, including ours. Andrea’s genuine personality and human-focused approach are what sets her apart in her field, and her exceptional work sets the standard for our service. Andrea specialises in recruiting senior and executive level roles across accounting, finance and financial services.

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