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How much will COVID-19 affect recruitment?

Virtual onboarding, training all part of new normal


June 30, 2020
By Meagan Gillmore

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Virtual interactions have not just altered the process of recruitment, they’ve become the only available method. (Syda Productions/Adobe Stock)

Workplaces have fundamentally shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As jurisdictions across Canada reopen their economies, employers need to consider how they will attract and retain top talent in this new work environment.

Virtual interactions have not just altered the process of recruitment, they’ve become the only available method for everything from initial recruitment of perspective employees to onboarding and training of new hires.

“People are being hired without the in-person meeting happening,” says Rowan O’Grady, president of Hays Canada. “And then, there’s the completely unheard of concept that they’ve never been to the office even after they start working. It’s just completely different.”

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In the future, many workers may consider in-person recruitment and onboarding methods just as baffling. Reports indicate that a majority of workers are content to work from home, and may prefer to continue doing so even after the pandemic restrictions are lifted.

Offices going virtual

In May, a Conference Board of Canada survey indicated that just four per cent of businesses will require employees who have been working remotely during the pandemic to return to the office full-time while the pandemic is active.

Also in May, RBC released a report that said 75 per cent of employees interviewed would prefer to continue working from home — for at least some of the time — after the pandemic ends.

Some companies are already opting to move in the direction of virtual-first, or virtual-only workplaces. While those predictions became public, Shopify announced it would permanently move to a work-from-home model.

Techniques that may have seemed only beneficial in the pandemic may become mandatory skills for business progress and recruiting.

“I don’t think recruitment is going to be entirely virtual, like in some cases it is now,” says Evangeline Berube, a branch manager at Robert Half in Edmonton.

“I do see organizations hiring more remote workers moving forward, and some of those workers may not be in the same province or even country, so I think the skills that we learn right now around doing some of this is just going to help us be a little more nimble and flexible moving forward.”

Virtual interviews require more preparation than in-person situations, say experts. (Ridofranz/Getty Images)

Getting video interviews right

The recruitment process has become completely virtual through COVID-19, with many companies opting for video interviews with candidates.

But these platforms, while helpful, can’t replicate the information gleaned through interpreting body language during an in-person conversation, says Berube.

“It probably takes a little more time to really feel comfortable when you meet someone for the first time online — to get a sense of their cultural fit,” she says.

Interviewers need to be even more prepared for virtual interviews, Berube adds. Conversations may not flow as naturally in this setting, so it’s best to have a more structured approach ready to use.

All participants need to know how to use the technology required for the interview, and how to contact each other if there are technical difficulties. It also means having a clear plan for what questions will be asked in the interview, and what structure it will take if more than one person is asking the questions.

Candidates should be informed beforehand if more than one person will be interviewing them, says Berube. This will prevent any confusion or panic when they log onto the call and see several faces looking at them.

“It’s good to have them feel as comfortable as possible and have as little unknowns as possible going into the meeting.”

Candidates also need to know they have their interviewers’ undivided attention.

“There’s a potential to be flippant, or a potential to be not prepared, or not give the interview the respect that it probably needs,” says O’Grady.

An in-person interview is a “formal event,” where the employer has to physically remove themselves from their other duties and focus on the potential hire, he says.

With a virtual interview, it’s possible to review an unfinished report or pending email with just a click of a button while the candidate delivers a thorough answer to the question.

The “cardinal sin” would be to answer an email during the call, says O’Grady.

Addressing future workplace concerns

Employers need to be able to address concerns about COVID-19 in the interview. This includes knowing what the company plans to do to keep workers safe if they do have to work from the office eventually or travel for their work.

“People are highly aware right now of the social distancing and what’s being required (to take precautions with COVID-19),” says Berube. “That’s going to be a bigger part of the hiring process now in terms of their questions and comfort level about joining your company.”

At the same time, employers will need to assess if potential hires will be able to stay motivated and productive while working remotely. They want to determine whether or not individuals can remain focused and produce quality work when there is little direct supervision.

“References are very key when you’re recruiting to helping you understand people’s past performance as it relates to some of those characteristics,” says Berube.

Relaxing hiring restrictions

COVID-19 has simultaneously restricted the amount of time employers and employees spend together and expanded the pool of eligible candidates.

As workplaces become increasingly virtual, limiting recruitment efforts to individuals who are able to physically work from a central location is unnecessary, says Shahid Wazed, founder of the Top Talent Summit and an Edmonton-based talent coach and consultant.

Companies need to “go with a virtual-first mindset. That opens up a whole lot of a talent pool,” he says. “Those artificial limitations were there until COVID-19 hit us.”

A virtual-first mindset does more than just open up qualified candidates who live further away from a company’s building, says Wazed.

It also could make it easier to attract top talent who are more experienced or established in their careers.

“It’s always been a challenge to make someone move in their mid-career. It doesn’t matter what you offer,” he says, noting that by the time someone reaches the middle of their career, they often have greater family responsibilities.

Employers should consider allowing more flexibility in work schedules, according to Wazed.

Employees should not be required to work a standard 40-hour workweek if they’re performing well and generating revenue for the organization.

The key is to “not be rigid,” he says. More flexible schedules can make it easier for candidates who may need more time to care for children or aging parents.

The pandemic has forced workplaces to recognize the need for employees to respond to unexpected and urgent situations, says Wazed.

Social onboarding in a virtual world

The most challenging part of recruiting during a pandemic is successfully onboarding new hires, according to these experts.

“It’s an unsettling experience to join a team when you have physically never met them, you have probably never been in the office of the company,” says Berube.

Introductory materials are often delivered virtually.

“That’s completely normal,” says O’Grady. “The bit that gets lost (when doing onboarding from home) is the feeling that you’re actually working for a company that other people are working in, that there’s people and personalities and relationships.”

“The people that you work with are a huge influence on whether you’re happy at work or not,” he says.

Employers need to intentionally schedule social videoconferences so new staff get to see the rest of their team and begin to develop relationships with them. When staff do return to the office, virtual meetings can be a way to keep all employees connected.

“I think that (employers) will have to figure out how to make people feel included and not feel left out when people go back to work,” says O’Grady. “Now, potentially, this is actually one of the challenges of inclusivity — how to include people who just aren’t there.”

Meagan Gillmore is a freelance journalist in Toronto.