Recruiting in lockdown

Opinion - Publishing Thursday, 4th June 2020

Claire Law, managing director of Atwood Tate, on the recruitment picture and what to do in the 'new normal'

The last few months have been a time of huge change for us all. The publishing industry, like all sectors, has been massively affected by coronavirus; we’ve all been quickly adapting to a 'new normal' which is not yet fully established.

It was clear from mid-March that there was going to be a significant impact on the economy and almost immediately there was an unprecedented drop in new vacancies being advertised. As lockdown began, companies worked incredibly quickly to enable staff to work remotely. Those who were already doing this had an advantage, but all companies we’ve spoken to have put systems in place so most staff can work from home.

With the knock-on effect of bookshops closing and the supply chain breaking down meaning that, initially at least, it was difficult for the public to buy books, inevitably some companies (including ours) took advantage of the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and furloughed at least some of their workforce. As a consequence, recruitment in lockdown has all but stopped. Many of the ongoing roles have been put on hold – some until June/July, others indefinitely. However, where candidates had been at offer stage, these have completed, with some candidates starting work as planned.

Lots of publishers we’ve spoken to are telling us they have a recruitment freeze for an indefinite period – with the worst case we have heard about being until next year! However, most are continuing a very low level of recruitment, particularly for roles that are 'business critical', perhaps maternity cover fixed-term contracts or revenue-generating roles where there will be a clear return on investment.

As we go through the phased reopening of schools and some industry sectors, it will be interesting to see how this will impact recruitment. It’s impossible to know for sure how quickly the industry will return to 'normal', but our expectations are that it will be a gradual and slow return to pre-Covid levels.

A lot will depend on how comfortable companies will be in continuing with a certain level of home working. Many people will have found it very appealing working remotely, gaining their commute time and not having to travel on busy tubes or buses, and now everyone has discovered Zoom (or Skype / Teams etc) for meetings, it will be very attractive to existing and potential employees to be offered some level of flexible working. Several people I’ve spoken to tell me they’ve 'met' colleagues more regularly since lockdown started and, although they miss the day-to-day interactions, most work can still successfully be done remotely.

It’s very tricky to confidently predict anything at this point but we’re spending a lot of time speaking to candidates who are looking for new roles, though for anyone currently job hunting it will unfortunately be a bit of a waiting game. In terms of timing, I’d suggest we aren’t likely to see a return to regular new jobs being advertised until August or September, so now is a good time for people to top up their skillset with some of the online training options available.

Most publishers are now focussing on getting people back into the workplace, so will be overseeing building preparations and communicating with employees on how this will be possible. Those who are recruiting need to consider how to do this most effectively. We are finding that it’s very possible to do all of the recruitment process remotely using normal shortlisting processes and phone and video interviews in place of face to face, and those companies setting tasks or tests with a follow up presentation are able to get clear assessments on candidates.

Where line managers are not currently in the office, some companies are agreeing a later start date for new employees, or find that starting new employees on a part-time basis has allowed them to onboard and oversee initial training in a more manageable way.

So if there is a need, recruitment can still happen successfully and we look forward to a point in the not-too-distant future when the wheels really start turning again…

We have been producing a series of blogs offering advice for companies and candidates in the current time, so do please take advantage of these:

- Remote recruiting
- Remote induction of a new member of staff
- Upskill yourself online
- How to nail your video interview
- Staying sane during lockdown
- Home working tips