How COVID-19 is Changing the Work and Hiring Landscape
Let’s level-set to begin
Whenever there is a major, major news story, a lot — and we mean a lot — of people try to piggyback on that content ecosystem with their supposed expertise and hot takes. One example: Wednesday, March 11th was an insane day for the world, broadly speaking. The USA suspended the NBA season. Italy is on full lockdown and doctors are having to make wartime triage decisions in hospitals. Americans cannot fly to Europe. We don’t know the exact data coming out of China. It’s chaotic. And what is happening as all that is happening? Well, people are selling books with fake information on Amazon in an attempt to make a few bucks. Digital and mobile made us much more connected. That’s great in many ways — it can be great for recruiting, no doubt — but it also puts a lot of, well, BS into the ecosystem. The digital noise becomes overwhelming and people cannot sort through it effectively.
Now let’s talk work and recruiting within that picture. You are going to see dozens, if not hundreds, of hot takes on what the COVID-19 virus means for work and hiring and the broader economy. How you perceive these hot takes will be influenced by your background, your industry, your belief set, etc. We cannot necessarily change thinking. We can offer you a little bit of a nuanced guide here, however.
The work from home angle
This is going to be everywhere. People are going to post about this for weeks — hacks to work from home, why you need this SaaS suite to be more productive at home, etc. The stock market is in the tank right now, and senior leaders are worried about sustainable revenue, so they unfortunately will flip some of these narratives into immediate sales opportunities.
Having worked from home now for the better part of five years (most RecruitingDaily people do), I can tell you that really it just comes down to focus. You need to be able to focus. Some people will tell you that it’s “un-woke” or “anti-hustle” to stop down and watch an episode of something on Netflix. It’s actually not. We like to talk about how much we hustle and how busy we are, but the eight-hour workday — or the 10-12 hour workday — has a lot of flaws. The actual “ratio” of work to inactivity that science favors is 52 minutes on, 17 minutes off. Try that. So it’s fine to work on a project then go watch a sitcom rerun (with fast-forwarding sitcoms are about 22 minutes). It’s OK. You’ll come back to your work refreshed.
Obviously make sure your tech works, and if you want human connection, go to a coworking space. You might fear the coworking option right now; that’s valid. Just know that most bans that Mayors/Governors are enacting are “gatherings of 250 people or more” or “gatherings of 1,000 people or more.” That’s why the NBA got suspended — those are gatherings of 20,000, often. Co-working spaces, at most, you might run into 10-12 people across a day there. Practice the two-meter or so social distancing.
Finally on this angle, here’s a good take on working from home from Wired.
OK, so what about hiring?
The market is drilled right now — the Dow dropped 2,100 points early Thursday. Events are being canceled more frequently than some people change socks. There is one natural conclusion that’s going to happen here, at least for the next six weeks or so: there will be a non-essential role hiring freeze in multiple industries. (We may see a short-term “all roles” hiring freeze.) This is already commencing: the state of Alaska froze (not a pun!) all hiring, as did Delta (logical, as they’re an airline), and you’re seeing both hiring freezes and layoffs in multiple industries, including the Port of Los Angeles, which just laid off 145 truck drivers. We were also hoping at one point for an “IT hiring bounceback,” and now that’s also been delayed. Overall, there’s an expected massive global hiring slowdown to end Q1 (end of March). Early Q2 is likely not much better, but a bounce could come by the middle to the end of Q2.
Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is also decimating the conference/trade show circuit. Say what you will about trade shows, but a lot of companies — esp. Tech companies — use them as big lead generation playgrounds. As more and more conferences get canceled, the people within those companies in event-facing roles will quite likely be laid off. If they’re not (best-case scenario), there will be a hiring freeze on those roles.
So, short-term you’re going to be hiring less. With a bear market and oil issues in the Gulf, there won’t be aggressive growth targets in the near-term. When the market bounces back, which it invariably will (summer?), you might have an insane hiring ramp-up. Store some energy now.
Will we get to a place where productivity matters more than seat time?
Let’s say you’re a moderate to a high growth company and you need to move a bunch of white-collar employees to WFH for a while. Say, 3-4 weeks. Some “old-school” managers in your squad might think “Oh, this is not how work gets done.”
But if those employees are straight hitting targets in a down economy and not coming to the office, isn’t that a good argument for work-from-home productivity? If the bottom line is there, can we finally start to sunset the seat time discussion? Is this — a global health pandemic — what it took? This COVID-19 seems like a steep price to pay, but productivity should always matter more than seat time. If you’re delivering value for the company, no one should care where you physically are sitting. Period. Full stop.
The class warfare argument
Is COVID-19 “class warfare?” What the heck? What does that mean? Well, all these white-collar professionals who will be working from home …they might want to go out to lunch. Or have an Amazon package delivered.
Someone still needs to work those jobs.
That’s what “class warfare” means. It’s not really class warfare, no — that is an extreme term — but not everyone can work from home. A lot of people need to show up somewhere and work so they can make ends meet and pay their bills. We tend to forget about them in narratives. No Bueno. We saw a class uprising around the last recession (2008) with Occupy Wall Street and definitions of “the 1 percent.” Will something similar come from this?
The bottom line
Be safe and do you. But keep a macro eye on everything going on around you. This is an important time. Find trusted, non-partisan, non-politicized sources on COVID-19. Don’t chase every hot take. Wash your hands. Don’t go into large crowds if you can avoid it. Manage yourself. You got this.
And the market will come back. It will. It always does. But it might be a few weeks, yes.