Are Companies Hiring During Covid-19

By Tony Restell

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I recently had the chance to co-host a live panel debate with Jeff Herzog, President of recruiting business FPC National, looking to address topics such as "are companies hiring during Covid-19?" as well as broader recruiting trends and people issues that the pandemic has thrown up.

5 key questions were put to the panel and this is the first of five videos and transcripts that share the insights with everyone who missed attending the session live.
Covid19 Hiring Trends panel debate with FPC

Watch the panelists' views on how hiring has been impacted by Coronavirus

Here's the full video for question 1, a transcript of which follows underneath


Our panel comprised the following experts alongside Jeff Herzog and myself (Tony Restell):

  • Jenn Ryan - SVP Operations - Xometry 
  • Douglas Krieger - Director Global Sourcing - Herbalife 
  • Julie Bank - SVP Human Resources - Brighton Health Plan Solutions
  • John Rorick - VP, Client Services - AgileOne 
  • Steve Lagnado - CFO - Insider Inc 

Video Transcript

Jeff Herzog: We're going to dive right in, and I'm going to ask everybody an individual question.

Then you'll hear folks chime in about their thoughts on that initial question.

And, because I want to pick on Steve, I'm going to start with him.

In our previous discussions, you talked quite a bit, and before we start looking post-COVID... I want to talk just for a quick minute about the work, and the hiring that Insider Inc. has done over the past two months. Which you know sometimes is considered counter-intuitive based on what's going on. But, obviously being opportunistic in a very positive way.

So, if you wouldn't mind kicking us off, just talking a little bit about that, that would be great.

Steve Lagnado: Yeah, happy to. So first off we've been fortunate.

If you follow the digital media landscape, some companies haven't been so fortunate. And really, depending on where you sit in the business, and what type of company you are.... Others are experiencing difficult times.

So I think we've been lucky. There has been a real kind of move towards digital news consumption for obvious reasons. Starting in March, we saw our traffic numbers grow meaningfully, as did many across the industry.

New York Times, Wall Street Journal. Same thing.

And, that's kind of insulated us from some of the other pressures in the business right now. Obviously advertising is a difficult business to be in, and that's a big part of what we do. But, having all of that extra interest and leadership has really helped to insulate us.

So with that, I could talk a little bit about how we move through this from a hiring perspective. We're in the middle of what I would call an investment cycle. We're hiring a lot.

We started really, last year - in Q4 gaining a lot of momentum. So, we entered this year with a ton of strength. I won't give you exact numbers, but we've grown meaningfully in the past six months.

So when this hit, yes... debatably the second week of March, the third week of March, we immediately took stock of what was happening.

We had just onboarded 20 people. We had another 20 people literally in our queue - and we decided to just pause.

We looked around and said OK, we just don't know enough. Right? There are so many unknowns about how long this is going be, and what's going to happen.

We didn't have the ability to see what we've seen in the last eight weeks. So we can look back in hindsight and say it was a good decision. It was hard. It was hard to stop actually because we had made so much progress.

But, we hit the brakes and then from that point on, actually onboarded another two dozen or so people remotely. Which has kind of been its own challenge, right? Trying to figure out how to get people engaged, how to get them logistically onboarded, but also how to get them integrated into the culture of the company without losing the excitement about starting the job.

So that's been particularly interesting. As we kind of move through the second quarter and once things started to kind of become a new normal, both from an operational perspective, how we were working and engaging people remotely from their home offices. But also getting a feel for the numbers, and from where I sit, that's obviously my focus.

So kind of getting a view into the next few months. Starting to see which trends are going to be meaningful and which aren't. So for us, obviously advertising has been hit, but something like e-commerce, the affiliate commerce business for those of you who are familiar with it, it's booming.

That's something we didn't know would happen at the beginning.

I think everyone who's home shopping can relate. They probably have more packages delivered to their house now than a few months ago. I know we do, and there is probably one out there now. So that actually helped this quite a bit.

But that's the kind of thing we couldn't tell right away. So as we started to see some kind of signs of life, and some things recover. We began green lighting roles again. So we're going very, very cautiously in kind of tranches, and really evaluating.

I don't want to say daily, but on a weekly basis, looking at what we're doing and making sure we're in a good spot, making sure we're not going too fast. But, at the same time we don't want to be overly cautious.

So the market's good for us. For many, many reasons, it's a great time to be recruiting in the business we're in.

And, also just one last point I will make Jeff, the logistical changes and having people - we're about 80% New York City - and I think what's happened is, of that 80%, a large group is kind of just dispersed. And, if you live in suburban New York, or if you live elsewhere, you might see this.

Which is this kind of this migration of city folk, and that's kind of what's happened. So what we're actually doing is we're recruiting without, I don't want to say without consideration, but we can recruit anywhere and we could hire anywhere.

So it's given us this ability to go into markets we might not be in, find talent in talent pools that didn't exist for us beforehand, because we were so focused on putting people in our headquarters. Now we're basically kind of making this leap of... well we might never return to the way it was, and we're OK with having people work remotely.

Obviously, depending on the job.

So it's been really interesting. I think, from my perspective, as the Finance guy, it's showing all sorts of opportunities and challenges. But I think, like I said at the beginning, we are fortunate. So we got to kind of lean into this.

Jeff Herzog: Excellent Steve, really insightful and I appreciate you kicking us off and laying the groundwork. It really is pretty amazing how in respects this whole crisis has bificated the economy and that there is some very aggressive hiring going on based on industry, based on trends like you spoke about and others for obvious reasons are going to be changed forever.

Who else out there, anybody else wants to raise a hand and talk a little bit about some of the hiring they may have done in the last couple of months?

Doug, tell me about what's going on in Herbalife with your hiring.

Douglas Krieger: Sure, So we've been continuing to grow. As Steve said. We've been very fortunate in terms of the growth of the organization through COVID and we look at that every day and say it's a great thing, and we're lucky in the industry that we're in.

But, as we continue to look at it we've had to continue to meet the needs of our business partners and our distributors. And so that's required growth. What we've found and I think Steve touched on something very interesting, which was the culture of the company.

So I've hired people remotely before where I met them over a Webcast only... we virtually have shaken hands.

That's not the abnormal part.

The really tough part, though, is when you start somebody and you're bringing them into a completely virtual environment. So every introduction is virtual.

There is no handshaking. There's no let's go to lunch or have somebody that proxy takes them to lunch and just sits down and gets to know the people.

That's the hard part. So we're going through some of that now. We have a lot of that that's learning on the fly. Zoom and WebEx and these videos have become our best friends and I think they're here to stay.

But I think that to me, the biggest thing that you have to figure out is, hiring is going to continue. We don't know how long we're going to be in this environment for, but it's at least for the foreseeable future.

Companies are going to start to come back from this, so you're going to hire.

There's a lot of talent that's out there. Unfortunately, through a lot of these changes. So how do you make sure that when you bring them in they have a feeling of belonging? They have a feeling of absorbing that culture in an environment that's going to be a little more challenging, but can teach them that culture. And I think that's the big thing.

That's something that we've been doing pretty well.

Jeff Herzog: Excellent. Thanks. Interesting stuff. And I'm gonna have to think of a new question, Doug, because one of my questions was all about onboarding remotely. But maybe we'll touch back on that in a little while.

Anybody else, sort of see some uptick in hiring and being opportunistic.

Or even John, I think you think... Please go ahead.

John Rorick: Yes, so in my little place in the world, we oversee about 30 different portfolios and they are a wide range of clients and industries.

So I would describe the hiring environment right now as manic. So if you're in the frozen pizza business, wow - you've never had a better year.

You're making bagel bites. You're going to never have a year like this again.

That's the reality, and so I think that's something I want to speak about maybe, later on, at length is the variance between those roles that often can be remote versus being in a production environment. Where you physically need people to show up.

That's something that a new consideration in the current market place as well, I'm sure that Doug could speak about that in some degree as well, but it's a manic environment.

So airline industry, different story... frozen pizzas, much different story, and that kind of variance and the ability to respond to that is really what we're seeing from the hiring standpoint is this undulation through the marketplace.

The second thing, I want to comment on what Doug said.

Doug seems like, has had a lot of comfort with what you call a contactless hiring process. But how many organizations out there culturally, at least throughout the entire organization, are comfortable with never physically meeting a person they about to offer a job to?

Not to show up, work through a shift, kind of, help us load the truck, etc.

That's more of a kind of mass force hiring. It's a lot of what we do in our business. But you're going to hire an Executive Director, and you won't have anything more than this type of connection with them.

And that's something that while we have all been lurched forward, because of the changes in the pandemic crisis and we now will utilize technology. There is still going be some legacy cultures. Legacy leadership is going to have to get very comfortable with that idea, and I think that if you don't get comfortable with that idea. You're going look a little bit less than contemporary. I would be polite & say it that way.

It's going to hurt your employment brand.

Jeff Herzog: No question about it. You have to be very careful in our industry in executive recruitment.

Where we've had some situations, where people have turned jobs down.

Maybe one has to relocate from a state where cases are going down, to a state where cases are going up; and one person in particular just said, as much as I want to take this job, it's an uptick in salary, it's an uptick in the title. My family is just not allowing me to do it right now because the risk is too great.

So there's going to be some challenges and from where we sit we have to be very sensitive when we try to, easily, lightly push people to kind of make a decision.

So we're having lots of interesting discussions, but yeah, those undulations you're talking about - I think are going to continue for the foreseeable future.

Before we move onto the next question anybody else wants to add to kind of what's been going on over the last two months?

Yeah, Julie.

Julie Bank: I think for us one of the biggest changes is we've always had a small remote workforce and I've had leaders who were fiercely against remote staff.

Hiring pockets of people where the rest of the country they were already there. You think of technology people, nurse case reviewers. These are remote times, and micro leaders weren't ready, because they didn't think that they would be able to do it. And this just forced us to get there, really at lightning speed.

And what they're seeing now is, it could work.

This could do it.

So what we've been able to do now going forward is really open up our candidate pool, which I think there's so much value there. Recognizing it doesn't work for every position, there are challenges, whether it's production or even I think innovation could be tough.

When you're thinking whiteboarding and you need mailroom staff, you know there are positions that have got to be there.

But the fact that so many organizations are now living through virtual which has forced them to live it and see it. They are now being able to assess and see what works and what doesn't.

So I think that's going to be so helpful for future recruitment, because I don't think we would have had this opportunity.

Jenn Ryan: Now I want to ring in and really echo, Julie, with what you were saying, which is we have incalcitrant folks, and even any of us could become that way in our organization, especially as we come through leadership, and I just want to take out a Sharpie and underline what you said, which is as we return, whatever recruitment looks like, there are preferences.

But also the widespread success of remote work is going to change these discussions. And depending on where we are from HR from in my case, in operations some of it's going to be that there's strong evidence that this role or part of this role and the last thing I'll say is that, I'm interested in other panelists what their experiences have been.

I think there's a real chance that as we embrace virtual or part virtual, we're going to have a much more diverse workforce.

There are more folks who can participate when there's more flexibility.

John Rorick: If I were to put on my old HR hat, and to some degree. It's also quite fair to point out as you talk about remote hiring, remote work, remote onboarding... That those legacy leadership or managers that have always had their physical team in front of them.

Like, I know you're working if you're in front of me, and I can see you working and we all understand that perspective. We have that perspective, but to ask them to kind of make this shift, which is going to be pretty necessary, going forward on maybe a more permanent basis.

You have to also enable them with the concept of how do you ultimately track productivity from a remote work management standpoint? Like, there's a skill gap, that we as organizations have to lean in for and provide for them as well.

Some people naturally have the ability for it, for others it is a muscle that they have got to develop. So to be fair to those who have always, maybe physically sat in a call center where they see their dashboard, where they can see their teams, and that's how they've engaged their groups.

We have to arm them with the skillsets or when we're screening folks into our organization... we then have to look for that skillset. When staffing them, because their teams will now be dispersed versus physically with them in the facility.

So that will be interesting to see how how that develops.

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