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From wallboards to board games….. recruiting through a pandemic

2020 is a great year to be a dog. Amidst all this talk of downturn and economic damage, our dog Rusty has never had it so good: constant attention, a full house for much of the year and endless long walks. Only yesterday a call with the managing partner of one of our agencies had to be cut short because their new puppy was chewing the laptop cable and demanding attention. Whatever did these dogs do all day before COVID-19 struck?

However, struck it has and the indicators are not good. The Bank of England’s “plausible illustrative economic scenario” for UK growth shows GDP falling by 25%. Unemployment is forecast to peak at 10%. It is certainly a difficult time to be looking for a job, however running an HR department right now is also no picnic.

As UK General Manager at Cirrus, I found myself in the unusual position of accelerating our recruitment drive just as the pandemic was starting to take hold. Our company sells cloud-based contact centre technology and has seen demand rise through 2020 as businesses grapple with shifting their contact centre operations from traditional office hubs to full scale home working at the same time as many of them wrestled with record call volumes. Our size and expertise – we are 60 people in the UK and US, all contact centre specialists – meant that we were able to respond very quickly to new orders; and the fact that we promote a Work From Anywhere culture meant that remote installation was already a tried and tested model.

However virtual recruitment definitely took us into new territory. We have always had a rigorous selection process and are proud of our 40/60 female/male workforce ratio, with many of these women in leadership positions. However, in 2020 we recruited 9 new people, several into senior level positions, without actually “meeting” them. These positions included a Finance Director, Head of Marketing, Customer Operations Director, Project Manager and several Technical roles. We quickly realised that the old induction programme had to be ripped up – not even the most willing new recruit would want to sit through five solid days of induction meetings via zoom. Instead of our traditional welcome drinks, we held new starter Cocktail Hours remotely, scrapping the traditional Q&A format in favour of off-the-wall questions (“You’re in a pub, a penguin walks up to you at the bar…. what do you say?”)

However, it was also important to look after our existing staff. As a tight knit team, we quickly noticed that the pressure of a heavy workload and the uncertainty of the economic climate was taking its toll. We adapted our policies (no prizes for soldiering on when sick anymore) and provided access to group and individual counselling sessions. We took the time to poll staff and implement suggestions and were surprised by some very positive staff survey results even during the thick of the pandemic.

We adopted our CEO’s mantra “Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t” and started meeting daily for informal team calls which spanned everything from bingo sessions, ladies hat day (Ascot), team hangman, charades and even a baby shower. These rather frivolous meetings created a sense of fun and connection despite the physical distance and reminded me of the importance of allowing your company culture to thrive, particularly in the most difficult of circumstances.

Whilst culture is sometimes viewed as a “soft” factor, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed its true importance as the glue and energy of the business. A strong culture gives an organisation resilience: if your business plan and vision provide the chassis and navigation system, culture is the suspension that cushions your team when things get rough – and its importance should not be under-estimated.

But as for a Bring your Dog to Work policy, once some level of office working resumes?……. I’ll have to think about that one, for now I’m leaving Rusty at home.

Want to find out more about working for Cirrus? Get in touch

Blog written by Nikki de Kretser; General Manager at Cirrus