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Apr 9, 2020
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

I’ve had the misfortune (or fortune, if you’re perverse) of living through a few major global crises. 

I founded in 2000, a year before the internet bubble burst and sent the stock market into a downward spiral. Thankfully, we survived. Heck, we even grew through it. But then 2007 and 2008 came, and almost every business found itself in a less-than-desirable financial position, especially ones dependent on discretionary job-ad spending on month-to-month contracts. 

Yeah, don’t invite me to Vegas. I have interesting timing. 

But if those experiences taught me anything, it’s that we’re a resilient, creative species. When things get ugly, we tend to hunker down, re-focus, and find ways to make the most of bad situations. Disney was incorporated during the Great Depression. Microsoft and Apple were founded in 1975, when the U.S. economy flatlined after years of growth. Whatsapp, Venmo, Slack, and Uber were created soon after the Great Recession. There are countless other examples of business greatness that emerged from darkness. 

Here’s the point: Recessions hurt. I’ve felt that pain, and there are certainly millions of people feeling it now. But these moments can also create incredible opportunities to pause, reflect, and get ahead of where the world is moving. 

Get Creative, Embrace Transformation

Let’s start by acknowledging the obvious. 

Some teams — like those who work for airline or hospitality brands — have bigger fish to fry. No amount of creativity or digital transformation in the near-term will suddenly fill airplanes with passengers or restaurants with patrons. Talent teams at those companies are heads-down helping their business figure out how to survive. And they should be. 

But there are plenty of organizations that are hiring or, at a minimum, are simply waiting for the storm to pass to step on the gas again. For those companies, taking this time to examine current processes and systems can go a long way toward preparing for the bounceback — whenever that might be. 

Before I dive into what that future might look like, let’s get on the same page about what we know:

  • We know that the way we work has permanently changed. Debates about the tenability of remote work or virtual experiences aren’t really debates anymore. That’s not to say that every company will (or should) allow every employee to work from home permanently, but I think we’re past the point of hypothesizing if remote work will become part of our cultural norm.
  • We know that recruiting and talent teams aren’t walking into a future with a pot of gold and more resources on the other side. In all likelihood, the vast majority of teams will be asked to do more with less. That doesn’t mean heads will roll. It means you’ll be expected to do new kinds of work (read: more work) than you were doing before. (As far as I know, we haven’t figured out how to clone ourselves yet.)
  • We know that digital transformation isn’t some dumb buzzword. PwC’s 2020 Global Digital IQ report found that companies with the deepest commitment to digital transformation see 17% higher profit margin growth and are 200% more likely than other companies to attract and retain top talent. Some recruiting and HR teams are creating real value by finding creative ways to use digital technologies to transform existing processes and experiences. (A little tip from a CEO: When you find ways to do that, you kind of make yourself indispensable.)

If we accept these things as reality, the natural next question is this: What are we going to do about it? 

The Opportunity in Front of Every Talent Leader

Think back to Disney, Apple, Whatsapp, Slack. 

Those companies were created in deep, dark global recessions. They didn’t succeed simply by getting the timing right (though they certainly did). They succeeded because they looked at where the world was going and they got there before everyone else. It reminds me of the old Wayne Gretzky quote: “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it’s been.”

So, where is the puck going? 

These examples should give you a sense of what’s already possible today — and why such possibilities are so critical to adapting to almost any hiring environment:

  • You might’ve heard that CVS Health is hiring 50,000 people. Among other tactics, they’ve quickly spun up campaigns to engage furloughed workers from employers like Hilton and Marriott. Using conversational AI on landing pages specifically targeted to those workers, CVS can automatically capture, screen, and schedule virtual interviews and get qualified applicants in the door faster. They’re also using an AI assistant to answer candidate and employee questions around COVID-19, taking the burden off of recruiters and HR managers to repeatedly answer those same questions.  
  • One of the biggest food-service suppliers in the country is also engaging employees impacted by COVID-19 in certain areas (stadiums, concert venues, etc.) and finding new opportunities for them in other segments that the company serves (healthcare, corrections, custodial etc.). It’s doing this by asking employees to share the type of work they’re open to, where they’re available to work, and whether they’re open to full- or part-time positions. Then workers are automatically connected to recruiters filling those roles. It’s saving internal HR teams countless hours of manual work, but it also allows the business to quickly redeploy its workforce rather than trigger mass layoffs. 
  • Digital transformation isn’t just for the Fortune 500. When one local franchisee for the professional-resource service College Nannies, Sitters, and Tutors started to see a massive increase in demand for childcare during the pandemic, it quickly adapted its technology to capture, qualify, and organize inbound childcare requests from customers.

The central theme here is flexibility and adaptability. 

Think about how many of us have been forced to move so many of our activities from in-person to virtual. With the right technology and creativity, companies can adapt to such circumstances quickly. But most importantly, they can do it without burdening their teams with never-ending administrative work. 

Progress, Not Perfection

None of us really knows when this particular crisis will end. 

It might be months. It could be the rest of 2020. There will likely be ripple effects that last for years, if not permanently. As I write this, nearly 10 million people have filed for unemployment benefits in the last two weeks. 

It’s shocking. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that we will come out of this. 

This is an opportunity for reflection. It’s a call to use this time to take a long, hard look at your current recruiting, hiring, and talent management processes, and imagine how you might approach them differently. It’s a call to think about where the puck is going.

It’s not about trying to move the entire ship right now. It’s about looking for the low hanging fruit. It’s about really examining how digital transformation — automation, AI, and virtual technologies — can make you more efficient. It’s about putting yourself in the shoes of the people you serve — candidates, employees, hiring managers — and thinking about how to serve them better. It’s about focusing on progress, not perfection. 

And, finally, it’s about asking yourself this question: Once this crisis ends, what is the world going to look like — and how can I get ahead of it? 

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.
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