Social Distancing

A global pandemic shuts down a lot of different aspects of daily life, but sooner or later, the show must go on. While debates rage over when to reopen what, some parts of life, business, and management can continue with proper precautions in place. Among those challenges a business faces are recruiting and hiring new workers, to replace those who cannot work for their own safety or that of others, or even simply for the ongoing expansion of a business.

While some businesses, such as movie theaters, travel companies, and event venues, are losing revenue and the ability to remain open, others are booming. Supermarkets, pharmacies, online retailers, shipping companies, and other parts of modern infrastructure are seeing surges in short-term demand and potential long-term growth.

These companies need to hire new workers, but how, with social distancing requirements in place?

Understand the Challenges of Recruiting

There are several challenges to overcome with hiring during social distancing, and only one of them is the social distancing itself.

Social distancing requirements are broadly circulated and include wearing masks when in public, in enclosed spaces with other people, and whenever a person may be interacting with others. These are best considered a minimum for some level of safety, but the best social distancing is true distance.

Social Distancing CDC

Social distancing makes recruiting difficult primarily because it cuts into the ability to hold interviews, job shadowing, onboarding, and other aspects of modern hiring. Modern online tools make this easier, though perhaps less than ideal for many situations. For an interview, for example, one might need to decide between an in-person interview with masks that hide some facial tics, or an online interview with all of the issues it brings to the table. That said, despite technical and social issues with online interviews, they are becoming increasingly common and increasingly accepted across the board. Many current job seekers won’t even consider an in-person interview until the pandemic is over.

Another challenge is that a large portion of your existing candidate pool is going to be invalid. Many people are pulling back from the idea of employment, particularly in customer-facing roles or when they themselves are considered high risk for the disease.

While it’s increasingly difficult to draw on an outside candidate pool, many companies are turning inwards, looking deeper at internal candidates. Atta Tarki, CEO of ECA and author of Evidence-Based Recruiting, says:

“A number of clients said the responsible thing to do is put a freeze on external hiring and repurpose their internal people”

An additional challenge that recruiting agencies specifically face is that many companies are turning to gig workers and gig economy platforms to fill temporary worker roles, rather than hiring on employees directly. Gig workers come and go, and are both more interchangeable and more replaceable, so they serve as a temporary workforce with a minimum of investment.

Throughout all of this, many companies are simply deferring their hiring. In the 2008 recession, many companies delayed hiring for 6-12 months, and that’s beginning to happen with the pandemic today.

There’s also a meta-concern: how a company adapts to social distancing regulations says a lot about its company culture. Candidates who are particularly concerned with being valued in their workplace will avoid companies that are doing only the bare minimum, or worse, are ignoring social distancing and trying to continue business as normal despite the world around them.

Learn the Tools Available

There are a lot of different tools available to both businesses and recruiting agencies willing to make the changes necessitated by social distancing.

First and foremost among these tools are the various forms of online video communication. While Zoom is the common go-to because of how widespread it has become among businesses, other platforms – including Skype, GoToMeeting, Google Meet, Facebook Messenger, Microsoft Teams, and more – are all available.

Facebook Video Chat

Keep in mind that, should use you use a hiring platform with video chat, you may be tempted to use AI-based features that help analyze facial expressions, vocal tone, and other factors to help grade candidates. While these platforms can be an asset to companies, there is an increasing number of new laws across the country about how to properly use them. For example, in Illinois, employers must provide notice and an explanation, obtain consent before using the platform, maintain confidentiality, and be willing to destroy all copies of a video when necessary.

If either your company or your candidates have tech issues that prevent them from fully using an online communications platform for interviews, in-person interviews are still possible, but caution must be taken. Mask-wearing is mandatory, and if many interviews are scheduled in a day, proper sanitation must be utilized.

Interview with Masks

This may even require holding the interview in a non-standard location. For example, instead of holding an interview in a cramped office, hold it in a larger meeting room, or a nearby park.

Remember, too, that bringing outside candidates into the office for an interview is not just a risk for the candidate, it’s a risk for the whole office. Covid-19 spreads invisibly and can spread for days before the carrier is even aware that they have it. This is why precautions need to be taken well in advance.

When interviewing people in person, it’s permissible to test them for COVID-19 after making a conditional job offer. The limitations on this, in general, are pretty simple, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

Reassure employers that they may screen job applicants after making a conditional offer, as long as the employer does so for all entering employees in the same type of job.

Work from home is, of course, a huge push amidst the pandemic. There are thousands of available software platforms, collaboration tools, and networking options available to businesses looking to set up work from home systems, but most of those are part of onboarding and working, not hiring.

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Adapt Your Process to Social Distancing Requirements

When it comes to adapting your recruiting processes for a socially distanced world, there are some things you’ll need to do.

Refresh your candidate pool. As mentioned above, the candidate pool for any given role will be changing dramatically over the last few months and the coming months. Millions of people have chosen to stop looking for work while it’s unsafe for them to do so. Millions more have started looking for work while their current jobs downsize or fire large portions of their workforce.

With record-breaking levels of unemployment across the country, there will be an unprecedented shift in available candidates for most roles. Some roles are expanding across industries, such as the people responsible for engineering work from home solutions for a business.

All of this means that, while there are plenty of people out there in the world looking for work, your existing candidate pool may not be quite as valid as it once was. Plenty of people in that pool will still be valid choices, and many more will be good leads in another six to twelve months, but for now, expect a lower than average success rate with calling existing candidates.

Maintain ongoing communication with candidates. In-person meetings are infrequent at most these days, but that doesn’t mean communication has to be light. Email, text, and phone calls are all an essential part of ongoing recruitment efforts, keeping tabs on your candidates and making sure they’re still warm leads when the time comes to make a hiring decision.

Communication should include more than simple technical details about interviews and other hiring processes. A company hiring during the pandemic should be clear on things like a timeline (subject to change) on the return to normal, as well as safety precautions being taken for both interviews and for the workplace.

Keep safety in mind at all times. Social distancing is just one part of the equation. Maintaining a proper amount of distance between employees and between employees and customers is important, of course. So is wearing masks. There’s some evidence that building climate control and HVAC can spread the disease, which should be considered a potential safety hazard in some situations. Here is a floor plan where many people were infected simultaneously from the adjascent air conditioning system on the right side of the room:

Coronavirus Spread Through AC

Taking safety precautions in the workplace is important as well. By now, most businesses have adapted to mandatory mask regulation, plexiglass screens for customer service representatives, and even temperature checks for those entering the office or building. These kinds of precautions need to remain in place until such time that it’s safe to operate without them.

Set up your virtual interview process of choice, and communicate it clearly with applicants. There are a lot of different platforms you can use to host interviews, so try to find one that fits with your company profile. A company that uses primarily Google services, for example, might prefer using Google Meet rather than Microsoft Teams or Skype.

It’s worthwhile to make it clear as part of the application process exactly what technology the applicant will need to participate in an interview. This includes software and hardware; an online interview will require a webcam, a microphone, and enough of an internet connection to support it, though many modern phones will do the job as well with the right software.

Consider a switch to video interviews. Video interviews are slightly different than online interviews. Rather than a live interview conducted over a video chat service, they send a set of interview questions to the candidate for them to answer on their own time. The candidate records a video answering and discussing the questions and sends it back.

Video interviews were already on the rise before the need to social distance, and the technology is readily available to do them. They’re beneficial for a number of reasons: candidates are typically less stressed when they can try a few times to answer their questions, it’s a faster process to get the answers to the questions you want to ask, and they’re flexible for passive candidates that don’t have time during the business day to attend an interview.

Rise of Video Interviews Data provided by InterviewSchedule.com

Take the time to focus on quality over speed if possible. With the high levels of unemployment caused by the pandemic, there are tons of people in the job pool searching for work. If a company is in a position where it can take the time to hire candidates slowly, it can be worthwhile to focus not on the first good candidates that come along, but the best ones that filter to the top over time.

People are looking for work, but many of the jobs they take now are only meant to be short term, to get them through the crisis. By capturing these leads now, and pursing them later while they’re more passive candidates but are willing to jump ship for a role they desire, you can pick up some extremely talented individuals when you might otherwise not have the chance.

Keep the state of changing regulations in mind. Another thing you should do when recruiting is to remember that some governmental regulations and restrictions are being relaxed in light of the pandemic.

For example, the Department of Homeland Security has rules about the physical presence of employees with relation to the I-9 form, but while the pandemic is causing lockdowns, those restrictions are relaxed.

Rules Being Relaxed

A whole host of various federal, state, and local regulations are being adjusted based on the state of the pandemic and the safety of the population. Keeping abreast of these changing regulations will help you successfully and safely navigate the hiring process today.

Consider implementing long-term changes. While many of the current business adaptations for social distancing – the masks, the distance, the glass screens – are temporary so long as the risk of disease remains a threat, other business processes may be beneficial as long-term adaptations. In the past, as much as 44% of companies wouldn’t entertain the thought of remote working, but now many are finding that it’s actually quite reasonable. A lot depends on the company, the employees, and the processes involved, of course.

Keep an eye on the entire hiring process and look for adaptations that can be made more permanent as part of your overall hiring process. Some good can come out of tough situations like these, if you know where to look.

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