2 weeks ago, we published an article sharing the opinions of 4 recruitment leaders in Singapore on how they see the future of recruitment in a post-COVID-19 world.
In part 2 of this series, we interview 3 more Managing Directors, but this time in Hong Kong, to get their views on how they adapted to COVID-19 and about how they envision the future of agency recruitment.
Mathew Gollop, Managing Director ConnectedGroup
The trial run
Hong Kong started dealing with working from home strategies in the 2nd half of 2019 as a result of the protests which provided a ‘trial run’ as to what was coming. We had also implemented a video interviewing platform and began encouraging its use as a screening tool in 2018, so when Covid hit, we were ready.
Working from home and virtual communication
Our reaction has been to play it safe and encourage a WFH policy during any periods of higher infection rates. During these periods we learned to maintain regular 1-1 and team engagements via VC and to shift our ‘all hands’ weekly catch up to online. Our team reacted very well, maintained good levels of efficiency and we were able to sustain our results through this period (relative to the market).
We have examined the potential for ongoing remote working but our conclusion is that, whilst people responded well, it is a diminishing return. Our team culture requires interaction to thrive and not everyone has the space and privacy in Hong Kong to even see it as a benefit. What we did do was implement a 4pm finish on a Friday to help mitigate some of the stresses. This adds to our already flexible environment where we make it easy for people to take time off if they suffer any health issues and continue to provide them the tools to work remotely should they need to.
Employee care was key
We have navigated the pandemic with zero redundancies and a temporary pay cut for only 1 quarter. We believe the key to this success has been that our environment was already established with employee care as a high priority so our reaction was aligned with our usual business culture and values.
Matthew Whitman, Country Director at BTI Executive Search Hong Kong
Speaking more generally about BTI Executive Search across the region, we have had to make significant adjustments to our working model and work arrangements given our presence across multiple locations around Asia. These have included totally remote working for periods of time and implementing team A and team B shifts as locations come out of lockdown. We are fortunate to be part of the PersolKelly group which has world class remote support as well as a fully online database.
Keeping it lean
The changes for me were immediate and setting up a new recruitment business in this climate has been challenging and rewarding in equal measure. We intended to open an office towards the end of Q1 this year in Hong Kong. As the COVID situation developed, we took the view that we would manage costs and keep the Hong Kong operation as lean as possible which essentially means I have been setting up BTI Executive Search Hong Kong from home. I am fortunate to have an office room in my apartment, and no kids (!), so I have to say personally I have felt more focused and productive than ever. I am happy to say good progress has been made and we are now hiring and growing, albeit a few months later than originally planned!
With any challenge, there is opportunity
The opportunity this year has given us has been to take a step back, reflect and re-assess our approach and working arrangements. In terms of Hong Kong, we have been creative in some of our hiring and we can offer remote working and a lot of flexibility. It is likely that we will not open an actual office in Hong Kong until a few months into next year, but even at that point if someone preferred to work from home, I would be happy for them to do so. For me, it is more important that people are happy, focused and productive rather than being too rigid around working location or working hours.
The future of agency recruitment in a post-COVID world
I would like to think that agency recruitment will become more flexible and agile and be more aligned with the ever-changing world we live in. Too often, recruitment companies are slow to adapt and adjust to evolving environments but I would hope, like we have, that more recruitment leaders and owners will become flexible with their employees. This approach works well when you hire experienced, self-motivated and self-sufficient recruiters, but there is no substitute for an office in terms of creating a company culture, enhancing teamwork and collaboration and training and developing your more junior employees.
Pierre Turgis, Managing Director at Morgan Philips Hong Kong
Doubling awards to increase motivation
We were fortunate during this period to avoid having to decrease salaries or freeze bonuses. Instead, we offered incentives to the team, such as an additional $1,000 HKD reward for every invoice raised during the last 6 months, and doubled the rewards of our normal incentive program. Any consultant billing $1M HKD in Q2 2020 received an extra $15,000 voucher for a purchase of their choice. We had a winner in our Hong Kong office who chose to spend this amount on a new luxury bag!
Shifting regional focus
Our Hong Kong office also works as a regional hub. Last year, we focused 70% of our workload on Hong Kong-based requirements. During the pandemic, we decided to focus more of our efforts on other Asian countries which were less affected by the downturn, including Mainland China, Thailand or Vietnam, where we ended up grabbing some additional market share.
Our regional focus will be even more significant in 2021 as the pandemic really had us realise that some APAC locations were more sustainable than Hong Kong for the industries we focus on (FMCG, Industrials etc.). These also proved to be less saturated, allowing us to escape from the 20% contingent recruitment model which is so dominant in Hong Kong.
The pandemic also allowed us to build a stronger culture of loyalty: Morgan Philips proved to be a reliable shelter for our staff during these tough times and we believe a very trusting and transparent relationship has been built for years to come.
Consultative and empathetic recruiters are the future
During these tough times, clients are mostly looking for consultative partners able to provide them with insights about their competitors’ situation as well as potential hints regarding an upcoming market recovery. The future of the agency recruitment model will belong to those consultants and those firms who were able to make a difference during this major downturn with their expertise but also with their empathy.
If you’re a mid – senior recruitment professional considering your next career move, please do not hesitate to connect with Roger Smart, Director at Tiger Partners, on LinkedIn for some advice and career opportunities.