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Unlocking Lockdown

Unlocking Lockdown

29th Jul 2020

With COVID-19 changing the way in which the world operates, we look at how two staffing agencies have adjusted their businesses in light of the pandemic.

Founder of ZITKO, the Fire and Security specialist, George Zitko, discusses how the business adapted to the Covid ‘new normal’.
Having bigger, flashier offices was often one of the first things that came to mind when I thought about growing the business further, but that’s all changed with what we know now. True to say, we’d already made some moves towards remote working before the COVID-19 crisis struck. Everybody had company laptops for example and we’d brought in flexible / home-working to accommodate people with family commitments, strange hobbies etc. This certainly gave us some preparation for when lockdown turned us into a company of homeworkers virtually overnight! It’s been an interesting journey – and one that’s dramatically changed the way we intend to grow and run Zitko in the future.

A step change in March
Zitko specialises in recruiting for the Fire and Security tech industry. Our clients include some of the top international system integrators, so we’ve been fortunate to have enough work to keep our whole team going with minimal furloughs. We saw what was coming, so a week before the PM instituted lockdown we had a company meeting. I told our team of 17 to take whatever they needed to set up a home office – from printers and monitors to office stationery. A few late nights were had at home, rearranging rooms and wedging  in desks, but we kept service levels steady for our clients as they went through similar contortions. Accessing our key systems and resources was rather simpler, courtesy of the cloud-based services we use. 

The challenges
Video-conferencing has been a Godsend for business, but of course it’s provided a superb opportunity for cameo appearances by children and pets. One of the encouraging things I’ve taken from lockdown is how understanding the corporate world has been. Home working does of course change the work/life dynamic and we’re aware of what the increased isolation can mean. We’ve a mental health champion within the business advising on these issues and our benefits package includes access to confidential counselling. Team members can now opt for a separate company mobile to help them switch off and we’re working together on a new project (nicknamed Zitko Forever) to plot out how we could make home working part of our permanent model.

The office as a hub
Along with many others we’ve been easing out of lockdown. A maximum of 6 team members at a time can work in our socially distanced office now, which is great for planning sessions or simply to get out of the house. Virus permitting we’ll be able to increase desk space over time, but with hotdesking we can employ, develop and reward a far larger team without needing larger, fancier premises. It seems like a much better way to invest in the business.

The experience so far
The team’s generally found remote working to be a positive experience. Nobody’s missing being stuck in traffic in the morning and days have become more productive. The one factor missing is maintaining esprit de corps, but Zoom is proving a good channel for virtual quizzes, celebratory drinks and briefings. With the office hub now operating, that gives us a further sense of community. As a cautionary note, we have been receiving enquiries from candidates upset at their employers’ insistence they return to office working. It will be interesting to see how exiting lockdown impacts on employers’ retention rates. 

Looking forward
It would seem that when it comes to epidemics lightning can strike twice, so we’re looking at improving our resilience further. That’s especially so in relation to phone systems and mail handling for example, but also processes such as online collaboration. I anticipate we’ll end up with far more balanced office / remote working than ever before. That gels with the direction we’re taking, as we’re embedding more and more consultants with our exclusive retained clients. Whatever the future holds, I’ll finish by wishing you, your family and company the very best.

Philippa Williams, Head of Talent Development at Alexander Mann Solutions, discusses diversity lessons from COVID-19.

It’s certainly safe to say that the global pandemic has changed the world of work and recruitment forever. I have no doubt that as we slowly begin to normalise, more businesses will be looking at continuing with many steps that they have introduced during the crisis, with remote and flexible working the main topic of conversation at the moment.

However, here at Alexander Mann Solutions there’s one particular lesson we’ve taken away from this all that will absolutely change how we operate post-Covid: how to correctly use technology to support everyone, including our neurodiverse colleagues. We’ve always embraced a flexible approach to working in just one of many steps taken to drive inclusions, so before the global lockdowns began we were already utilising a number of tools to support the mix of employment contracts we had in place.

But in light of the global shift to greater remote working and our entire global team operating from home at one stage, we quickly implemented a number of changes that have been incredibly valuable in bringing everyone together while working away from the office. For example, as we prepared to move the teams out of the offices, we developed a number of guidance documents to ensure staff and team leaders were as equipped as possible for the changes, both in terms of the tools available and how to keep engagement up.

We also ensured that staff were completely aware of where they can turn to for support if they are struggling with absolutely anything. Due to the nature of our work, diversity and inclusion has always been a high priority and as we quickly implemented remote working plans for the entire company, we also considered how to best support and engage everyone.

While this is just one example of the many steps we’ve taken to be more inclusive, we had the guidance documents reviewed by our partners at Auticon (a fantastic social enterprise employing exclusively autistic people as IT consultants). As a result, they were able to help us make several simple but effective adjustments.

For example, they advised that the documents were potentially too bright and busy for some of our neurodiverse audiences and wouldn’t be helpful. As a result, we adapted them to ensure they were suitable for everyone, and we’ll be reviewing our future correspondence accordingly in light of this. We also considered how the new way of working would affect individuals unused to being away from the office.

While video calls are being widely embraced, there are some who find face-to-face communication uncomfortable in normal conditions, so to then have ten faces staring at you from your computer was certainly going to be an issue. In some instances, phone calls are the best approach, and we’ve ensured everyone is not only aware of this, but also comfortable with making a request to not join video conversations.

As we begin to plan for the future and more of our staff take up the opportunity to work away from the office on a more permanent basis, this will be factored in to our best practice approach. I don’t doubt that video calls are here to stay and as a global business, actual face-to -face meetings aren’t possible with all of our colleagues.

Where these are being used in the future, though, we will ensure that our entire team is aware of the impact this could have on their neurodiverse colleagues and make the relevant adjustments as a result. We’ve also taken steps to adapt our online training that will continue as we begin to normalise. Again, there are some neurodiverse groups who aren’t fully relaxed in group settings and as a result are unlikely to be able to perform at their best. But this can be managed in a virtual setting.

As a case in point, we’ve been using menti.com which allows people to anonymously post questions or comments  during online webinars and it’s been well received by everyone  so far. Pigeonholelive.com is another tool that we’ve used to  increase engagement. This is, of course, just one example of the inclusive lessons that we’re adapting to as a business as we emerge from the pandemic and there will certainly be more strings added to our bow.

What’s been incredibly inspiring during this crisis, though, is the level of authentic inclusion that’s naturally evolved across our global community. Our staff have felt empowered to show their true selves at work. Those with prior experience working from home, now embrace the interruptions from their kids, rather than hiding in the cupboard for a conference call.

And while we can’t enforce this going forward, we’ll certainly do everything we can to encourage these inclusive behaviours.

To read the full Global Recruiter Issue 215, click here.

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