The year that was: a humble recruiter’s perspective…

11th December 2020 / Market Updates

So we’re nearly there — dragging our limp, fatigued bodies and minds over the 2020 finish line — feeling desperate for a break over summer and hopeful we will keep up the good COVID work as we watch in horror at the spate of second wave devastation being experienced elsewhere around the world. Fortunately, recent vaccine talk has created real optimism, and the distant memory of living life like we did before COVID almost seems tantalizingly possible…if we’re not too scarred by the year that is. Will we ever shake hands again without sanitizing gel nearby?

It’s now December; is it too early to reflect back on the year that was? Maybe… but, as there are only a few weeks left, I wanted to check in with our teams in Melbourne and Sydney as they prepare to use up all that saved annual leave and get some insight into how they feel about 2020. What did they learn? How they found Recruiting within Architecture and Design during lockdown? And what they are looking forward to in 2021?

After all, our business is getting people jobs…so how does that work in a Pandemic?

2020 – Are we there yet?

Like so many businesses, we are accustomed to face to face contact with Candidates and Clients – pouring over portfolios, discussing project needs, getting a ‘feel’ for different studios, building relationships, etc.

Our in-office days are filled with non-stop chatter as we run through Client job listings, new Candidates, workshop ideas, and establishing priorities that can change at any given moment. Communication is key to keep up with the pace… always.

Lockdown and everything that came with it professionally and personally was – let’s face it – FULL ON. Looking back on the year in its entirety, it seems the biggest thing that we were affected by was the unpredictability of it all.

A number of our Consultants said they felt the overriding sentiment of uncertainty to be very much the norm of 2020, which made things challenging; if we don’t know what’s coming, how do we prepare?

Of course so many of our Clients and Candidates felt exactly the same thing, whether they could keep staff, keep jobs and where would the work come from and what is actually going to happen in this Pandemic? It seemed it was all very up in the air. No one really had any answers. (I think we might agree there were lots of opinions though)

As Bruce from our Melbourne office highlights, “The hardest thing at the outset was not quite knowing where we were heading, but quickly that became just do what we can with what we know”.

So like every other office, we swung in Pandemic mode fast – enabled remote workplace operations and developed new systems overnight, we knew our business would be impacted, we just didn’t know to what extent.

Everyone had their challenges, the priority for us was providing as much support as we could to all of our Clients and Candidates, so often we are asked what the market is doing, what are the job trends, but this really was one time we were all in it together and who had a clue?! We have worked through a number of recessions but never a Pandemic and for once our ability to accurately assess, track, and predict the market was well…almost impossible.

Getting on with it – what did we learn?

So how does recruitment work in a lockdown?

Architecture and Interior Design can be a fickle industry, feast or famine, the barometer of the economy some say….without a doubt the first few months during the national lockdown saw loads of projects go on hold, redundancies were made and contractors dropped…tough times. Even tougher when Victoria entered its heavy duty stage 4 restrictions further down the track.

Zoom and phone – talking, emailing, it was all remote and whilst everyone adapted to a new norm, it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

I was keen to understand what staff had learned throughout the Pandemic year; about themselves about work, anything really.  

Jamie from our Sydney office quickly realized having young children and both parents working was not a winning formula; “I learned that my current home set up is not conducive to working from home’ and for him getting safely back into the office was a big priority.

Stephanie from our Melbourne office highlights ‘Zoom fatigue is a real thing’ and for her being in nature was important, getting that break from the screen was critical; ‘health=wealth’ she adds. Munashe felt lockdown made some aspects of recruiting easier – “everyone was at home, so when it came to talking to candidates or interviewing them, no one had to use the “emergency dentist excuse”…for sure no one was going anywhere!

For Bruce it was clear “The inherent value of a team, being able to swing into “pandemic mode” quickly, change certain ways of working and being able to focus and work hard on the things that work best. What did I learn? Communicate, then communicate, and then communicate more!”

Shiela definitely learned that she really missed the workplace –

“Personally, it made me appreciate the office environment and the vibe. I missed the people I worked with; the laugh; conversation; I even missed the traffic! I am a believer in face to face communication, so when the pandemic started I was skeptical on how the communication was going to run efficiently…

I will never take for granted how our life was before the Pandemic” So whilst not ground breaking, seems we all had a few realisations during lockdown.

Well, that was a pleasant surprise…

It feels somewhat trite to waffle on about the ‘silver linings’ in a dark time but I asked the team if there were any ‘pleasant’ surprises they experienced and whilst everyone had a slightly different spin on this question, there was an overwhelming emphasis on the appreciation of what we could achieve:

“Being able to find people jobs even in the middle of a pandemic and during lockdown” – Jamie, Sydney

“How positive everyone was able to stay during the lockdown period – kudos to the team! “ – Bruce, Melbourne

“Adapting to rapid change – twice – we did what we had to do” – Shiela, Melbourne

Plus a few other pleasant perks:

“I found a working typewriter on the side of the road, it was a very pleasant surprise indeed” – Munashe, Melbourne

I gained a better appreciation of the simple things” – Stephanie, Melbourne

“Setting awesome systems – oh and wearing uggs on the daily” – Gemma, Melbourne

“Gaining 2 extra hours of traveling time when working from home”– Monica, Sydney

It’s the little things that count and team spirit and appreciation of simplicity seemed to really strike a chord.

Workplace talk – indelibly changed or a blip we’re determined to forget about

At the height of the lockdown, every second linkedIn post seemed to be an opinion piece about the future of the workplace. How would space be used, would it be redesigned? Is that it – remote work has changed us forever?

We ourselves conducted surveys about the market, about the impact of COVID, which provided fantastic on the ground feedback for Clients and Candidates about how they were experiencing the year (read more here), it was the hot topic.

Fast forward to now – are we hankering to work together or do we want to be remote, or a mix? We know recruitment requires communication, relationship development, and personal contact…so is remote work sustainable long term, really?

Like so many we talk to in the industry, it’s a mixed bag – yes we all love the flexibility of working from home, the lack of travel time, the lack of interruptions, but as Bruce says:

“It’s still hard to say how the workplace has changed in the longer term, in reality, changes will be different depending on business structures, needs and ultimately how strong a “team-based” environment needs to be – in our case very much so.

In Melbourne given we worked from home for 8 months, we were able to handle the volume of work at any given time, however as the market picks up, working together the majority of time will be necessary, for many reasons.”

This is a good point – for many working from home during lockdown, the workload may have been greatly reduced, would it be sustainable if things became really busy – hmmm food for thought.

Jamie doesn’t see things being permanently altered:

“No – personally, I don’t think it will be changed forever, I think when a vaccine is rolled out we’ll see the confidence of both workers commuting and companies’ office working arrangements return. Sure there will be people with long commutes that will want to come in less often but this was happening anyway

Stephanie is quick to point out that the rate of change has demonstrated to companies the importance of adaptability – not only with technology but also the workplace in general and Munashe is hopeful that if nothing else, 2020 has shown that ‘you can achieve a work-life balance and still have your business running efficiently.

George Bloomfield feels pretty clear on how he sees things moving forward – “Some workplaces will change, most cannot and will not. I give it 2 years max and back to old habits”

Whilst only time will tell, what is clear, is that everyone missed working with each other and that they wanted to get back into the office – face to face, immediate communication and fast-paced action, that and incorporating the ability to be flexible seems reflective not only of us at BTP but many other firms we talk to. So it’s clearly not going to be one size fits all…

GFC versus Pandemic – not even comparable!

No, they’re not – but for those that experienced both – we did see some similar characteristics in the form of redundancies, competitors leaving the market, valued client relationships remaining our most valuable asset…but overall, not being an economically motivated downturn and the resulting government response meant things felt different – the biggest one of these differences being Jobkeeper.

As Bruce says: “Jobkeeper / seeker incentives from the Govt. took out some of the intensity and fear from many people who had lost jobs, and has also seen people rejecting shorter-term roles as they appear, which can be frustrating as we come out of the down market…”

Where Jamie believes: “In the GFC, no one had work, projects had stopped and there was no confidence in when the market would pick up. Now we have projects, people have always felt that there would be an end to the pandemic and the banks are happy to lend money….” So whilst the effort to keep things going and moving may be the same – the circumstances definitely felt very different.

2021 – What are you looking forward to?

I read somewhere that you apparently need three things in life – Love, Purpose, and something to look forward to.

Whether these are words of wisdom or not, I thought I would see what the team were looking forward to…some standard and not so standard responses on this one!

“A sense of normal – being able to form a routine again!” Gemma, Shiela & Monica!

“A nice juicy vaccine shot in the arm, placing a list of great Candidates with lots of great Clients and hugging my mates!” – Jamie

“Oktoberfest! I love Oktoberfest “– Munashe

“Getting the team back together” – Bruce

“Catching up with everybody at Archisoccer” – Stephanie

“Having a life!” – George

So there you have it – a few words from the team at BT&P and how we have experienced the year. Certainly not the 2020 anyone expected but we have truly appreciated and valued our loyal and supportive Clients and Candidates and may we take this opportunity to wish you all a very safe and happy festive season. Here’s to 2021!

Jacqueline Liddicoat – Managing Partner

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