With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting most businesses and forcing an unprecedented number of workers to work remotely, Talent Tech Labs launched a virtual Workgroup for like-minded professionals to share their challenges and discuss timely topics, strategies, and developments. The third meeting of this series was focused on COVID-19 and its effect on hiring and returning to the workplace. Participants represent some of the largest and most respected staffing companies in the world, cutting across almost all major segments of the economy. Below is a summary of the high-level findings applied to the staffing industry. 


Varying Work Demand:

  • Job orders are down by about 25% y/y for technical roles (IT, Accounting, Finance, etc). However – volume is holding steady since the original decline in March/April; i.e. rate of slowdown is now roughly flat to slightly up. 
  • There is not much of a difference in volume change between MSP/VMS business and direct business.
  • The varying demand is more so attributed to industry-specific factors. 
  • Most are seeing a decline in demand for “traditional” roles (i.e. traditional roles from pre-pandemic) which are being replaced with other, newer roles, some of which didn’t previously exist (i.e. contact tracers).
  • There is uncertainty surrounding a potential second wave of the pandemic and what that would mean for demand. Companies are preparing for a variety of scenarios (i.e. V-shaped recovery versus W-shaped). 
  • Many are optimistic about the future of retail and light industrial work, given the slight uptick in demand in recent weeks.
  • Beginning to open up, especially retail – although recent events surrounding the riots/protests might continue to push back retail opening.
  • Hiring down in RPO.

Managing Candidate Communication and Engagement:

  • Dramatic increase in applicant flow (some reported it has doubled in the past month). 
  • Challenge is connecting and engaging with these candidates so that they don’t get lost in the proverbial “black hole”.
  • Some looking into technology options to help facilitate and automate this communication – increase efficiency to manage volume.
  • Internally, teams and recruiters have to adapt and perhaps change the way that they communicate with candidates.  

Reviewing Contracts with Existing Vendors:

  • Many agencies are reviewing and renegotiating contracts with their existing technology vendors.
  • Most vendors are receptive to it and in fact, are expecting it. Many already have planned responses. 
  • Renegotiated terms in many forms – maybe offering an extension, added features, etc. Little in terms of direct rebates but different vendors coming up with creative ways to add value. 

Internal Employee Remote Work Success:

  • Operationally, things have been running smoothly in the remote working environment.
  • Technology and remote process are working, so there is no real urgency to “rock the boat” by returning to work too soon.
  • Employees are recognizing that they can work productively from home – especially in industries where that wasn’t thought to be the case pre-pandemic (e.g. Finance & Accounting).
  • Success of remote work is largely dependent on a solid “backbone”, i.e. effectively leveraging technology and remote processes.
  • One major challenge has been training junior staff/new employees to the industry.

Plans for Internal Staff Returning to the Office:

  • Most companies are in no hurry to return to their physical workplaces. 
  • Firms adopting a segmented approach to their return:
    • For agencies with multiple offices, different locations have different start dates set based on their specific situations.
    • Deliberate messaging to employees to say that there’s no expectation for them to return by certain date as long as they’re productive.
  • Many firms expressed that they are hesitant to be the “guinea pigs” and return too soon.
  • Some reported that they are grappling with the many variables to consider for going back (e.g. how many people can be in the office at a time, policies for wearing masks and other PPE, temperature checks, office layout, and barriers, only coming into the office on certain days, etc.).
  • The desire to return to the office among employees is relatively low considering how productive and efficient they’ve been in the remote setting thus far and health concerns.
  • Some are even considering how the success of remote work will impact the workplace in the future, i.e. leadership is recognizing that physical workplaces might not be necessary (may be no real need to lease office space, might reduce their environmental footprint, etc.)
  • Many are rethinking the “traditional” office model and how that might evolve post-pandemic. 
  • From a practical perspective, there is a liability concern as it pertains to providing employees with PPE and additional precautions in the office.

Responsibility for Safety of On-Site Workers:

  • As states begin phased reopenings, clients are beginning to have workers return onsite.
  • Some staffing agencies are struggling to determine who is responsible for ensuring the safety of workers (for instance, are masks required onsite? If so, which party will provide them?).
  • Many are surveying their clients to understand what safety gear they provide and are then using that information to fill in the gaps.
  • Some staffing agencies are looking into technology to implement a communication system with candidates to give them the ability to share their concerns and thoughts with the firm. 
  • Firms may need to consider having a dedicated safety officer or safety contact who can field candidate concerns and respond appropriately. This was a common practice in the pharmaceutical industry, but it might now become a requirement for all staffing companies operating onsite.


By: Raemie Ladner, Analyst at TTL

This commentary is intended to provide business leaders with a perspective on the evolving situation and its implications. Please note the perspectives included here may fall out of date quite rapidly. This Lab Note reflects our opinions and understanding of the situation as of June 5th, 2020.

As states begin to lay out their plans for phased reopenings, many companies are trying to understand what that means for returning to the office. In our most recent Staffing COVID-19 Workgroup, re-openings and their impact on the “traditional” office model were among the common themes. In surveys conducted by Salesforce’s Customer & Market Insights group, 48% of respondents indicated that their main concerns for returning to the physical workplace are health and safety¹. This sentiment was expressed by nearly every participant on the call. For staffing agencies, the concern extends beyond just their internal teams, as clients begin reinstituting onsite work. There was a general consensus that recruiters and internal staff are productive in a remote setting (albeit with a few issues around training new hires), which left many firms wondering how they can continue to support employees given that remote work is likely here to stay. 

On the jobs and revenue front, it still remains to be seen whether the worst of the economic destruction from the pandemic is behind us, though the volume trends this month suggest we may have found the bottom, and are starting the slow climb back towards recovery. At the peak of the outbreak, unemployment in the United States was at an all-time high. With the economy starting to bounce back, many staffing agencies noted candidate applications have nearly doubled. We expect that many firms will begin to rely on technology tools to facilitate candidate communication and engagement to capitalize and to prevent the opening of the always worrisome “black hole.”

We suspect the “traditional” office model is sure to change as a result of the pandemic. With that, I’ll leave you with this takeaway to consider as you begin to prepare for reopening — stay ahead of the curve by keeping up to date on new technologies that might improve your remote processes and make sure that you’re leveraging your existing tools to their maximum potential. Given the understandable concerns for everyone’s health and safety which are unlikely to go away anytime soon, remote work will continue to be a part of the larger working model post-pandemic, and a solid technology backbone can ensure that recruiters, candidates, and clients are seamlessly engaged and nurtured in a digital world. 

Download the Lab Notes