HR in times of challenge

It’s been over 2 months since we, along with the rest of the world, said ‘see ya later’ indefinitely to our colleagues, our offices, and the routine we were all so familiar with. Life threw a curveball at us, and so we put on our pandemic hats and began to shift gears with a goal to maintain ‘normal life’ within Zemoga as much as we could – just with a new meaning of ‘normal.’ Although the Covid-19 pandemic has shaken our world, we like to view it as a new and unplanned opportunity that’s allowed us to try and test how we keep connected, comfortable and balanced, and we’re doing it in a way that embodies all that we’ve aimed to achieve since we opened almost 20 years ago: putting people first.

The challenges and changes in our recruitment process

For years, we have been curating our recruitment process for it to be a reflection of who we are: thorough and quality-oriented, yet flexible and respectful of our candidates’ times. The way we source, evaluate and onboard people is the product of years of experience, thought, dedication, and analysis, but during these challenging times and with the much-needed social distance in place, a mandated lockdown, and the effects these changes have had on global and local economies, we found ourselves in a new world that calls for change, strength and creativity.

And this is what we at Zemoga have done. We have adjusted every single part of our process which has enabled us to continue growing our staff at just over 10% each month throughout the course of the pandemic. But it hasn’t been easy; we’ve come across many challenges and speed bumps along the way. Recognizing that “we are all in this together,” I’m sharing some of these strategies and processes with you.

Sourcing as we know knew it

Like many other services firms, the initial stage of our process is the sourcing stage. This, you might think, couldn’t possibly be that affected, as most of the sourcing nowadays is done online with massive platforms such as Linkedin. And while it is true that most of the sourcing is done via these platforms, there’s still a relatively small but sufficient percentage of it done via event networking, something Zemoga was very proactive in. This latter method has definitely been highly affected as events came to a halt before shifting to a fully virtual mode, preventing all employers and candidates from properly networking and sourcing candidates in-person as a result.

But the true impact on the sourcing process is far less evident than changes we’ve made in the company or the tools we use. We call this challenge “fighting the fear factor”.

A New Fear Factor

Everyone is scared, economies all around the world are tanking, massive, well-established companies are laying off thousands of employees globally, and we can’t even begin to discuss the impact on small businesses. The main result of the pandemic that’s affected the recruitment process in our opinion is that the mere concept of real work stability for employees has changed for good.

People are now very reluctant to make a job change as no one is able to assure stability or a sense of it in the same way that companies were able to do before the pandemic, and people have become less and less daring than they used to be. In a nutshell, they’re not willing to take the risk and try their luck elsewhere in a new and less familiar company. This is the real challenge, the real struggle when you are hiring and growing at a fast pace during these times. And the way to fight this is with facts.

Fighting Fear with Facts

At Zemoga, we understand the fear people have and respect it for good reason – but we make sure to share our unique story which sets us apart from our competition, and let them decide if Zemoga is worth a try – and in the end, with 94% of our qualified candidates who receive an offer at Zemoga since the pandemic started, it seems to be working.

Even though fear has somehow settled in people’s minds, ambitions, goals, and desires have not vanished – and here is where you as a business need to come in strong.

Zemoga has long been recognized for having one of the strongest HR driven People Care programs in the Global IT services market. Our HR leadership has been lauded by the industry as top leaders and innovators in their field. We have created a flexible and ever-adjusting program that is driven by one simple mantra from our CEO: put people first. “People before ____.” Fill in the blank and the result will always be the same. At Zemoga, we are really in the people business and therefore people come before everything, and our programs cover a wide range of specific and targeted benefits for each team member, from specific work needs to family and personal ones. But in the same way we care for our people and do everything to protect them, we challenge them to always evolve and grow, to achieve the highest level of mastery of their craft, and to be critical thinkers and respectfully outspoken professionals.This has been widely recognized, praised and rewarded by our clients.

So, how do we fight the fear factor? We share our story, transparently, humbly, and passionately, and we share the numbers that are available and open to anyone about how we have been growing, what we are doing for our people, where we are going, etc. A story of effort and dedication, a story of how we have survived and have built our company better, together.

A True Team Effort

But up until this point we have only achieved the first step in a longer journey. Once we have successfully addressed the fear factor, we face other challenges, such as understanding and evaluating what a new “ideal candidate” is. This is not only the responsibility of HR. We have built a process around more of a team effort, and the tech evaluators are required to chime in, sporting their HR hats to support this evaluation and see if they are a good fit.

This is why we are not only continuously training our recruitment team on skills assessment, evaluation and interviewing; we are also training our tech evaluators in HR interview best practices, teaching them to explore deeper, to really understand who the candidate is, to understand the cultural fit, and to join us – recruiters – in being the gatekeepers for the Zemoga culture we worked so hard to create.

Furthermore, as remote work becomes the new normal, we have had to adjust our definition of an ideal candidate, and this also means redefining the way we evaluate them and what we search for in the process of doing so. With this rapidly changing situation, soft skills have gained a whole new level of importance, and skills such as communication, autonomy, and self-organization become an absolute must for any candidate. Assessing the strengths of these skills through carefully orchestrated virtual interviews is part of the key to our success and one we have found to be imperative to scale our operation.

A Strong Established Culture

Another key we have found of the highest importance is the way we insert examples of our culture throughout the whole recruitment process. It is important to highlight that it is imperative to already have a strong established culture, otherwise, you’ll find it nearly impossible to retain the talent that you fought so hard to attract. So, if your organization was already struggling with an authentic and caring culture before Covid-19, fight that battle first. If not, you’ll likely find it more and more difficult to even attract staff as the way companies have handled staff during this crisis has become a MAJOR selling point in the recruitment process. It is for this reason that at Zemoga we have been intentionally working and dedicating a huge amount of capital and manpower into establishing a strong culture, continuing to care for it, and nurturing it during even a global pandemic. The result of this is that now, when the next global crisis occurs, and they will unfortunately continue to, we face the situation with a strong business continuity plan that is driven and supported by our culture.

So how do you inoculate, for lack of a better term, a new employee with a prized culture that was born during a time of co-worker socializing and in-person/in office collaboration?

Throughout the entire recruitment process, it is key that each person who interacts with candidates transmits the culture and values we care so much for. But this takes assertiveness and good communication skills – another important reason why we train our evaluators. It is also important that the processes are designed in such a manner that they themselves transmit our culture of respect and quality; it has to have check-in points and an appropriate closure that makes the candidate feel valued and appreciated. After all, they are dedicating time and effort to your process, and it is only fair that you respond in a similar manner. Respect is a two way street.

Virtual Welcomes

So far we have covered a lot of what happens during the recruitment process, but it doesn’t stop there.

Once you come to an agreement with your candidate for them to join your team, the administrative entry process follows, and it comes with new challenges as well. Sending home office setups to team residences (one of our many WFH benefits), the latest devices and computers, signing employment documents and getting onboarded with our team and our processes. It’s all part of a very thoughtful and deliberate step in becoming a Zemogian.

At Zemoga we have established a new way of doing things that allows for new hires to receive their computer a few days before they start working with us. This way, they start their first day at Zemoga with an 8am call to set up all systems, in order to be ready at 9 am to start their onboarding process. This requires organization, communication and a fair amount of logistics, given that standard couriers and delivery services can be sporadic and unreliable during the shutdown of a city.

Once everything is set up, we start our onboarding process – a highly valuable part of the process that we’re carrying out just as hands-on as we were before the global lockdown. For us, a successful onboarding of a new hire means not only a thorough onboarding to the role and team, but a thorough onboarding to the whole company, and this is why, for awhile now, we’ve had an onboarding system in place where each new hire gets to talk to each Discipline’s Director and even with most VPs and C-Level execs. This is complemented by a thorough onboarding to the role, the team and the project they will be joining. There is never an opportunity for an employee to say “I was unaware…” as we make sure they are aware of everything that they need to be happy and successful in their new role.

This has always been considered a win for us, having a very established and strong onboarding process that leverages culture from the get-go. Now the challenge is emulating the same cultural charm and new hire engagement that we do when we are in person. One solution is we prepare our sessions with a sharper focus and we make a concerted effort to have the attendees interact with us during the presentation. This keeps them engaged and helps deliver not only the message, but the tone of who we are as a team; our new hires get to feel our culture Day 1.

But not all our efforts should and can be focused on the newcomers. We have to focus on ALL Zemogians.

Nurturing our Family

We found ourselves facing the huge challenge of shifting our People Care Program – which had an important in-person component – to a more comprehensive one. Our wellness program has been known to be one of the strongest in the market, and now, our People Care Covid program is recognized just the same. We have reinvented how to do wellness during lockdown, taking care of each of our team members, their health, both physical and mental (we have a team of mental health professionals available to ALL employees and their immediate families); their comfort, like having all they need to set up a proper workspace at home, sent directly to them at no cost; their families, and even their simple snack cravings. All delivered to their door. We’ve even started new fun and rewarding challenges and initiatives that allow us to interact as a team, regardless of how large we are becoming. Each of these initiatives, challenges, and activities are designed with the intention of staff interaction and really making an effort to integrate the newest members of our community with our more tenured ones.

Building better over distances.

Within Zemoga, it’s been our CEO’s mission to maintain full transparency and visibility with the entire company regarding how we’ve been managing the situation within the organization, the well-being of our team, and how we interact with others inside and outside our office locations. Our commitment has been to ensure that the business continues with minimal impact during this time of uncertainty and restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The unfortunate truth is that the pandemic has created multiple limitations upon every industry, but we’re fortunate enough to say that the only limitation for us has been the lack of physical presence of each other— but it hasn’t stopped us from keeping connected and servicing our clients with a business-as-usual attitude as best we can. To keep it up, we’re always constantly evaluating and adapting, both internally and externally.

We’ve always loved the digital world – period – and that’s why we do what we do. But we recognize our advantage, and with a humble approach to our work and our clients we continue to deliver world class design and technology to our customers, both existing and new. The reason for this is it’s the people who make it happen. And when you put those people first, anything can happen. Even in times like these, we can build better.