How Can You Possibly Staff During a Pandemic?

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Apr 21, 2020
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

With over 80% of Americans being forced to stay in their homes, the Coronavirus has decimated demand for in-person services like travel and hospitality. This has resulted in the unemployment rate spiking to 13% in the U.S. Less has been written about the impact this pandemic has posed on labor forces and supply chains where demand for services still exists.

However, it’s already taken a toll on workers whom we rely on for our food and police departments whom we rely on for our safety.

Right now, more than ever, managers and HR leaders are scrambling to find solutions to keep society running at this critical moment. While some sectors are hard to replicate, there are a few solutions available for the majority of industries that are struggling to maintain the appropriate workforce in light of employee wellbeing, precarious cash flows, and uncertain demand.

Leading by example

Managers, first and foremost, need to lead by example. Implementing CDC guidelines to ensure the health of your employees and customers is a must. Employees shouldn’t have to choose between job security and their health. It’s an organizations’ job to adjust, not just their employees. As businesses transition online and fill new customer needs, unforeseen gaps will inevitably emerge. A retail business may suddenly need outside fulfillment, or a video conference app like Zoom requires cybersecurity experts due to unforeseen security flaws as demand for videoconferencing spikes.

Regardless of whether staffing holes emerge from employee illness or unexpected business needs, managers don’t necessarily need to add to the workloads of already stressed employees, nor do they need to hire full-time substitutes. It’s crucial that managers and employees have candid and recurring conversations about where teams need help and the exact skills required. There’s no reason to bring in a hammer when a scalpel will do.

Staffing platforms

Online staffing platforms that offer remote project-based services will thrive in this COVID-19 reality. Platforms like Fiverr or Upwork enable organizations to browse a selection of mostly creative freelancers offering services at different price points, plus filters to choose a specific freelancer and place orders in just one click. Most offer a global labor pool, which spreads geopolitical risk from work disruption. If a project requires multi-disciplinary skills or a large workforce, crowdsourcing platforms like Mechanical Turk or Gigwalk will help source and manage individual freelancers and deliver a holistic product. Hiring practices will need to be streamlined so that gig workers can quickly be retained and onboarded when the right candidate is found. HR and managers need to quickly devise criteria and training modules that are relevant for the task at hand rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Controversially, proactive managers could use this labor market to their company’s advantage. Millions of workers, whether they were freelance or full time before COVID19, now find themselves in a new business reality. With everyone quarantined in their homes and no industry safe, workers are now looking to these kinds of platforms for job security and purpose. If a company is willing to stomach the risk of adding headcount during this uncertain time, it’s possible to find great workers who may not have been interested in a job change when unemployment was at 4%.

Getting creative

A large number of companies already hire gig workers as a means to test talent before offering full-time employment. Once the company is certain that the gig worker possesses the right skills and is the right cultural fit, they can proceed with offering a full-time contract. This recruitment strategy has significant advantages, specifically with current unemployment levels. Make sure to check the platforms’ policy for Non-Circumvention and the state laws. Platforms like the one I co-founded empower companies of all sizes to compete with the largest corporations by utilizing our community of freelance sales professionals. Many of our corporate clients have continued working with our freelancers as either consultants or full-time employees to close a deal or start a new one.

HR and hiring managers must also stay on top of the news as policies that affect hiring are in flux. For example, US Tech Workers, a U.S. based technology workers group that lobbies for U.S. workers’ rights, recently urged President Trump to pause the H1B visa program, in light of the surging U.S. unemployment and fears around global travel. Many U.S. companies, especially tech companies, heavily depend on this program to employ highly skilled workers and technical experts. Pausing the H1B visa program will severely affect the tech industry. While not definite, tech companies should be prepared for this potential scenario by partially shifting to a freelance workforce to avoid putting all their eggs in the H1B basket. Having international talent working remotely can ease the harm that an immigration policy change like this one can cause.

During a crisis, HR managers have the opportunity to shine by keeping teams productive. Quickly addressing headcount issues will not only earn employee goodwill and generate the best work product, but it will also give nimble companies a competitive advantage while their competitors struggle to adapt during this prolonged crisis.

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.