Reality, not normality – there is still no such thing as the new normal so stop talking about it.


At the risk of repeating myself (see ‘Talent lessons from COVID-19 – none of us know anything yet’ last month), it is still pretty much a statement of the bleedin’ obvious that we are still wrestling with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis so drawing conclusions or pretending we understand the ‘new normal’ is still a load of tosh.  

To be honest, I don’t think I could describe the ‘old normal’ so anyone claiming to know what the post-COVID-19 world looks like either has too much time on their hands or, more likely, is trying to sell you something. 

Watch the vlog here:

Back in the days, I used to be pretty active on the speaker circuit. It was great; you could make the most outlandish claims about the impact of the internet, safe in the knowledge that if any of them came true you could claim to have remarkable foresight and if none of them did then no one remembered what you said anyway. Alt-hough as a coda to that, it turned out we weren’t outlandish enough about our claims, reconfirming Amara’s law about overestimating the impact of technology in the short term and underestimating it in the long term. 

The fascinating question about the COVID-19 crisis is whether the extraordinary effect it has already had on our way of living is the most extreme or whether, in fact, there are bigger changes to come. How many of us think we will get back to flying as often as we used to? Who thinks huge office blocks have a long-term future? Fascinating stuff but completely unknowable right now. 

In the world of recruiting and talent acquisition, the short-term impacts have been extreme – huge hiring spikes in some areas and even larger layoffs and furloughing in others. As we begin the tentative process of emerging from lockdown, all the current signs and all the antecedents point to a very slow recovery in hiring. Companies simply will not rapidly re-hire when there is very limited visibility on customer demand and whilst we are still developing our understanding of what normal working practices will look like. This is both from a practical, socially distancing perspective of how people can work, as well as the undoubted changes in how a lot of people will want to work. 

Our recent work on talent acquisition priorities give us a glimmer of some of the changes we’re seeing. Using the 11 categories from our Talent Acquisition Benchmark programme, 145 employers across a range of industries ranked them by importance and urgency. 

The importance of employer brand and candidate experience remain high on the TA agenda but there was a clear surge in the ranking of employment flexibility and on-boarding (which we assume would be of the remote kind).  

Interestingly, the position of D&I has clearly shifted to being considerably less urgent than it was although it still seen as important. This gives rise to a tantalising question of whether it’s an understandable hiatus (you can’t hire diverse people if you’re literally not hiring anyone) or something more worrying (when push comes to shove, lots of employers didn’t really see it as that important). It’s an issue we’ll be exploring on a webinar on 3rd June.  

In conclusion, and at the risk of labouring the point, enduring trends resulting from COVID-19 are still too early to discern and the concept of ‘the new normal’ needs to be locked away until 2021 – at the earliest.  

For resourcing and talent acquisition leaders the task of balancing the strategic and the tactical where cost and time pressures are more extreme than ever will be a career defining challenge. 

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