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Nobody could have predicted the huge shift in recruiting practices that has occurred over the past year. In fact, the evolution of HR processes and the switch to digital we have seen may have taken decades to achieve if it weren’t for the necessity brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

While ways of working and recruiting have had to quickly adapt to an ever-changing environment during lockdown, it will have a profound effect on the future of the workplace. Unlike the immediate need to vacate the office, the return can be slower and more measured, with each business navigating their own way through this ‘new normal’.

An uptick in contractor role vacancies and placements

The latest Recruitment Trends Snapshot report from The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), which covers the month of April, shows a promising situation. Vacancies for contracting roles were up 83 per cent year-on-year, while placements saw a 68 per cent uptick.

Increased vacancies and placements is good news for everyone involved, but it comes with challenges that weren’t present before the pandemic. There’s not yet a standard approach to work in a post-lockdown world and it’s up to businesses and individuals to find the methods that best suit their needs during this unprecedented time.

The important role of recruiters

Recruitment agencies have long played a key advisory role to clients and contractors, linking up two parties to provide a solution that is mutually beneficial to both. Now, they must factor in disparate elements, like remote working, virtual talent acquisition, privacy and onboarding to place contractors within the right positions.

Getting back into the office

Both prime minister Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak have expressed a desire to see employees back in the office, but this has been mitigated by words of caution from scientists. What has resulted is an unclear official position and one that fails to take contractors into consideration.

This was highlighted by Tania Bowers, legal counsel and head of public policy at APSCo. She said: “Many of our members are also responsible for a large cohort of temporary workers, contractors and independent professionals working on client sites, who are not under the staffing company’s authority or control, which creates a significant challenge that we have asked the government to address.”

Over the past year, there have been many questions raised over who takes responsibility for the health and safety of agency workers during the pandemic. As many contractors return to the workplace while the threat from coronavirus is still present, even if diminished, this point has never been so pertinent.

APSCo has noted many businesses have simply absorbed their agency workforce into their own testing and PPE programmes, but that this has been done on an individual business basis. As recruiters look to place contractors, this is a grey area that must be addressed.

The decision to work remotely or flexibly

In the years prior to the pandemic, there were a growing number of calls for employees to be allowed to work remotely or flexibly. The response was slow and those businesses that offered such contracts were seen as fairly progressive.

Now that many companies have been forced to trial this way of working, some have seen the benefits it provides. Not only can they cut down on rents in prime locations for office space, but they can also spread the net wider in terms of attracting top talent to their organisation.

The parameters for recruitment are no longer set geographically, facilitating recruiters in finding the best person to fill vacancies. This means an increased reliance on digital communication and collaborative tools to realise projects.

New ways of using the office

In a recent survey of 50 of the UK’s largest firms, the BBC found that 43 are planning to embrace a mix of home and office-based working in the wake of the pandemic. It’s thought this hybrid approach may represent the best of both worlds for employees and businesses alike, but it’s yet unproven, as until social distancing restrictions are relaxed, the advice is for those able to work from home to do so.

Recruiters must take a business’ policy on this matter into consideration going forward when placing contractors, as individuals all have different needs. Some people thrive when surrounded by colleagues and others benefit from working in isolation. Onboarding, training and collaboration cannot be sacrificed in favour of skipping the commute in all situations.

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