May 21st, 2020 | Sterling

Shifting to the New Normal: Q&A with Barry Asin, President of Staffing Industry Analysts

Companies across the world are shifting their business models in response to the global spread of Covid-19. From public health to economic disruptions, from upending social norms to dramatically altering how companies hire, the effects of the coronavirus will be felt long after the pandemic is over.

While we know that the business world will look and feel very different, the current challenges also present a great opportunity for employers. Companies can learn, take advantage of previously untapped resources, adapt, and most importantly innovate. Sterling is helping businesses navigate several of these challenges.

If you’re wondering what the new landscape will mean for staffing firms around the globe, we’ve got you some answers that will help. Sterling invited Barry Asin, President of SIA to share his insights, observations, and tips on how the industry can get through this global crisis.

Here are the questions we asked Barry:

Q1: To what extent do you see the shift to remote work lasting beyond the immediate crisis and being part of “the new normal”? Looking ahead, in what ways do you expect this shift to impact — or potentially even reshape — the staffing industry as well as global hiring more broadly?

BA: I’m confident that 10 years from now we will look back on this moment as a defining moment for the concept of remote work. As far as remote work goes there will be ‘before-2020′ and ‘after-2020′ with significantly different perspectives and usage levels. The crisis has forced people to experiment with remote work and find ways to make it work. And what they’ve learned is that in many cases it can be just as effective as the old model of on-site work.

For staffing firms, I suspect that means that they will look closely at what work really needs to get done face-to-face and what can be done remotely. Remote work enables different cost models and different ways of leveraging expertise from a much wider talent pool. Those firms that learn to optimize remote work will be the ones more likely to survive and thrive through the downturn, and out the other end.

Q2: As the staffing industry adjusts to a new normal, are there any additional ways you see technology playing an important role, from both a recruiter and/or candidate standpoint?

BA: While the situation to date has been incredibly challenging, it also would have been much worse without widespread technology adoption. Particularly, we saw adaptation to cloud-based computing, video conference technology, and high-speed internet. What we hear from most staffing firms is that while they prefer to be together for their internal operations, the transition to remote work has been relatively painless due to a strong technology infrastructure. Going forward staffing firms will invest even more in technology to improve recruiter productivity. From the candidates’ perspective – it will be easier to find them, be screened/interviewed, and get out to work without more cumbersome manual processes.

Q3: When it comes to finding the right balance between full-time employees vs. hourly/contract hiring, how do you believe companies will be adapting their recruitment efforts?

BA: Each time we go through business cycles, companies realize the incredible value that temporary staffing brings to their organization. Be it the opportunity to flex their workforce, or to keep more of their costs variable in an uncertain business environment. I think that will be one of the important lessons learned through this downturn. As things return to normal, we will see an upswing in a more significant use of temps and contractors.

Having said that, it’s important to note that the limit on the use of temps and contractors has never been on the company side, but more so on the talent side. If staffing firms can find ways to make temporary jobs more attractive for workers, they will be able to find enough candidates to fill their clients’ needs.

Q4. What are three key considerations staffing firms should keep top of mind as we enter the next phase of the economy and hiring?

BA: A downturn like this can be incredibly challenging for staffing firms because the value proposition to clients is explicitly geared to flex up when demand is high and flex down when demand is low. In this case demand has dropped off a cliff in many cases.

If you’re asking for three things, I don’t think you can go far wrong with the three C’s of managing through a downturn. Cash, collections and costs. The first rule in a downturn is to not run out of cash. It’s very easy in the staffing industry to get stuck funding the payroll of your clients, which is also why making sure that you collect what you are owed, and that you manage days sales outstanding closely. And of course, keeping control and making your internal costs as variable as possible and as soon as possible will help your business be prepared to rebound when the industry improves.

The one C I would add to that is culture. Difficult times like these can be defining for firms in terms of their culture. Now more than ever, your staff is watching. How you handle the difficult decisions and the communication around them will be critical to your long-term culture and the ability of your firm to grow on the other end of the downturn. The best staffing firms use downturns as an opportunity to gain market share and forge a strong sense of culture and commitment from recruiters and salespeople.

Q5. What is your advice for staffing companies looking to address potential issues surrounding safety and confidence — particularly amid the shift to remote hiring — in their recruitment process?

BA: As much as possible all of the old standards should continue to apply. Clients want to know that the people you are sending them are who they say they are. You must show that you have done your due diligence towards ensuring that they can do the job effectively and not put the client, their staff, or their business in danger. To the extent you are able to automate your processes and work with partners who can leverage technology, you and your business will emerge from this in better shape, and with the trust you have built with your clients intact.

Q6. To date, what effect of Covid-19 on work culture has been most surprising or unexpected to you? Any personal or unique predictions you’d be comfortable sharing on what the future holds?

BA: People are incredibly adaptable but they also tend to stick with their routine unless something pushes them to change. We’ve been talking for years about remote work and how a much more flexible and non-location specific way of working would become the norm. I can’t say that I’m surprised that people have shifted to working remotely and frankly doing it fairly seamlessly, but I am surprised how quickly that transition occurred.

As far as the future, I think this will cause companies to completely rethink how much office space they need and what really needs to be done in person versus remotely. It’s also going to accelerate the adoption of technology. Without the Internet and cloud-based technologies available right now business would have ground completely to a halt. As people see that as well as the resilience and flexibility that it offers, we will see more comfort with technology than ever before.

The other thing for the foreseeable future is that the definition of what it means to have a safe workplace has been revolutionized. Like it or not all businesses will need to become expert to some degree in infection control, epidemiology, and sanitation. They will also need to be much more familiar than in the past with all the legal and health-related government policies and procedures.

Updates on Covid-19 and policies are changing daily so it’s imperative to stay up to date as much as possible. Be sure to check out the Staffing Industry Analysts Covid-19 Resource Page for the latest news and updates, and how Sterling’s business continuity plans help Clear the Path for Background Screening Amid Covid-19.

As the mantra “we’re all in this together” continues to resonate, it’s important to understand that the staffing industry can play a huge role in lessening the setback of Covid-19.

Sterling has deployed a Rapid Response Business Program, led by our subject matter experts which allows for quick program configuration, simplified contracting, preferred pricing, and industry leading turnaround times. Please visit or call us at 833.342.4571 with any questions you may have.

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