Read-up with RED
RED Update 2020
RED’s plans for 2020 were positively ambitious. As an SAP and tech recruitment agency focused on matching SAP and Tech professionals to top clients, we had huge growth plans and exciting projects in the works for the year. Just prior to our new financial year in April 2020, along with the rest of the world, we were thrown into lockdown. To say we hit a bump in the road would be an understatement. Along with most other businesses, we were on a rollercoaster ride with no idea when the next loop would come along and what highs and lows were to be expected.
Although we’ve never experienced anything quite like the COVID-19 pandemic, given that we’ve been around for a while, 20 years in fact, we’ve seen our fair share of economic challenges. Nevertheless, we’ve always weathered the storm and used our experiences as learning for future situations. And although we’re not quite through it yet, once again we’ve battled on, learned valuable lessons and we are hopeful for the future - for us as well as our clients and candidates.
Although we got off to a bumpy start since the pandemic hit us, through hard work, dedication and a bucket full of adaptability, we’ve managed to significantly close the NFI gap YoY from the lowest point which was at the end of May. Keep reading to find out how we navigated our way through the past few months to find a sense of stability with all the challenges along the way.
A common challenge shared by all business heads, which was given the utmost importance, was that of maintaining a positive mindset for our people. Many of our RED team members were feeling the effects of the uncertainty, the concerns about their personal health and safety as well as the tough business outlook. Coupled with working from home on a long-term basis, many in isolation or while caring for children, mental wellbeing was, and still is, priority number one.
In response to this, our HR department promptly launched a wellbeing series to ensure everyone would become more aware and more accountable for maintaining their mental health.
From day one, directors and managers personally offered up advice to all team members on how best to look after their mental health and to always prioritise it. We’ve encouraged all to interact with their team members regularly and to get out of the house to go for walks, exercise etc. where safely possible. MS Teams has been instrumental in keeping our colleagues well connected through video chats which we encourage regularly.
In our New Jersey office, our US Managing Director, Dave Muller, was quick to arrange morale-boosting activities across his teams. He says, “We set up a ‘virtual water cooler’ so that people could still communicate with their co-workers on a more emotional and personal level. Additionally, we ran an office wide competition with a similar bracket system to the NCAA tournament (that’s basketball for those that don’t know). Employees logged onto teams and went head to head in an online Tic-tac-toe super game with winners advancing. It helped keep morale up as we tried to get our bearings.”
In order to maintain the focus, especially as we enter renewed lockdowns in Europe and as the nights draw in faster, we will be finishing off 2020 with a few new initiatives to boost mental health.
One of the biggest drivers of productivity in our physical offices is the energetic atmosphere that has always been produced by our teams working side by side. With everyone now working from home surrounded by distractions, we had to ensure productivity wasn’t dropping off so that we could continue to offer the very best service to all our clients and candidates. Despite the unsettled markets and various project freezes, we still had plenty of projects & hiring programs going ahead with our clients that needed our expert recruitment services.
Manos Xenikos, Practice Director UK Contract, comments: “Generally speaking, our main objective was to switch the focus from the end result to the individual performance. It then became evident that activity was paramount to achieve a good level of performance. Our own activity being the only thing at the time we could effectively control.”
Across the whole business we set out clear team and individual expectations with regular monitoring of performance using PowerBI which provides real time data reporting, with discussions with staff on a regular basis.
We provided coaching support from our deskside coach, also working remotely, who played a vital role in helping people establish better habits such as improving their time management while working remotely
With technology on our side, we started morning video meetings in much the same style we would have done in the office. We implemented twice daily meetings with individuals to check in and offer up support and help prioritise to those that needed it.
We’ve hosted activities and incentives at a team level as well as the now famous Lockdown Legends global competition with performance metrics to reward the most productive individuals on a weekly basis.
We’ve also seen a big increase in collaboration across the group as everyone is more aware of just how tough it is for all. Because of this, teamwork across different teams and business units is better than ever before.
Managing teams virtually for the first time ever has its own set of challenges, especially in a recruitment business where so much success and development is based on being around other people. However, it is even more challenging identifying areas of weakness and encouraging the right behaviours to more junior staff who are still learning the essential basicsof their role. The juniors have not been able to watch and learn from the seniors who would normally have been their role models and mentors. Because of this, we set out to provide further support and mentoring for these less experienced team members.
As a result of the initial downturn in economic activity, in the early days of the pandemic we did notice an increase in the volume of available SAP contractors with skills in the classic standard SAP modules. On the contract side of the business, this was a challenge to manage as many clients felt they might be able to offer rates for these types of skills that were quite a bit lower than usual, and save on costs, especially for those that are able to allow remote working. Trying to strike the right balance to provide a service at a cost which is fair for all parties in indeed a conundrum and something we have always been and will always be very conscious of.
Andy Duke, MD of European Permanent & RED Executive, comments “On the perm side, we’ve found a lot of clients have started to do two things differently. Firstly they’ve started to try to prioritise their own direct applicants where there is no fee attached, and secondly, they have started trying to make salary offers that are below candidates’ expectations. Whilst in practice these seem like good plans to try to save some costs, the reality is different.”
“We had many clients go through interview processes with their own direct applicants, putting RED candidates on hold, only for them to find out that the direct applicants were not of high enough quality, or indeed were not as committed as they thought. Therefore, they rejected their direct applicants, or the candidates pulled out of processes and eventually the clients come back to RED. Sadly for many of those clients, by that stage the candidates had given up waiting and had taken another role. Even in times of economic crisis, we see permanent SAP candidates having an abundance of interesting opportunities on the table when they are serious about a move.”
“In the case of making lower offers, this has only served to upset candidates and in some cases they have walked away from the opportunity. In cases where clients have listened to our counsel and upped the offer, or better still made the right first offer, we have seen strong conversion rates of offer to acceptance.”
At RED, we’ve always encouraged our employees to get out and meet their clients personally. In 2018, as a collective we boarded over 600 flights just to meet clients.
Therefore, initially it was challenging building strong relationships with new clients without being able to meet them face to face.
With MS Teams, we’ve adapted to a full virtual way of meeting clients and candidates. Although a physical meeting will always be the best option, there are many pros to this new way of working – reduction in carbon footprint, saving time and being able to ‘meet’ more regularly. This is definitely one new way of working that we will continue going forward regardless of the situation.
Andy Duke comments, “MS Teams has been fabulous and has actually increased the number of ‘face to face’ meetings with both our candidate network and our clients. Pre-lockdown, for our permanent and executive teams specifically, it was rare to see a candidate face to face…now it is the only way to communicate with them.”
Our Business Development strategy pivoted to focus on those industries less affected by the pandemic. This is one of the reasons why we have achieved better-than-expected sales results despite the tough market conditions
We partnered with new clients within industry sectors where we normally don’t have a specific focus, such as banks and insurance.
We’ve enhanced our service offerings and relaunched initiatives such as RED Partner Programme, RED Associates as well as RED Training Solutions. Watch this space for more to come.
In the US, our biggest networking opportunity of the year, SAPPHIRE, was cancelled which was a hard blow. However, the US has been one of our quickest offices to recover and is back to their original growth plans due to some great client wins driven by the outstanding hard work of the US team.
At the outset of the pandemic, we furloughed (in the UK) or offered Kurzarebeit (in Germany) to around 15% of our staff. These were mostly from candidate-facing delivery roles as a response to the drop in demand in the immediate wake of lockdowns across the world. Unfortunately, we also had to part company with around 10% of staff, predominantly in the US where no furlough scheme was available, and in areas where demand ceased completely.
Over the last three months, we have seen a significant increase in demand as businesses continue to adapt to the COVID environment, and we have welcomed back most staff from furlough. In addition, we have hired several new staff into key positions across Germany, the UK and the US, and will look to add more during the remainder of the year.
Trust is Key
One of the biggest takeaways from the last few months is just how important it is to trust your team. It’s easy to think you have trust. However, this is really proven when you’re thrown into lockdown and have to fully trust that everyone will play their part. A sentiment echoed by all business heads is that when trust is given, generally people will work hard not to break that trust. Florian Petersen, Director of DACH Perm, says “My biggest learn was that I can 100% trust my team.”
RED consultants have learned to work more independently than ever before and are enjoying being more accountable for their own roles.
Technology For The Win
RED has always prided itself on using technology in innovative and distinct ways. By doing so, RED has always been a visionary and a leader of technology within the staffing industry “been at the forefront of being a visionary” does that read right?. The pandemic was a clear verification of that label.
Mark Botros, CIO at RED, comments, “The pandemic accelerated technology adoption by upwards of two years in a single day. None more evident than the instant acceptance of collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom.”
“Fortunately for RED, the technology strategy formulated four years ago, hinged around the “mobile-first” approach. Naturally, to achieve mobile-first, several fundamental pieces of work, such as cloud infrastructure, app-based real-time reporting, field-level data access and entry, mobile device management and cloud-enabled voice were all prerequisites and natural milestones that needed to be achieved in order to conquer the mobile-first vision. You could say the “mobile-first” strategy of three to four years ago is somewhat interchangeable with the remote working, business continuity strategy that businesses have adopted since the pandemic hit.”
“Where other businesses have struggled, the entire RED employee base in every office globally was working from home instantly without the need for any complex VPN solutions or a re-write of policies. The employees simply did exactly what they did in the office but at home. The environment was so effective, that we have seen an uptake on input-driven activity recorded on our internal services, accompanied with improved data quality. Being a Microsoft shop, tools such as Teams were already part of the RED fabric. But challenges have arisen around the etiquette of interpreting the availability status of colleagues. Questions such as when do I Call vs Message vs Email, all of which were dealt with swiftly and without consequence.”
Currently, the team is working on several confidential, ground-breaking initiatives that will further cement our status as an innovative leader of technology in the staffing industry.
This year sure has been one to remember, for many reasons. We’ve gained valuable experience and learned incredible lessons, which we’ll share with you in our upcoming blog post.
As a global SAP & technology recruitment agency, any changes in the economic market affects us directly, as of course, this can impact our clients’ hiring needs as well as the readiness of our candidates to make a change. We’re proud that we’ve managed to retain the majority of our workforce, all of our clients and all of our candidates, as well as welcoming onboard new ones in all our regions. We look forward to working harder than ever before to continue placing SAP and tech professionals at our clients around the world.
If you have SAP and tech hiring needs, then do get in touch for an informal conversation.
If you’re an SAP or a tech professional looking for your next contract, perm or executive role, then have a look at our website for current roles or simply feel free to get in touch.
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