Labor Swings and the Rise of Home Office: HR During the Pandemic

HR

Csongor Juhász

We asked Csongor Juhász, managing director of Prohuman Ltd., and Tammy Nagy-Stellini, managing director of Hays Hungary, how the pandemic had impacted the recruitment and temp agency markets in Hungary, what the longer term affects might be, and their expectations for this year.

BBJ: How has the pandemic affected the way recruitment and temporary agencies go about their work?

Csongor Juhász: During the first wave of the pandemic, thousands asked for our help in finding work. Because of the lock down, many of our clients had fewer positions to offer, while in some segments, such as food, logistics and shipping, demand for workforce grew rapidly. This sudden appearance of so many people while we had to ensure protection, social distancing, and extra hygienic safety measures, posed a great challenge. From a period of labor shortages, we moved very quickly to a situation where a lot of people were looking for work through us, so our databases suddenly increased. Of course, we know that this situation is temporary because many people are only available for work out of necessity; as soon as the world will open up again, they will return to their original professions.

Tammy Nagy-Stellini: For obvious reasons there are fewer personal meetings, and rather more on video calls, both with clients and candidates. At the same time, clients are much more cautious about the new head count added, whilst candidates are much more cautious when making a change in employment. Home office has become even more important within every company, including Hays.

BBJ: Are any of these changes permanent, or will we see a return to the status quo ante once restrictions are fully lifted?

Cs J: It is likely that home office and remote working will stay with us much more widely than before, as recent months have proven that it works well for the most part. I also think that video conferencing has become an important part of our business culture and will stay in use a lot more than before, but in many cases it will not be able to replace personal interaction. It also seems clear that workers will expect higher standards of hygiene than before.

TN-S: I do believe once restrictions are fully lifted people will decide whether to meet personally or online. I am sure more online meetings will take place compared to before the pandemic though, personally, I believe nothing can fully replace face-to-face meetings. You can get close to it; however, face-to-face interactions are important. Flexible home office policies are here to stay.

Tammy Nagy-Stellini

BBJ: How have businesses adapted their hiring plans during the crisis?

CsJ: The impact of the second wave on the economy clearly surfaced in the labor market in January this year, which was indicated, among other things, by the increase in the number of unemployed. The specific nature of the labor market also contributed to this, as sectors with a larger need for labor force in November-December, such as trade, food, seasonal service providers or product manufacturers, were at a “standstill” in January. So, regardless of the pandemic, fewer people are employed at the beginning of the year compared to other periods, but it usually increases in the following months. At the same time, the Hungarian economy could easily be short of labor again, when those who changed jobs due to the epidemic return to their original profession, and it would not be surprising for me if a large proportion of foreign labor was needed again as early as this year. A new problem in this regard is that epidemiological restrictions and the degree of vaccination are very different in non-EU countries. Legislators will have to address the challenge of making the employment of foreign labor less bureaucratic and time-consuming on one hand, while providing stronger control then before on the other.

TN-S: Initially, companies froze their hiring plans, some being cancelled altogether, others postponed. In the last quarter of the year, we could see positions being re-opened and in some areas, like IT, hiring increased right away. In general, head count increase is and has been more cautious than before; companies are more cost cautious and look into alternative solutions such as contracting and temping.

BBJ: How have candidates altered their demands when looking for placements?

TN-S: Payment and work-life balance are still key drivers for candidates, while home office and a stable and safe workplace has also become a priority when it comes to changes.

BBJ: What are your aspirations for the industry and your business this year and next?

CsJ: There is consensus within the industry that, until the ratio of vaccination reaches a satisfactory level, companies will be more cautious, so the growth forecasted last year will certainly be slower than expected, but then the recovery could be rapid in the production and industrial sectors. All this could be challenged by any disruptions in the logistics chains of raw material and parts supply. Unfortunately, we already hear from our partners that there have been partial shutdowns in factories due to such problems. Some fear that in the second half of the year this situation may cause significant difficulties in maintaining production in some industries.

TN-S: For Hays, the last year has been about further diversification in industries and services, and I expect the business to continue growing as it has been. Our revenue and projects are both up year-on-year and I expect us to continue pushing further growth opportunities.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of  April 23, 2021.

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