Digital Platforms - Moving Beyond COVID

Since COVID-19 struck the UK, there has been endless rhetoric about how this global pandemic has changed our lives indefinitely. For many, going back to work, socialising with friends and simply heading to the shops won’t ever be the same. As we start to re-introduce our old routines into our new way of life, we’re left wondering whether there’s a silver lining sat in-waiting once the enforced time-out is over.

In our latest sit down, Executive Search Consultant, Dan Nation, is joined by Digital Healthcare Consultant, Ben Tilly, where they discuss the pros and cons that lockdown-life has had on ‘business as usual’ activity; and champion the benefits of having robust digital platforms and processes to keep people connected.

With more than 20 years' experience within digital, Ben’s worked for some of the UK’s leading technology and pharmaceutical companies including GSK, Apple and the BBC, to name a few.

Having worked in digital teams, and often at a senior level, Ben is no stranger to utilising digital in all aspects of work. As an experienced executive search recruiter, Dan often works with digital platforms to correspond with his candidates and clients, however, could this normality expand across more industries as we find more efficient ways to get back to work?

Hear the full recording below

Dan: Working on an international stage, a lot of our senior appointments are done via video platforms, and video interviewing. I know recently Ben, you’ve just found a new role and you’ve experienced both face-to-face and video interviews, what do you believe are the benefits or negatives of using digital platforms throughout the hiring process?

Ben: At this stage, I’m really struggling to say what the negatives are. With face to face interactions, you’re always going to get a bit more from the person, as you can see their body language and it can be much more personal. The chances of the conversation being more relaxed and off-topic, and just getting to know someone from a personal perspective, I suppose is less likely in a video link. In person, you have more time with one another, from the intro in the lobby to your goodbyes, and even coffee on your way to the meeting room. A face to face gives you both plenty of opportunity to get a real feel for each other.

The first few interviews that I did remotely, that personal side was completely neglected - there were a few niceties over the phone but that was it. However, given the COVID situation, I’ve found people are carving out time specifically to do that. And that’s with any type of meeting, a general business update or an interview, people are putting time aside to get to know people on a personal level before diving in.

Dan: I think that’s an interesting point, there are some small nuances that you get used to with video - but in the main, it could take place throughout the process. So, why don’t you think businesses were embracing video as a large part of their process before?

Ben: Habit. 100% habit. The idea of having to fly out to different countries for (sometimes) several interviews, just doesn’t make sense. With things like air travel being incredibly cheap, it didn’t help the situation because it was minimal cost for the hiring organisation to get someone in the room. There’s a huge amount of time wasted travelling, not to mention the impact to the environment. And, I’d say that for a lot of people, there’s nervousness around gauging the person on the other side of the screen, it can be hard to tell what an individual is really like in a remote situation.

Dan: Sure, I think the efficiency to businesses though is really key. How well do you think organisations have adapted to the current climate, and do you think some of these efficiencies, such as video interviewing, will continue to be used now?

Ben: I’ve mainly witnessed this with businesses that I’ve worked with so I might have a slightly polarised view of the world. As I’m working in an environment where digital platforms are used daily, I think that businesses have adapted well. You could argue that organisations like the NHS, for example, would struggle more because of their infrastructure and resource restrictions. Whereas, companies in the pharmaceutical sector have the money and means to put processes in place to enable us to speak together digitally.

Looking at more than just businesses though, the people within these corporations have also had to adapt, changing the way they socialise with their family and friends - everyone’s on houseparty these days, it’s becoming second nature.

So, if we were to take a longer-term view of business, I suppose there are three ways of looking at it:

  • Is it a slight shift in the way we work? When this is over and we’ve found a vaccine and eradicated COVID-19, do we go back to work but perhaps we’re all a little bit better at using digital?
  • Will it go 50/50? Will people realise that being in the office everyday isn’t necessary and that we don’t need to fly to New York for a meeting for a few hours and fly back?
  • Or will it be a complete digital transformation? Are people going to give up office space because of the incredibly high overheads, and in the last few weeks haven’t we proven the point that a lot of businesses don’t need it?

My gut feeling is that it’ll be a 70/30 split, this change is going to have a huge impact on the ‘new normal’. In all honesty, it was always going to go that way, the idea of things like the HS2 high speed rail link between London and the north - it seems barmy to me that that is still being considered a feasible project. I think COVID has really focused everybody’s minds on how we can potentially do business in a different, remote way and it has certainly expedited projects and processes. Things that would have taken 5-6 years are now taking 5-6 months.

Dan: I couldn’t agree more, from my point of view as a recruiter, in terms of digital tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom, I’ll be honest, I was really uneducated on both of them -  yet using these platforms has been a real focus for me over the last 8-10 weeks. It’s fantastic, the difference between having a phone call and having the ability to operate on a digital platform and use face-to-face technology is massive. You get so much more from someone in a video call, and from a recruiter’s perspective, that’s a real advantage.

Moving forwards, I’m trying my utmost to move away from phone calls and have more video calls. 

Ben: I agree, although people are more reluctant to move to video, as you have to see your own face, and no one likes doing that - I certainly don’t. Two months ago, I would have hated doing a video interview, but being forced to do it on a daily basis helps.

The other barrier was technology, my parents for example, they’re in their 70s and they wouldn’t dream of video calling. But they’ll come around to the idea and it’ll become second nature.

The bit that people will struggle with, especially in an interview situation, is emotional intelligence - really understanding somebody that you’re not physically in the room with. I’m sure there are stats out there that say a huge percentage of a conversation is done through body language, with less emphasis on the words spoken, and even then, another huge emphasis for language processing is on intonation.

There’s a big opportunity coming for companies to coach people on delivering presentations, especially for those who’re actively working or selling via video conferencing situations. I think more people will recognise that they need help doing that and it’ll become the next thing to focus on.

Once the world reopens from the pandemic known as COVID-19, it will be interesting to see how all types of businesses react to operating in the ‘new normal’ – and until that happens, it’s paramount that individuals from the digital sector lead transformational change. And, who even knows – we might possibly wonder why we hadn’t embraced it sooner.

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Daniel Nation

4th June