By Mark Ladds – Director, Interim Practice
At the very end of last year I sat down to write an interim market update and life, as we all know, was very, very different. The market was buoyant, businesses were in the final throes of planning for a successful 2020 and the mere suggestion of entire companies working remotely would have been met with more than just raised eyebrows.
That said, with all my well-intentioned predictions thrown firmly out the window within the first couple of months of 2020, how has the interim HR market fared subsequently?
The effect of COVID-19 on the interim market
As restrictions began to increase and lockdown loomed, we saw a swift curtailing of almost all interim hiring as businesses, and HR teams in particular, pivoted quickly to tackle the many challenges that lockdown brought. Almost all pre-existing interim requirements were cancelled as businesses looked to focus efforts on navigating this unprecedented situation and those already in interim assignments were told that their role was suddenly under review as companies sought to cut costs rapidly. Non-essential projects were put on hold and, where possible, responsibilities were shared amongst the permanent headcount as many interims found themselves finishing assignments earlier than expected. Some of those that stayed on were asked to reduce their day rate or, in some instances, move onto a part-time basis. And yet, whilst all this uncertainty was unfolding there were still new interim requirements coming on to the market.
A tale of two halves
I’ve spoken with many interims and clients over the last 6 months, many of whom naturally compare things to the financial crash of 07/08 but agree we find ourselves in a very different situation. Financial services underpinned so much that almost everyone was affected then, and yet Covid-19 has seen businesses adapt where possible and consumer habits change almost overnight.
Whilst many high street retailers shut with immediate effect and began the unenviable task of furloughing their workforce, we literally queued in long lines outside Tesco and Sainsbury’s to buy essentials. Arguably lesser known technology companies such as Zoom became an overnight success story whilst others like Airbnb and OYO have understandably undergone significant restructures. Gyms and exercise studios sat empty but in turn sales of home gym equipment and bicycles skyrocketed. Insurance, alcohol (as well as broader FMCG) and healthcare have all fared well and, in some instances, have performed better this year than they had anticipated before Covid-19 was even at our doorstep. The juxtaposition of the market is startling. Yes, it is undeniably a difficult time for so many however there is another section of the market that is continuing to perform well.
The primary focus for all organisations has been around supporting their people and we’ve seen experienced Interims within HR Operations and Payroll be highly sought after in particular. There has been a desire to ensure things run as smoothly as possible during an extremely challenging time and, with the introduction of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, payroll experts have had to double down to ensure that errors aren’t made or, on occasion, swiftly rectify those that have already occurred.
It’s almost inevitable that, as the furlough scheme is completely wound down, there will be further restructures and this has led to some conversations around broader transformation programmes that will likely take place later this year or early next which would also benefit from interim support.
So, are we turning a corner?
It certainly feels that way but if we have learnt anything during the pandemic it’s that nothing is certain!
From talking to clients it’s likely that we will see an increased appetite to engage with interims in a more consultative manner (e.g. X days per month as opposed to the traditional full-time, 5 days per week arrangement) as businesses navigate this uncertain landscape. More recent conversations are placing emphasis on OD and change in particular, as companies continue to adapt to new ways of working and, in some instances, consider the design and implementation of whole new target operating models.
As we exit the traditional summer period and schools reopen, we are cautiously optimistic that we will continue to see a steady increase in demand for experienced interim support through to the end of the year and into 2021.