How COVID Has – and Hasn’t – Transformed EB Strategy

January 20, 2021 • 4 min read

How COVID Has – and Hasn’t – Transformed EB Strategy

Hannah King

Hannah King

When COVID struck early last year, the natural response for many employer brand teams was “We need to stop what we’re doing and start again from scratch”. It was certainly a conversation we had internally, but as the situation developed, we began to understand how the pandemic was affecting the talent market, and what we could do to ensure our team felt supported. Staying true to our existing EVP whilst tweaking along the way has helped us continue to attract the talent that we need to continue the momentum of our business.

I’d like to take the opportunity to talk about what 2020 taught me about employer branding, and how I think it might continue to shape the field for years to come.

How the pandemic impacted the candidate market

How are you going to keep me safe?’ This is the question being asked by candidates who are increasingly seeking safety and security from their employer, both financial and physical. It’s a question that many employers hadn’t really considered before.

The answer is a particularly difficult message to communicate in the current environment. As a global organisation, COVID has impacted GSK in different ways and at different times across our sites. As a pharmaceutical company our operations are essential, adding to the challenge.   We’ve tried really hard to show the reality of working through a pandemic, and, on a more operational level, being super clear when repurposing content that may have been gathered in advance of the crisis. It’s been hugely important to demonstrate the reality of working when many of our people still need to be on-site.

We’ve done a lot of work around educating candidates on how and why our processes have changed.

The other major impact that we have seen during the pandemic is how it has impacted recruitment volumes, processes and onboarding. We’ve done a lot of work around educating candidates on how and why our processes have changed. We’ve also interviewed new employees about our new virtual recruitment and onboarding processes, to get a sense of the benefits and the limitations. We make these videos publicly available, hosting them on our careers site and giving them to our recruiters to share.

The changing face of employer branding

How has the pandemic changed employer branding? Perhaps the largest shift has revolved around remote work, with a huge chunk of the workforce now expecting work from home (WFH) or work from anywhere (WFA) opportunities.

But despite all the hype around remote work, it’s important that we remember that not all roles can be done remotely. The assumption that this will be the rule going forward simply isn’t accurate for the majority of the working population.

It’s important that we remember that not all roles can be done remotely.

For the roles that can be tackled remotely, it’s important to remember that not everyone prefers this style of work. Sure, many people would be happy to work from home forever, but for others the office allows them to separate professional from personal, and many simply don’t have an appropriate workspace at home. I have colleagues who are climbing the walls to get back into the office.

What remote working has done is force organisations to think more flexibly about their recruitment. “Does this role really need to be based in HQ” they might ask themselves, “or could someone at another site or even in another country do the job?”

What remote working has done is force organisations to think more flexibly about their recruitment.

Doing so presents yet another challenge for employer branding teams, one that I see as perhaps the greatest that the pandemic has thrown up: how do you maintain culture and camaraderie when your team is so disjointed?

Prioritising within your EB strategy

To my mind, the number one focus for employer branding teams must be to maintain your culture in an increasingly isolated and virtual world. There is no single, simple answer to this, and it’s a question that my team continues to grapple with. Virtual engagement seems to get old quickly – I was certainly over all the Zoom seminars/webinars/quizzes I attended last year! So you need to find ways to engage teams in innovative ways. I think cadence is key here too.

The number one focus for employer branding teams must be to maintain your culture in an increasingly isolated and virtual world.

As mentioned at the top, you should also prioritise being transparent about how hiring is being impacted – how the process might be more virtual than previous, whether the candidate might be left waiting longer than normal in places, and how onboarding works for newly hired remote employees.

There are things an employer branding team should also deprioritise given the current climate. We all like to talk about the awards we’ve won – they offer a flattering reflection of the culture while projecting a high-performance image – but we have definitely scaled back our messaging around this. To us it felt inappropriate and quite self-indulgent during such a sobering time.

We’ve also changed our tone of voice to be far more informative. Ensuring our content feels appropriate has been really important.

Why the fundamentals are as important as ever

How do EB teams not only make it through the pandemic, but see success on the other side?

My first tip is don’t panic! At GSK we decided that our EVP wouldn’t change, so rather than downing tools and starting over, we instead looked at ways we could adapt. We were still using the same messaging framework, we were simply looking at it through a different lens. We sought stories from our employees about how they were adapting, how the business around them was changing, and how all of this was still reflective of our EVP.

Staying true to our existing EVP whilst tweaking along the way has helped us continue to attract the talent that we need to continue the momentum of our business.

I’d also say that when the outside world feels so chaotic, it can be tempting to focus on the external audience rather than the internal, but you need to ensure your message is resonating with both sides. Utilise internal surveys and conduct ad hoc assessments of your internal channels, and marry those results up with the external messaging. Understand how your external comms are landing, and whether roles are being filled, and cross-reference these results with the internal messaging.

In truth the pandemic makes no difference to these processes – you should have been using them pre-COVID, and you should continue to use them long after.

In the end, COVID hasn’t really changed EB fundamentals. It has simply highlighted different areas of focus, and demanded slightly different approaches.

But the tenants of good employer branding remain.

About the author: Hannah is the Global Employer Lead for international healthcare company GSK in London. With over 15 years experience under her belt, Hannah has a passion for creating authentic, differentiated contentTalent Acquisition and Employer Branding.