2020 promised to be a year full of exciting challenges for our organisation Bright Plus, formerly Secretary Plus. On 11 October 2019, we opted for a new name, a new vision and new opportunities. However, the greatest challenge came from an unexpected quarter, namely, COVID-19, that has turned the entire world upside down.
To meet the challenge of this crisis, we are staying faithful to our values – an optimistic mindset and a professional and personal approach. What about the Plus? That is our employees. They were and continue to be the Plus in Bright Plus. A look back at a turbulent year, but also a look ahead to a hopeful future.
Bright Plus, 27 jaar ervaring
A turbulent year
On 11 October 2020, we celebrate our first anniversary as Bright Plus. Although this memorable event coincides with an unexpected crisis, it does not prevent my team or I from being any less proud of anything we have achieved over the past year. For everyone, 2020 is the year that revolves around the coronavirus, the lockdown, and the strict measures that are profoundly changing our lives, the business world and the labour market. All companies in non-essential sectors had to close on 13 March, and large numbers of us took to working from home. Very soon this became the largest HR experiment ever carried out. Just like many other organisations, we also had to respond quickly and we tried to meet the challenge of this crisis from one day to the next at a distance, but nevertheless together.
It soon became clear that this would have a huge impact on our business. The figures from the Belgian Federation of HR partners (Federgon) showed that temporary employment activities went down by almost 46% in the second half of March. This fall in activities called for considerable versatility and resilience from the entire HR sector, and so from our organisation too.
Connectivity remains key
Versatility was expressed in matters that became more essential than ever as an organisation to survive the sudden obligations imposed by the lockdown, namely, crisis management, communication, trusting others and building up trust, and team spirit. This was an additional challenge as the lockdown was mainly characterised by physical distance and uncertainty. These themes also became top priorities within Bright Plus. Although connection, communication and trust were the cornerstones of our organisation before the crisis, we gave specific attention to these during the lockdown. We made every effort to connect digitally, and we organised daily and weekly conference calls, an online assistant day, a quiz night with colleagues or webinars and online training courses with our clients and candidates. Furthermore, as management we continued to focus above all on open and transparent communication, in all directions, for both good news, and more difficult messages. This connectivity with our employees, but also with our clients and candidates, guided us through the lockdown as one team.
This connectivity with our employees, but also with our clients and candidates, guided us through the lockdown as one team.
A shift in the labour market: a battle on two fronts
On 18 May 2020, the lockdown was cautiously lifted and companies were slowly able to resume their activities. Employees returned warily to the office. However, as in so many sectors, this also meant that not everything returned to how it was before for HR service providers. Firstly, health and safety continued to be a major concern. However, a noticeable shift in the labour market also created a new and significant challenge from that moment onwards.
Above all, the anticipated truce in the ‘war for talent’ was not forthcoming. There was a lower influx of new talent into the labour market than expected, but organisations’ demands for flexible solutions only increased. More issues needed to be resolved at increasingly faster speeds using appropriate, and highly sought after multilingual resources.
In addition, this was even more challenging due to the indisputable ‘war on jobs’. There continued to be a demand for talent, but jobs were also becoming scarce. For many companies, prudence was and still is their major asset. Large numbers of companies opted for certainty, which made them wary to recruit on a permanent basis. There has been a reduction in the traditional demand for recruitment, which means that we have been fighting on two different fronts since the coronavirus crisis.
An accelerated digitalization
Homeworking became the norm, and even meetings were usually held online. This trend continued after the lockdown, which meant that the coronacrisis caused digitalization to accelerate. The way in which we work is changing rapidly, and the importance of upskilling and reskilling is undeniable. Companies and their employees are benefiting more than ever from training and development, and particularly from new skills that quickly prepare people to work in different ways. Skills such as remote working and management, digital skills and soft skills such as communication, self-leadership, and time management are the backbone of a new post-corona workplace. Lifelong learning has become a priority for me too. As a manager, I realise how important it is to know which skills are present within the company, and which new skills are needed for an organisation to be able to grow. This can only happen, of course, when you have a good connection with your employees and you work with them on a future-proof action plan that centres on training and development, upskilling and reskilling, reorientation and retraining.
There have been increasingly louder calls for this since the onset of the coronacrisis. International studies also stress the importance of learning agility, learning curiosity, and the speed at which employees are able to refocus and retrain. A study on The Future of Work in Europe by the McKinsey Global Institute shows that 21 million people in Europe will have to switch to another job by 2030. However, the major challenge here is that most of them lack the skills to successfully make that switch. That is because the new jobs will require skills that are currently scarce. That challenge can only be tackled when companies proactively work on developing their employees.
 McKinsey Global Institute, “The future of work in Europe: Automation, workforce transitions, and the shifting geography of employment,” June 2020.
Wellbeing is a must
When the coronavirus outbreak happened, organisations naturally first went into survival mode. However, in the light of the crisis it soon became clear that we bear an important responsibility in addition to survival, namely the well-being of our employees. During the lockdown, we soon noticed how important it was to offer a listening ear to colleagues in the team. Everyone was looking for advice and reassurance. Investment in people became necessary more than ever. That is because in times of crisis, organisations and their employees benefit from a conscious well-being policy. Good care, open and transparent communication, and a closely-knit team feeling really make all the difference during these turbulent times.
In order to offer this support to our clients and candidates, my team has put together a reboarding guide. This manual guides them through the rapidly changing labour market and about investment in good care and a safe environment, both mentally and physically. Issues such as safety, connectivity, communication, how to deal with the new normal, and the importance of upskilling and reskilling are central.
With passion or not at all: a personal story
The tenth edition of Deloitte’s annual report Human Capital Trends shows that Belgian organisations are still a long way from making the world of work more people-oriented. No fewer than 89% of the Belgian employees surveyed for the report indicated that their organisations do not make intentional efforts to include well-being in their operation and policy. This is a huge missed opportunity, even more so in the light of the current crisis period.
 Deloitte, “Belgian organisations fail to prioritise well-being at work,” press release, June 18, 2020.
It is clear to me that well-being is not only a HR issue, but also a priority in the boardroom. At Bright Plus, we put employees first. Our employees are the ‘Plus’ in Bright Plus and they are the foundation of every success that we achieve as a team. As I am personally convinced that the well-being of our people is the reason why our organisation keeps growing, I passionately released the book “Passionate Full-time” on 21 September. Although I had been working on this book with my team for some months when the crisis broke out, I was a little doubtful at first as to whether this was the right time to unveil our tips and tricks. However, I ultimately decided that this was the best imaginable moment. During the crisis, I increasingly noticed the importance of investing in people. After all, it is in moments of crisis that organisations and their employees benefit from a conscious well-being policy. Taking this as a guiding principle, I want to inspire other managers and also help them to make well-being an absolute top priority in their organisations.
Moving towards a new normal together
2020 has brought many challenges. By looking back at the past year, we can learn lessons, but ultimately there is only one way and that is forward.
Versatility will become essential in 2021 and the following years, and my team and I are ready to give new meaning to the word resilience. Together we will continue to deploy new tools and skills, rediscover ourselves, and use the opportunities offered to us in these unusual times. However, above all, we will do our utmost for what really counts in our business, namely the connection with people, both online and offline.
A year after we changed our name, I can conclude that the labour market has changed dramatically. This shift not only requires versatility, but also resilience and willpower by our organisation to identify opportunities and pursue them. Consequently, in 2021 we will do our utmost to devise and achieve flexible solutions, by firmly grasping opportunities within the new labour market, continuing to invest in digitalization, freely focusing on quality, and above all taking an optimistic look to the future. After all, that enthusiasm is contagious.
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