Unlocking the Lockdown with Simon Cheshire – CEO, MRG

Fatima Ali asks Simon Cheshire of MRG five questions about the business, strategy and life after coronavirus lockdown:

When do you anticipate unpicking the lock down will begin and how long will it take to become fully operational again?

Ultimately, we will be led by our clients and by the government guidelines. For us, it is not straight-forward as we operate across different sectors, Real Estate, Public Sector Estate Management, Development. Some are saying it will be longer term and possibly Q4 and some are ahead of others. We have Residential clients planning to re-mobilise sites today, in Higher Education the October term seems to mark the return to some degree of normality and Property and Asset Management has been operational throughout.

Bid Recruitment, our specialist Bids & Marketing business has been put on hold but should bounce back quickly as companies return eager to secure new work.

In general terms, I think we all expect the easing of the lock-down through May and businesses will then need time to find their feet before recruitment really picks up again. We expect to be back to some semblance of normality at the end of June but working from home as much as possible.

I am still not sure I can see a day soon when we will all be confident enough to stand on a packed commuter train into Central London!

What are the challenges for our business and how do you plan to overcome them?

The clients we have been working with through the lock-down (NHS, Education, Asset Management) have embraced technology and we have a re-invented process. We are hosting interviews using Microsoft Teams and helping with remote on-boarding plans, and it is working. We are supporting decision-making using the latest testing tools and more intense investigation. Feedback from clients and candidates is good. One of the upsides of good well-planned competency interviews conducted via Teams is the focus on the quality and relevance of the answers, free from any distractions or pre- judgements.

Whilst I think that in the medium term there will be a return to face to face meetings for final stage selection interviews and panels,  I would hope that we can continue to convert more clients to conducting first stage selection processes using Teams. It is a revelation in terms of efficiency, travel and cost and we know it works.

As a business we have been moving towards flexible working for some time and this has accelerated our plans. Long term I can see MRG adopting a flexible pattern with working from home becoming more regular. The office will always be somewhere to meet, plan and share within your team, a place to meet clients and candidates, but not five days a week.

Do you have a post lock down coronavirus or pandemic plan?

Yes, and it is about how we work, keeping our team safe and then how we work with our clients.

As I have said we need to work flexibly. We need to invest in and adopt technology to be able to do this. In the short term when we are in the office, we are planning to desk share to limit the number in at any one time (50% max, using every other desk) and only be in to share ideas or meet key people.

The board room will become the main meeting room as it is big enough to maintain distance yet still collaborate.

What will be the lasting effects on our business and the way we operate?

The lockdown has forced change onto the recruitment process. Before the pandemic I could see the recruitment, process changing gradually, with more skype calls and more VC meetings but this has catapulted that process forward massively.

With good technology and good training and planning, we, and our clients can conduct effective first stage selection interviews via video or Teams.  The success is in the content and the planning and we can help both clients and candidates with this.

We can also have shortlist meetings and interview debriefs online and we can all stop travelling as much.

The lockdown has also highlighted the importance of social media. It has been a big part of our candidate capture work and will be even more so at the centre of our communications strategies.

What is the key lesson you have learned from this pandemic?

Life throws you challenges, and you need to find ways to solve them. This is a big one.

And probably like many others, we need a better Business Continuity Plan.


Unlocking the Lockdown Series 

Stephen Wells, University of Surrey

John Webber, Colliers

Stewart Moore, CRM Students

Jessica Gallop, Student Roost

Jane Donachy and James Greenwood, UAL

Mark Bolton, Strettons

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