Paul Sculpher, co-director of Gaming Recruitment Solutions, explains the rapidly evolving landscape of recruitment in the gaming industry now that working from home is gaining ground. This article originally appeared in the July/August edition of Gambling Insider magazine.
Working from home – WFH – is obviously a concept with which a whole lot of people have become far more familiar in the various lockdown situations across the world. The nature of the offline gaming industry has meant it’s been unable, at an operational level, to take advantage of the opportunity to work from home, however, and has been devastated. Online betting and gaming operators, on the other hand, have in some sectors seen significant gains, which will be boostednow that there’s a lot more sport to bet on. We are taking baby steps towards lifting the current movement restrictions, and while casinos are finally being allowed to reopen with strict new guidelines in place, the mindset seems to have shifted from fear of the unknown to buckling up and getting ready for resumption of trading, and the bumpy ride that’s likely to ensue.
The end of the office?
Every element of the supply chain has been affected by the changes, whether by lack of demand or personal struggles with social distancing. Recruitment is no different. GRS Recruitment is an agency
that covers not just the UK, but all over the world too, and for us the concept of a central office has never been particularly relevant. We had already moved towards a working model that was pretty decentralised, with my co-director Steven Jackson and I primarily working from our homes, with our finance and admin function also remote, and our accountancy requirements covered by our partners a good 300 miles away.
The future of the “commute to office” model has been uncertain for a while now, and the sudden onset of the virus crisis has meant many companies have had to run what amounts to a live test of the process. The upsides of the WFH culture are obvious to all, starting with money, time and stress saved by not having to commute. Once the concept really beds in, however, it offers so much more. One clear example is that the talent pool is opened up, internationally in some cases, by not restricting team members to those who live within an hour or so of the office, and you won’t find too many people who will complain about saving the cost of a season ticket and a couple of hours a day in cramped public transport.
The virus has also pretty much forced us all to learn the basics of online working and meetings. Anyone who has run a quiz (or participated in one) will be familiar with how to work Zoom or Microsoft Teams, for example, and progressed to figuring out etiquette for things like muting their microphone when not speaking.
There are downsides of course. Training needs a different approach, and the benefit gained from team members at all levels interacting casually in the office is lost, along with some of the team spirit. Companies can no longer rely on their shiny office with refrigerators, beanbags and a ping pong table to tip the recruitment balance in their favour, for example, but speaking for myself, any part of that which is appealing is never far away, and certainly doesn’t involve an hour’s journey.
Recruitment in a WFH world
The gaming industry has historically been something like 60% offline work and 40% online, and we’d be lying if we said the offline element in particular hasn’t taken a hit from the virus situation. Operational roles have largely been taken off the table until operators understand what the business looks like post-virus – indeed, at least one of our placements that was in progress as the lockdown commenced has ended up not leaving their previous employer – possibly temporarily – so they don’t fall through the cracks of the furlough programme.
It’s fair to say, however, that some elements even of the offline industry have kept ticking along. Compliance – one of our core areas – are still grinding away in some companies, taking the downtime as a valuable opportunity to refine strategies at the senior end, and work through the backlog of customers requiring EDD or KYC verification at the more functional end of the business. It feels like there are new guidelines coming out every week at the moment too – currently focussed on online gambling – so the wheels of interpretation and adjustment of procedures never stop turning.
The online element of our business on the other hand is ploughing on as before, as one might imagine. The gradual consolidation of the online industry doesn’t stop companies needing to refresh their teams, and the dynamic nature of the industry means there are always plenty of firms who need specialist help to find the perfect candidate to take their business to the next level.
There are also upsides to the shift to working from home from a pure recruitment point of view. We can get a candidate list to a client more quickly at the moment. Part of that is due to the general availability of candidates to us, given they’re not stuck in an office where these conversations are difficult if not impossible. Also, while meeting candidates isn’t something we do in all cases, everyone’s growing familiarity with the online communication process is making life easier all round.
The personal approach
The fundamentals of our recruitment business have been affected, but not totally turned upside down. In a relatively small field like betting and gaming, we always like to think there’s never more than one degree of separation between Steven and me, and any candidate in the industry. Put another way, in pretty much all cases, we will either know the candidate we’re putting forward or we’ll know someone who has worked with them, so we’re very rarely in the dark about their strengths and weaknesses. We feel this is a key part of what we offer as a recruitment partner. That hasn’t changed with the lockdown and working from home situation. What has changed, of course, is the chance to get out there in the operations, meet new people and network. Previously on our travels, we’d be forever meeting new people in the industry, which aside from the general enjoyment of that, it was valuable in terms both of finding potential new clients and candidates.
Naturally the interview process is changing in this period of social distancing as well, with video calling via Skype, Zoom or equivalent. Most employers would prefer to meet a candidate face to face, of course,
but when forced, a good proportion is finding that a video call is a perfectly good substitute. Whether this approach will outlive the pandemic is anyone’s guess, but there could certainly be a huge amount of inconvenience avoided by running at least the first part of a selection process remotely.
It’s worth a very brief word to remind everyone of the basics of online interviewing. As noted above, we’re all getting better at it, but there are obvious pitfalls to avoid. An obvious one is how one dresses. Businesslike is always best for candidates of course, and while we’ve all had Zoom calls with, shall we say, the top half of our clothing not matching the bottom half, bear in mind what happens if during your interview the doorbell rings. It’s unavoidable, employers understand we’re supposed to be staying at home and can’t control deliveries, so if you’ve gone for the cooling relief of an underwear-based clothing solution below the waist, you’re in a mess.
Following on from the entirely tedious “controversy” about books found on the bookcases of some political interviewees (in the background of their video interviews at home), I’ve seen a couple of comments from candidates who were mortified about what reading material might be visible to interviewers. Our standard response to this would be that if the interviewer was paying that much attention to the bookcase contents, the interview probably wasn't going that well in any case – or more simply, just blur the background.
Finally, there are always technical hiccups to avoid, and we all have connection problems from time to time. A degree of understanding will generally be the case. Again, we don’t always have the option to run the interview in a super high bandwidth location, but use some common sense and if your connection is flaky, try and avoid two kids watching Netflix and another streaming a new video game at the same time.
Offline to online
I’ve written elsewhere about the prospect of offline managers migrating to online, but we believe it will be an increasingly common phenomenon. We’ve certainly seen a massive increase in the number of offline managers known to us looking for a way to move into a sector with better prospects, and many of them are of exceptionally high quality. Consultation processes are underway in several of the larger offline casino operators, with a view to a very different structure post virus, at least at first. It’s tough times out there, but there are plenty of exceptional people who will fall victim to circumstance, and we’re all in prime position to help prospective employers pick the best of them.