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24 January 2022

The impact of the pandemic on the world of work: the new HR trends according to Giulia Vitetta

Giulia Vitetta, the HR & General Services Director of the Mashfrog Group, talked to us about the profound changes the pandemic has imposed on the labour market and how our company has responded to the new needs of applicants and employees.

Giulia Vitetta joined Mashfrog in January 2020, a few months before the pandemic burst out over Italy and the rest of the world. In her role as head of the group's HR and General Services teams, she inevitably had to deal with all the difficulties and changes this event caused in the world of work. From wellbeing initiatives to smart working, she spoke to us in this interview about how the Mashfrog Group is dealing with this complex period, and about what HR trends all employers need to follow in order to keep up with the new expectations of workers.

Let's start with a few words about you ... how did you start out professionally speaking? 

I have a humanistic background: after secondary school I graduated in philosophy, something which undoubtedly helped me to understand the complexity of the challenges in general. After graduation, I started my career by working in head hunting. I believe this most of all taught me to study people's skills and to understand organisations and their needs. I subsequently moved within the HR departments of various companies in the IT and Digital Media world, thus in market sectors which are also highly innovative as regards HR issues.

I joined Mashfrog in January 2020, with the role of Head of the HR and General Services teams. My role grew out of the group's need to create an effective recruitment strategy to accompany the company's growth, both in Italy and internationally, and to create career paths which would enhance key people within the group, attracting new talent and finding the best ways to make them grow professionally, both quickly and in tune with the group's strategic objectives. 

How many professionals is your team composed of and who are they?

The HR team I manage comprises a total of six people, based in either Rome or Milan, plus two individuals based abroad, one in London and one in Belgrade. The GS team comprises two people based in Rome. Some of them deal with the administrative aspects of HR, while others deal with the employee's entire pathway, from recruitment to training and professional development. The teams are generally composed of very young adults, something which I find very stimulating, because it allows me to work with people who are intellectually lively, creative and flexible, and they all bring great added value to the team. 

As with the rest of the company, we improve the pathways for internal growth, employing junior professionals from the market so as to train them and make them effective in a fast-paced company like ours.

The world of work has been turned upside down by the pandemic: what are the most significant differences you've encountered between before and after? And how has Mashfrog adapted to this change?

With the pandemic, the balance between our private and our professional lives has become important to us all, so much so that the crucial question applicants ask recruiters nowadays is whether or not smart working is possible. I believe that companies must be able to provide clear answers on this issue, especially in a working context increasingly influenced by the phenomenon of the Great Resignation: we need only to recall that the rate of voluntary resignation in Italy between April and June 2021 was 37% higher than in the same period last year It's obvious that more and more people want to relocate to jobs which allow for a greater work/life balance, and that there is likely to be a strong redistribution from jobs in declining sectors to more productive ones which allow for a more flexible lifestyle.

The other aspect highlighted by remote working is the sense of isolation many employees felt during the pandemic. Young people, both new hires and junior workers, particularly suffered, both because of the lack of a supporting family network, and because they more than others felt the lack of being able to share an organisational culture with other colleagues. The theme of collaboration has become an essential, key element in the learning of new skills; it reminds us that the company must remain a social place, and that our main purpose is to bring together a group of people around a common project.

For us at Mashfrog, the transition to full smart working has not had as significant an impact as in other companies, both because of the sector in which we operate, and because we’d started to introduce this mode of working even before the pandemic. Undoubtedly, however, we’ve also been called on to respond to our employees.

We did this by making our main HR priorities our attraction and engagement plans, the main drivers of which were, and will be, welfare, training, career development and the development of a sense of belonging even when hybrid working.

What are the main initiatives implemented for improving the working well-being and quality of life of employees in this tricky period? 

The pandemic has accelerated, and in some cases led to, the birth of some new processes which are more responsive to the needs of applicants and employees: some initiatives have already started, others are underway, and still more are planned.

First of all, the company intends to leave some professionals in full remote working, those whom we realise have no real need to be in the office; for others, we've instead established a hybrid solution which envisages their presence in the office for a maximum of two days a week.

In addition, we've completely revised the employee onboarding process, by inventing a system which, despite being virtual, is able to connect us more empathically with those we're dealing with. We set up a video call with new employees on their first day in work in which we tell them how the company is organised, who the main points of reference are and how we're organised. We show them all the personnel management tools, so that they have an immediate general overview. 

The other initiatives worth mentioning include the activation of a new virtual method of training updates, so that employees can manage their professional growth from home; the initiation of continuous feedback, an intermediate step within the performance management process which allows managers and co-workers to connect in a mutual and continuous exchange of feedback; and, finally, a series of corporate welfare initiatives have been introduced, including the provision of a loan to each employee through the proprietary platform Miobenefit.

Last but not least, the latest company initiative in chronological order is that of the Corporate Diversity Equity & Inclusion Programme: we're working on a programme which, among other things, also envisages inclusive hiring, by which we mean the inclusion of individuals under-represented in the company in the interview phase. Inclusion must increasingly be a right for everyone and not a privilege for a few, so our DE&I policy must also start from recruiting so as to ensure an equal approach to every applicant.

Let's talk a little about recruiting… why should a professional choose to work in the Mashfrog Group rather than anywhere else?

The new generations have different reasons for choosing one job rather than another, and these are not merely based on pay. Most young people today choose a job on the basis of the company's purpose. In our sector, this often has to do with issues of social sustainability, something which we at Mashfrog have been working on for some time. I believe that all companies must be able to interpret the spirit of the times. It is no longer just a matter of the proposed role and economics; it's characterised by the employee's need to find that the company has new and innovative solutions as regards the problems close to our hearts today, in the fields of both the environment and social responsibility. Many applicants choose Mashfrog for precisely this reason, as it's very attentive to these issues as a company. 

And what essential characteristics must an applicant possess in order to work in Mashfrog?

As well as the technical skills, which are obviously essential, the soft skills we look for in applicants are very much in line with Mashfrog 's core values: continuous development, innovation, growth and, I would add, entrepreneurship. This is because it's important that everyone who works at Mashfrog does so as though the company were their own, thus accepting the fact that they may go beyond their specific area of responsibility as a challenge, not as a problem.

Furthermore, the pandemic has created such a discontinuity with the past that in addition to the traditional proficiencies we're used to, we must start running new training courses, in order to have skills which are as cross-sectional and diversified as possible, so as to able to give answers from various points of view. 

We'll have to deal with the complex situation for a long period of time — despite vaccinations, alas! — and there is consequently no sectoral knowledge which will alone ensure we've the skills we'll need. Hence the need to bring people with a variety of backgrounds to the company to face this great challenge.

Finally, a look to the future: which HR trends will dominate the organisation and management of resources in 2022? 

I envisage that there will be at least five trends in the HR field for the next year:

- The normalisation of remote working. It's up to companies to take responsibility for making this as effective as possible for everyone, by using technology to manage their co-workers remotely.

- The correct response to employees' different expectations actually emerged with the pandemic. It's also up to companies to continue to create new corporate values which are compatible with the major ongoing transformational scenarios (the Green Deal, the Climate Challenge and the Italian Recovery and Resilience Plan). 

- The transformation of the workplace: the office is no longer the place you go to work; it must increasingly become the environment in which people build relationships and the place thanks to which they learn to work better, as well as that in which the company's values are shown. Learning through observation requires physical closeness and casual encounters between different individuals are a rich source of innovation. Offices will therefore primarily serve as a place to build a culture of learning and foster human connections with the help of technology.

- We'll have to work more and more on issues related to employees’ mental well-being (this is one of the topics included in our DE&I Programme). Before the pandemic, all workers, women most of all, were used to planning their private lives in relation to their working lives. However, the real challenge today is understanding that work must be planned around our private lives, because the needs of the individual must be more important than the time dedicated to work.

- Last but not least, the development of empathic leadership in our management. It's up to managers to create an empathic relationship with their co-workers and to design jobs for them which are too stimulating to be abandoned. With the pandemic we've reached a deeper understanding of the fact that work and our private lives are interconnected spheres which affect each other.