Some new-car dealers are offering employees the option of working from home permanently, a situation that began as a necessity during the early weeks of the pandemic but has become a key to attracting talent, industry experts say.
John Hairabedian, CEO of the Quebec-based HGregoire auto group, said employees in marketing, engineering, information technology and data science are now permanently working remotely. While only 40 of HGregoire’s 1,000 employees remain at home, their roles are suited to being performed off-site, Hairabedian said.
“We believe we can, in the future, attract better candidates by offering work-from-home [in these roles]. We’ll stay work-from-home, even when a vaccine comes out.”
Dealers who resist full- or part-time remote work could be at a hiring disadvantage just as the labour pool is rife with talent and open to new possibilities, said Mike McSherry, director of strategic partnerships at the recruiting software provider Hireology.
“This is a really opportune moment for automotive, which has recovered way more quickly than some other heavily affected industries,” he told Automotive News Canada. “Wouldn’t it be great to have somebody working at [your] dealership that worked in an Apple Store?
“Now, that opportunity is real, but you have to be intentional about it.”
FINDING NEW SKILLS IN NEW WAYS
Many job seekers come from industries harder hit by the pandemic, McSherry said, such as travel and hospitality, entertainment and the gig economy. These workers tend to be young and tech-savvy, making them ideal for the changing demands of customer service and digital sales roles.
However, they might have preconceptions about working in automotive and need to be approached in new ways, McSherry said. This could include using social media as a hiring tool, being open to fixed compensation models or setting clear expectations and measurable performance benchmarks.
Mike Stollery, founder of the AutoIQ dealership network and chairman of the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association, said some of his group’s F&I managers continued to work from home after dealerships reopened. Zoom rooms were created where customers would walk into empty offices and use video conferencing to interact with F&I managers located off-site.
“It did [make] some customers [more comfortable] as we were going through COVID,” Stollery said.
This strategy is also being employed by groups seeking flexibility and safety for F&I managers who, because they often work in small offices, might be more susceptible to COVID-19, said Fleming Ford, vice-president of ESI Trends, a U.S.-based automotive workforce consultancy.
“F&I people are probably more valuable to a dealership because they’re harder to find, so that would be maybe where they would make accommodations,” Ford said.
ROOM FOR SHOWROOMS
Stollery said the AutoIQ group, headquartered in Barrie, Ont., was able to make most roles workable during the government-mandated lockdown. However, the degree to which customers have returned to showrooms in recent months proves that there will continue to be a need for staff in brick-and-mortar locations.
“If our customers want to be in the dealership, we have to be in the dealership,” Stollery said. “It’s like buying a watch or anything that has emotional attachment. It’s nice to go and have the experience of seeing things live.
“I think there will be people in facilities for a long, long time. But when it’s needed for safety and otherwise, to have people working remotely will make sense.”
Kim Day, COO at Nova Scotia-based Steele Auto Group, said the company’s customer care centre has shifted to permanent remote work.
“They were very successful through COVID working from their homes, and they prefer to work from home, so that will probably continue,” she said in an Automotive News Canada retail forum webcast Aug. 25.
Making work-life balance available in roles that require some on-site attendance is key to employee retention, McSherry said. Flexible remote work and other perks are readily available in other industries, such as technology, he said.
“Dealerships have been notorious about, ‘Well, I used to work 12 hours a day standing up at my desk eating lunch; and you will, too,’” he said. “That’s not going to serve them well moving forward. ... If somebody needs a half day off on Mondays because they have a loved one they need to take care of, give them the time they need.
“You can have individuals work from home, you can be successful, without having to keep a watchful eye over your employees every waking minute.”