An Unexpected Benefit of a Pandemic: MSG’s Story

Posted on October 27, 2020

By Eric Floyd

For many, 2020 has been one of the most challenging years on record. Both personally and professionally, we have – at the very least – all faced massive uncertainty and change. While we share this common experience, each person, family, and organization have their own story to tell.

As you can imagine, during this period of unprecedented layoffs, hiring freezes, and corporate restructuring, the recruitment industry faced some unique challenges. After all, if companies aren’t hiring recruitment is redundant.

For MacDonald Search Group, 2020 was always slated to be transformative. We never could have anticipated exactly how it would change us or, despite the odds, how much stronger we are as a result.

Here’s our story:


MacDonald Search Group (MSG) came into 2020 with unmatched optimism. The company forecasted our best year ever, with additional team members joining our BC and Alberta offices, and our new Toronto office hitting its stride. We were ready to make it one for the books.

February came and the buzz about a virus grew louder. Like most, at the time, we were not too alarmed. We continued with business as usual, meeting new clients at their offices and attending to the steady stream of candidates coming through our own offices for initial interviews.

March started out with a roar. By mid-month, we had surpassed last year’s average month.

Change and Uncertainty

However, things started to unfold quickly in March as we watched infection numbers in Italy, Iran, and other places growing exponentially. There were murmurs of a pandemic, which quickly became alarm bells. Grocery store shelves were emptied out, hospitals filled, professional sports leagues suspended their seasons, and suddenly, our business came to a grinding halt. It seemed to happen in a flash.

It was midday on Tuesday, March 17th when MSG made the decision to have our entire team, from all offices across the country, work from home. Everyone scrambled to grab their monitors, printers, and files, setting up our home offices for the foreseeable future. As with so many people around the world, we didn’t know where this would lead.

We scheduled a company-wide Zoom meeting that Friday to discuss the state of things. During a time where we had all heard about numerous recruitment firms laying off the majority of their staff, there was a palpable tension on the call. Quickly, our Managing Partner reassured us that MSG was committed to keeping our firm together and that we had the resources to stick it out. Our “desk” reviews were a bit bleak with most of the conversation focusing on lost searches and lost revenue. We would have our next group Zoom meeting the following Friday.

Creating a New Normal

As we had done the week prior, we shared updates, which largely consisted of lost searches and lost revenue. Not exactly a pick-me-up.

Bruce knew that we needed to change things up. In addition to doing our work, we needed to try and create as much positivity out of this experience as possible. To start, he decided to have team trivia every Friday during the company-wide Zoom meetings.

We started with baby pictures. Everyone had to guess which picture belonged to which colleague and whomever had the most correct answers would receive a bottle of wine! Granted, there were a few gimmies - Our fearless leader’s photo was the only one in black and white, for example. As you can imagine, he has yet to live this down.

Subsequent weeks’ trivia included first concerts, first cars (Victor’s 70s Trans Am was an easy pick!), and favourite childhood toys. We shared and laughed more with each other in a few weeks than many of us had done over years. What started as a way to escape the bleak reality became a tool to help our team grow closer.

Building Connection

In addition to the now much-anticipated weekly colleague trivia, each Friday company-wide included structured conversation on what we had control over: Our choices and our ideas. Each week, we brainstormed potential improvements to our way of doing business and shared what we had done to set ourselves up for success when the industry picked up again.

Our team was remarkably effective. One team member had taken time to overhaul our company marketing material. Another spent two days in the office on his own cleaning up old files and creating order out of his chaotic office. One team member took a deep dive into our ATS software to find new efficiencies that were shared with the group. And amid the work, we shared stories and laughs surrounding the challenges of working from home. We practiced patience and compassion for others, ourselves, and our families – a skill that was particularly necessary with two young children watching Power Rangers or a dog staring at you with a tennis ball in his mouth.

And this connection didn’t stop at our company-wide meeting. One colleague shared how he was feeling like a bit of a counsellor – spending time talking to hiring managers he was working with, who were now concerned about their own job security. Another colleague shared that he had been meeting as many candidates as possible – not with any particular job in mind, but just to get to know them and have a great roster of people ready to present when companies start hiring again. Another shared that he had been connecting with former colleagues, clients from the past, and candidates he met through the years just to say hello and let them know that they and their families were in his thoughts.

Better Than Ever

As the world started to spin again, we were eager to get back to our productive environment and safe office practices. We established a rigorous protocol in alignment with Health Canada regulations to make this possible

We returned back to the office fulltime in mid-May, with social distancing, mask-wearing, and habitually sanitizing anything we touched – among many other once-foreign practices – becoming second nature.

While we never could have planned it, our company culture has truly been defined through these challenging times. We’re now a stronger, more tightly knit team than ever.

For MSG, the summer months saw us operating at about 70% of normal. October marked the point where we were finally back at 100%. While the COVID crisis is not over, companies have started hiring again and our team has arrived back in the office, even better prepared to support you than ever before.

We are eager to meet as many great people as we can. Check out our current job listings. Even if we don’t have your dream job, please reach out. When that perfect role does come across our desk, we will have you top of mind.