Kathryn Cross talks the company's virtual operating model being a major factor in its survival
Legal recruitment company Artemis Executive Recruitment has weathered the COVID-19 storm to celebrate its fifth year in the industry.
For managing director Kathryn Cross, the company’s commitment to its core values and its virtual operating model have been major factors in its survival at a time when the sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic left the wider recruitment industry reeling in the first part of 2020.
“When I first communicated to my clients [during COVID-19], I said to them, ‘Artemis was almost made for a time like this,’ because we were based on a virtual operating model, we work in a flexible co working space, we have really robust IT systems and we've invested in a lot of technology,” she explains. “In many ways, those initial choices put us in great shape to navigate the impacts of COVID-19 and to help other people to do that too.”
In spite of these advantages, however, Cross had to make some decisions that she called “extremely painful.” Artemis had to undergo restructuring in the wake of the pandemic’s initial impact, which saw hiring activity in the industry grind to a halt in the first few months of 2020.
“We are very grateful and humbled by the fact that we have a privileged position to be able to walk this path when many businesses haven't fared as well,” Cross said.
One positive that came out of the COVID-19 pandemic was that it renewed the confidence of Cross and her team in Artemis’ virtual model. Cross shares that when she started the company, she eschewed the “traditional agency structure” for a model that concentrated on building a flexible workforce and a values-based community.
“That was quite radical when I started the business – I was being brave,” she says. “And I did wonder from time to time, ‘have I got this right?’. But [the pandemic] has given me the confidence that I think we did have it right.”
Cross and her team were also quick to stay connected with and to offer support to clients and industry colleagues, as well as to further bolster their systems for the future. Thus, they were able to react quickly when recruitment activity skyrocketed in the third quarter of 2020 and clients’ needs went “from zero to urgent overnight.”
However, while technology has helped to hold the company up during a challenging period, Cross maintains that it must be used in service of people, in line with the company’s focus on people first. Artemis recently facilitated the appointment of Larissa Vaughan as TSB New Zealand’s GC and GM of regulatory affairs as well as that of Rachel Callaghan, who had been working in the UK, as the GC and company secretary for MediaWorks. In Callaghan’s case, Cross was able to apply not just technical expertise to get a Kiwi home to New Zealand, but also served as a support system to ensure a high standard of candidate care.
“I'm a huge fan of technology as an enabler for human interaction. Everyone is so much more used to working on Microsoft Teams and Zoom and having virtual meetings; as a result of this, we have been able to replace what would have been face-to-face interactions with online interviews,” she says. “We've been able to continue to move processes through quickly for our clients, but also, our clients to have learned more about each other as human beings.”
Cross points out that another silver lining of COVID-19 has been how the concept of work has evolved to lean more towards flexibility, affirming Artemis’ stand that flexible work is the future. She praised the increasing availability of part-time and flexible positions on the market.
“I wanted to have a successful career and be a successful parent. So I wanted to be part of a vehicle that effects positive change because I can also see that some of the frustrations and difficulties that I was having as a working parent were also being shared by many people that I had contact with,” Cross says. “We [at Artemis] are 100% flexible, we always have been, so we were doing that before COVID-19 made it a thing.”
Cross also lauded the strong sense of community and resilience within New Zealand’s legal profession, which facilitated the industry’s recovery from the pandemic’s effects.
“We could see the in-house teams who were under a huge amount of pressure quickly innovate to meet the needs of their businesses. And equally, law firms also underwent quite a significant change period, and by and large, they managed it very quickly,” she says. “I know that there are still many law firms and organisations that are still evolving and changing and developing as a result of COVID-19 and the effects.”
Given the industry’s hardiness, Cross has a positive outlook for Artemis in the coming years.
“We move forward with gratitude. The first thing we are always incredibly grateful for is what we do every day and how we do it, and the opportunity to do that,” she says. “We will not be complacent – we continue to research legal markets, we share our insights and our context with our clients and our candidates, and we ensure that we continue to build long lasting and enduring respectful relationships with the people that we meet on the way – our clients, our candidates.”
As the Artemis team stands back up after COVID-19, the company recently welcomed qualified solicitor and legal recruitment specialist Lee Elizabeth Scott as a Senior Consultant to add further bench strengths to the company’s law firm recruitment services division.