The Challenge Ahead For Recruitment & Growth Plans in HR

Covid-19’s impact and what HR leaders need to know now

The inevitable impact that the global pandemic has had on future growth plans, would have been difficult to have imagined at the beginning of 2020. With third-quarter financial reports just in, it’s clear that as we move towards the end of Q4, the ramifications of the impact are only just beginning to be fully understood.

Business leaders are being called to respond and manage some of the most seismic challenges experienced outside of an economic downturn, or indeed within many companies operating lifetimes. The focus now is on sustaining businesses in the medium to long term, adapting to the pressing challenges faced, all whilst preparing the landscape for operations resuming in some altered form beyond the depths of this current period.

The impact of Covid-19 has been multiple for businesses, with recruitment and growth plans being one of the major casualties. Depending on the specific nature of your business, your business may have faced a mandatory closure, with furlough’s and redundancies sitting firmly alongside a halt to any previous recruiting plans. Conversely, for businesses operating within the essential services sectors, you may have found the ramp-up to demands for more people to fulfil the roles that your business needs, equally as challenging.

HR is helping businesses through the varying degrees of uncertainty and complexity, by partnering them to navigate the challenges as they arise. How your company is able to respond to these unprecedented challenges brought about by the pandemic will have an impact on your employee engagement and business reputation for many years to come.

Recruiting & growth plans may be on hold

One-quarter of businesses in the UK have temporarily closed as a result of Coronavirus, according to the Office for National Statistics. The poll by ONS, seeking to understand the impact Coronovirus has had on business, surveyed 5,300 companies. During the first two weeks of the lockdown alone, 0.4 per cent of businesses said they had ceased trading.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) latest insights
Coronavirus (COVID-19) latest insights | Source:

The survey also showed that substantially lower turnover than normal was being seen by 38 percent of companies still operating. Furthermore, the widespread headcount cuts and furloughing of staff has, according to the survey, resulted in more than 40 percent of businesses that have continued trading, reducing staff levels as a response to coronavirus, in the short term.

But what does this mean for Human Resources and how can the challenge of working through short term staff reductions, coupled with preparing for plans to resume operations in an altered form be met?

For HR professionals who find themselves working for companies who are currently closed or partially operating, the focus right now is on ensuring the basics of Human Resources Management are being handled effectively. From ensuring that employees contact information is up to date, through to communicating updates on the company as the situation relating to trading, and furloughs evolve.

HR Software, Human Resource Software, Sage HR, Core HR
HR Software, Core HR module | Source:

This time is also one where HR will be focusing on ensuring the current operation in whatever form it’s now in, is as safe to operate as possible. For some companies that has involved a reduced operation, with employee’s working from home throughout the lockdown. And for other essential services like health providers and food retail, this has included significant changes being made to the way in which employees are operating whilst at work; following social distancing measures and observing increased hygiene standards.

But looking ahead, as plans by the Government are starting to take shape in readiness of lockdown restrictions easing, HR will be well served by using some of this time to work with business leaders and plan ahead for what the new normal of business operations will look like.

For those companies hardest hit by the impact of the virus, those unable to sustain the financial hit brought about by enforced operation closures, then this time could involve taking the difficult decisions relating to making redundancies.

Business as usual with recruiting plans unaffected

You may find yourself leading HR within an organisation whose operations have remained largely unaffected by the Pandemic and current restrictions. This, in turn, may also have resulted in your recruitment plans progressing ahead too.

The challenge faced with this current dynamic however, is one where your organisation is operating in a state of business unusual. With the majority, if not all of your company’s employees working from home.

In fact, new research by PWC suggests that 60 percent of people still employed mid-April were working from home, which will have an inevitable impact on the ways in which your teams will be able to recruit and onboard whilst workplace restrictions continue to operate.

Responding quickly to recruitment demands brought about by Covid-19 is essential. And despite the fact that many Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), and talent management systems have been designed with in-person interactions in mind. This coupled with the majority of traditional recruitment processes, also being in-person centric, it’s increasingly possible to leverage technology effectively to uplift your current processes, whilst meeting the evolving demands of the situation as they occur.

Meeting the demand

Redesigning these processes to meet the current challenge can open opportunities to innovate and modernise your hiring model, from introducing more tech & AI to your process, to leveraging the possibilities of involving remote working employee’s with the interview and on-boarding process, to provide a sense of virtual community.

Managing the candidate experience remains as important as ever. By focusing on consistent and timely communications with your talent pipeline and prospect candidates you can help support engagement, essential in attracting top talent. If there are anticipated delays to your process as a result of illness or internal challenges, then keeping everyone within the process updated is a crucial part of maintaining the reputation of your employer brand.

Suffice to say, that interview processes can be fairly unnerving for even the most seasoned of experienced professionals, the current uncertainty of the Covid-19 situation is adding to the potential anxieties that candidates are facing, which can be eased by ensuring effective and open communications are in place for the duration of the hiring process.

It’s important to also consider that not all hiring managers involved in the hiring process will be experienced in conducting interviews virtually over a video call. There’s a different sort of energy and dynamics involved with interviews that aren’t held in person and so it’s essential that managers are given the time and opportunity to take part in training on how to make the most out of virtual interviews, how to present the role in the best light, whilst still getting from the candidate, during the interview all that’s required to evaluate and make an informed decision on who to hire.

It also helps your virtual recruiting process, if you are able to move towards or really leverage the capabilities of HR software that can accelerate your recruitment process. Sage HR’s recruitment solution, provides an end to end recruitment solution, one that can accelerate the efficiency of your process, whilst also helping you to track the applications of top talent virtually, from anywhere, at any time.

Virtual onboarding & training

Hiring is only part of the story with the recruiting life-cycle and you could well find yourself in a position where new hires were selected for hire ahead of the pandemic, resulting in their start date coinciding with current lockdown restrictions. Or alternatively, hires that are currently ongoing, could also find their start dates falling within this transition period.

With this in mind, on-boarding, training and supporting new employees will also have to adapt to leverage online tools and new ways of working. HR can support hiring managers and business leaders with this effort, by proactively implementing new onboarding protocols, whilst helping managers to get up to speed quickly and effectively.

Key considerations for HR include managing new employee relations and expectations, whilst they onboard. In addition to remaining legally compliant throughout the process too.

But adapting your existing process for onboarding is a good place to start, working with various stakeholders and departments to smoothly facilitate all aspects of the onboarding journey, to manage and streamline potential delays will be essential.

Thinking about the on-boarding life cycle end to end, which includes:
  • Recruiting
  • An offer letter and paperwork
  • Pre-employment screening checks
  • IT access, kit & technical set up
  • Induction preparation
  • Day 1, welcome & set up
  • Day 1, device set up & systems access
  • Week 1, team meet & greet
  • Week 1, payroll & benefits set up
  • Week 1 / 2 systems training & compliance
  • Week 1 / 2, bedding into the role
  • Week 2 / 3 legal & paperwork
  • Weeks 3 + goal & objective setting

Followed by evaluating the changes that need to be made to each stage of the life-cycle, will help ensure that all things are considered and potential issues that could arise, such as kit not being available or accessible on day one of an employee joining you don’t arise.

It is also possible to make onboarding matters far more streamlined and efficient by utilising the benefits of employee onboarding software. Sage HR’s software features allow you to automate your onboarding process, which includes a workflow builder to assign tasks to managers, colleagues and co-workers involved with the onboarding process, through to automating tasks ahead of time, eliminating the need to manually follow up to ensure that tasks are being completed.

The advantages and benefits gained by leveraging Sage HR’s automation, deliver a smooth, consistent process which frees up valuable time for both HR and line managers involved in the onboarding process.

Increased demand & hiring increases

For some organisations, the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted HR leaders and teams in a wholly different way. Resulting in the plans and demands on recruitment ramping up dramatically.

Human Resource professionals operating in the healthcare sector will have seen an unprecedented increase and need to recruit. Those charged with finding talent within the care sector also faced a similar challenge.

Yet during a time where we find ourselves in a collective lockdown, with many third-party recruiting agencies also making difficult decisions relating to their operations, potentially furloughing and laying off staff themselves, the landscape of recruiting has been made all the more challenging.

It’s important to remain engaged and in regular contact with your third party recruiting agencies, but particularly during this period of continued uncertainty. Given that some recruiting companies are reducing their service capacity, having as much insight into how this could affect the service you receive will be essential.

Sectors seeing increased recruiting demand

Care workers are clearly a vital part of the UK’s fightback against COVID-19, but the demand in accessing talent has also been felt within food retail, with supermarket Tesco recruiting an additional 35,000 workers to get through the emergency, as demand for groceries surged to unprecedented levels.

HR within food retail in response to the pandemic has been tackling demand to recruit in-store shelf stackers, pickers for online deliveries and delivery drivers, to help fill a gap left by absent employee’s sick, self-isolating or caring for sick family members. In addition to meeting the increased demand on groceries being purchased and delivered to people’s homes.

Farming has also seen increases in recruitment demand, with roles opening from April, and thought to be an increased need of 90,000, according to numbers shared by British Summer Fruits in addition to increased demand for talent being felt in Food manufacturing and pharmacies, who have reported a recruiting gap of 1,500 that needs to be filled to meet current increased demands on pharmacy services.


One thing for certain during this period of unprecedented challenge and change brought about by Covid-19, is that the challenges aren’t going away any time soon.

In fact, for HR and business leaders alike, adapting, pivoting and responding to the ongoing transition towards the new normal is a continued work in progress, and one that we’re all being called to meet the challenges of.


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Written By

Jade Taryn Graham

Jade is the founder & CEO of Inspired a people & talent consultancy working with the most innovative early stage companies worldwide. Founder & CCO of Inspired Talent Media Ltd and contributing writer for Sage HR where Jade writes about people, leadership, work/life balance and change.