Helen Astill, MD Cherington HR Ltd, explains how organisations can welcome new employees with social distancing in mind
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically affected many businesses. This has varied from complete shutdown for those categorised as non-essential; the provision of reduced services for others; to being overwhelmed by demand in the health and care sectors as well as the food supply chain (and HR to make all this happen!)
The change in circumstances when the lockdown was announced by the UK Government in March was so sudden that employers had little time to react initially and emergency measures had to be put in place. This has been stressful for both employers and employees.
Now that things have settled slightly, employers are reviewing their workforces to see what needs to be done to regain control. Many business owners have realised that even with the furlough scheme and range of financial support being offered, they simply do not have enough work to support all their workforce and so the inevitable redundancies are starting to occur. But some sectors need lots more staff to get through the crisis.
Many organisations are working out how to normalise the working from home arrangements that were initially thought to be temporary. Some employers have indicated that they will be expecting staff to carry on working from home for the rest of the year at least. But one big question remains for those businesses and those on the front line: How will they manage the process of taking on new staff?
How much recruitment can you do remotely?
Businesses have been using online recruitment processes routinely for some time. This ranges from the posting of job vacancies, the application process itself, as well as aptitude and psychometric selection tests. Online platforms are available for the recruiting manager to post adverts, sift applications and respond to the candidates at the click of a mouse. That is not new, but at that stage you would expect to have a face-to-face interview and a visit on site for those shortlisted. This is where things have changed.
New processes have evolved very quickly with a move to telephone and video interviews as the norm. This means employers need to choose a platform that is readily useable by all candidates and be aware of any potential issues that may discriminate against those who may have a disability causing them to struggle with this approach. Reasonable adjustments will need to be made – perhaps giving someone longer to complete a test or ensuring that a person, rather than the software, makes the shortlisting decision.
Conducting the interview will also be different. Members of the panel may be in different locations and may have IT or broadband reliability issues. Choosing a room with good lighting and an environment that does not adversely affect sound quality is important to ensure that it does not detract from the interview. Give the interviewees guidance on the process and don’t forget that even though the interview is being done at home, all parties should still dress appropriately. This is important to show that they are taking the process seriously and are managing it professionally: First impressions really do count.
The new starter
Once you have selected your preferred candidate, the interactions with regards to offer letters and right to work in the UK checks will all have to be done remotely. Again, telephone and video conferencing will be useful here. But when you get to the agreed start date how do you welcome your new employee?
If the role is to be on your premises, give the new employees a copy of your Covid-19 plan to show what measures you have put in place to minimise the risks to staff. This will allow them to ask about the arrangements and what is expected of them and will help reassure worried family members. They will be nervous and anxious about starting a new job anyway, but even more so in the current climate. Give them a contact name so that they have someone to ask if they have queries and make sure that you have all the next of kin details early on in case of emergency. Make sure they are met (with a suitable 2m distance) on arrival and that the induction includes all the health and safety measures – especially the hand washing and tearoom arrangements as well as training on the job. Make sure they have a “buddy” allocated to help them during the first few weeks of the new role and ensure that they have opportunities to raise questions or concerns.
Taking on a new home-worker
If your employees are all still working from home, any new employee will be working from home right from the start too. This is a crucial period for new starters because it is normal to meet your colleagues and find your way around the premises to understand the culture of your new employer. Chatting during tea breaks and in the staff canteen are quite important in getting to know people. Therefore, when you are doing the induction and ordering the IT equipment for the new employee, do not forget the people side of the arrangements. Make sure that the employee’s manager spends time talking to the employee – perhaps using video conferencing to introduce the employee to colleagues in a team meeting and set up informal discussions to be able to address issues. And allocate a “buddy” so that they have someone other than the line manager to talk to.
Some employers have set up daily informal Zoom coffee time meetings for social chats, but remember that the personal discussions will be awkward to start with – especially remotely – so try to ensure that the employee is not left out of the conversations.
Be creative in welcoming your new employees but if you have any concerns about the arrangements you are putting in place or have a critical people issue to solve, talk to a reputable HR Adviser as they will be able to help resolve the problems.