At the start of 2020, the number of people working in the UK reached a record high of just over 32.5 million.

Since the coronavirus pandemic, 1 million businesses have taken advantage of the Government’s furlough scheme, leading to 9.3 million people being told that their job is reliant upon salary support until a solution can be found. That is more than one in every four people.

As the furlough scheme phases out, it feels as though we are standing on the edge of a precipice. The employment market is facing a crisis unlike any we have seen in a very long time.

If not already, businesses will soon be forced to make some very difficult decisions as they begin to plan and rebuild for the future. There will be tough times ahead for many, and it is going to be critical that you strike the right balance between consolidation and aspiration to succeed.

As a recruiter, it pains me to talk about job cuts, but with a swift ‘V’ shaped economic bounce-back unlikely, the first question that needs to be asked is whether or not you can you manage with fewer people in your team?

Contrary to this – and on a more positive note – there may also be new areas of specialism for your business, or skills and training you lack but now need to drive things forward.

Equally as important is making sure that your team emerges from lockdown as motivated and committed as ever. If they have been furloughed, do you know how do they feel about returning to work? If they worked throughout the epidemic, do they need time off to recharge their batteries before they go again?

Whatever their situation, the last few months will have been difficult for different people in different ways. As a leader and manager, make sure you take time to reflect on their behaviour at an individual level. It will teach you an awful lot about their character, and knowing who you can count on in a crisis is a hugely important lesson to learn.

As time goes by and feeling safe enough to come into work becomes less of an obstacle, the biggest question is going to be around new models of working.

Their looks set to be a huge uplift in demand for flexible and home working. It has been increasingly popular during the last few years, but now seems to be an expected norm for many people. Can you accommodate these new demands in your business, and do you even know what people would prefer to do going forward?

I suggest counselling opinion. What flexibility do staff want or need and, if they are going to work from home permanently, do they have the right equipment and space to do this? There may be new health and safety aspects to consider.

You may also need to adjust to a new way of recruiting. Changing needs, coupled with higher unemployment, and softer skills becoming an essential requirement for the majority of roles (i.e. communication and self-motivation), means it may be time to review your strategy. Not to mention adopt new technologies to video interview and conduct virtual onboarding.

All in all, I think it is fair to say that 2020 has been a pretty dreadful year, to the point where it has forced almost every business in the world to adapt and change the way they operate.

Whether you believe this is a temporary disruption or will lead to permanent change, we need to face the challenge head-on and, hopefully, if we can ask ourselves the right questions and surround ourselves with the right people, we can start to plan our recovery without delay.

Bryony discusses the importance of specialist recruitment to SMEs when searching for the very best recruits.