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.

Right now, January seems as though it was a lifetime ago. The major concern business had was Brexit, something now seemingly forgotten in the face of a bigger challenge; one reaching much further than the workplace.

The coronavirus pandemic has turned our lives upside down. For the last four months, the impact on people’s health and wellbeing, and the country’s healthcare services, has been devastating.

For the business community, it has been catastrophic in a host of industries who continue to run scenario planning, protect their cash flow, reduce costs, access tax reliefs and grants, battle cyber-security threats, assess supply chains, and make critical decisions about how this will affect their employees.

Amongst so much uncertainty, one clear thing is that an outbreak of this magnitude will leave a lasting impression on us all. For business, the question is, will it change the way we work for the better, or will we ultimately revert to the old status quo?

Back in January, I predicted five trends to shape recruitment in 2020. It’s safe to say COVID-19 wasn’t one of these but, given our new challenges, I wanted to revisit and explore how the changing circumstances will influence recruitment, staff retention and the job market.

1. Flexibility
This is going to be needed more than ever. Amid all the fear, isolation, and uncertainty, many businesses have been forced to adapt their model and we have seen how profound and positive change is possible. The trend for home-working and contracts allowing people to integrate their work and personal life will be in high-demand long after the end of the year.

2. Hiring for soft skills
Whilst still important to future proof your business, in the short-term, this may not be the main priority. More pressing issues around staff retention, improving internal communications, and making changes to technological capability will come to the fore.

3. Improving the candidate experience
The battle to attract skilled people with the right attitude will become fiercer in the face of this crisis, but the way this is done will be quite different. With an increase in remote interviews, less personal interaction with colleagues, infrequent visits to the office, and potentially starting a new job from home, the experience will extend past a personalised and engaging recruitment strategy and incorporate staff retention.

4. Employer branding
Simple and clearly defined goals will always be focal when selling your organisation but, even before this epidemic, employers that prioritise mental wellbeing, work-life balance and flexible working were the number one priority for 16-24-year-olds. Having lost count of the CEO emails declaring people’s health and wellbeing as their number one priority, how you have behaved throughout this period and whether you remain true to your word afterwards is how your employer brand will be defined.

5. Diversity
With changes in technology and the realisation that in certain professions people really can work from anywhere, the recruitment market could become a lot more open, making the long-term benefits of employing a diverse team even more attainable.

Things have undoubtedly changed and, while these trends remain important, perhaps the most vital is flexibility, from both businesses and employees.

For the foreseeable future, we need to concentrate on reopening businesses, supporting remote workers and helping people balance home-school and personal health challenges, as well as the influence anxiety, lockdown, and the furlough scheme will have on people’s mental health.

It is said that “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”. If we have learned anything it must be that we are all in this together and I hope when businesses finally get to choose their path once again, they take that step in the direction of people.

It will certainly be interesting to see if that is the case, and how that impacts the way they recruit.

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