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The new normal: how to recruit and train online

17 June 2020: Della Hudson explains how to hire new staff under lockdown.

At the moment, we hear a lot about the firms that have put their staff on furlough and battened down the hatches. But there are others that are busy trying to recruit and expand. However, under the COVID-19 pandemic, traditional methods of recruitment are unavailable. How can you hire and train your new team when you can't meet face-to-face? Here’s how I’d approach it step-by-step.

Advertising for the role

Advertising the role is similar to pre-lockdown. Most recruitment agencies are still operating if that is your preferred route. More people are hanging out on social media, so use online networks to find accountants who are furloughed or redundant. Many good people are now available or looking for a change so you may find some quite high calibre applicants.

Interviewing candidates

With lockdown easing, there is more scope for adapting face-to-face meetings, but you may still wish to do some of this remotely. A simple interview is easily replaced by a telephone or Zoom meeting.

What is harder to judge is how the individual interacts with other team members (I always used to ask our receptionist for their opinion) and how confident they are in handling the “where should I leave my coffee cup/water glass?” dilemma. Nobody seems to have figured out the new etiquette now that handshakes are forbidden so everybody will be awkward to some degree. One way is to arrange a short informal chat with a member of the team. This should be a less intimidating conversation between equals and an opportunity to see your interviewee in a slightly more relaxed situation than the formal interview.

Some parts of mass recruitment days are well suited to moving online but other bits, such as observing how people work in a team, may require a little more thought. Some of these can still be executed in breakout rooms which may be easier than trying to organise a socially distanced alternative. Many companies already carry out testing online, but you could make it verbal so that it can be conducted over phone or Zoom.

A tour of the office usually serves two purposes. Showing your candidate around the office can be replaced with a virtual tour ready for the day when they might be allowed in. Still, you will need to make more effort to cultivate the less formal conversation that usually accompanies a physical tour.

The first day welcome

A good first day should help your new recruit to hit the ground running. It’s about finding our who’s who, finding basic things such as stationery, and the nitty-gritty of the job itself.

The usual welcome checklist can be tweaked ready for a first remote day. Instead of a desk, you will need to organise and set up a laptop beforehand. You can still send a pack of stationery, sweets, branded goodies or whatever you would typically have waiting for day one. Make sure that all logins are set up and sent over in advance so that training/work can commence immediately.

How about arranging remote pizza for a lunchtime team meeting as well as any one-to-one sessions for the essentials.

It’s worth keeping an open communication channel with a named individual throughout the initial period. In much the same way as you might buddy up somebody in the office for their first week or so.

Procedures manuals (will be required!)

Every business should have a procedures manual or at least a checklist for all the essential tasks. This will save hours of training time and is even more critical when training remotely. If you don’t have one then now is a good time to write one.

The leading software companies provide online training already. You can weave this into your firm's training.

The remote apprentice

When taking on somebody at an apprentice level, it is best to assume that they have no knowledge of accounting procedures to draw on. They will need constant access to their line manager and, on some days, it may feel like non-stop screen share.

Work will take more planning than usual, and there must be excellent communication both ways. It needs to feel as comfortable to ask a question online as it would be to ask the person at the next desk. On the plus side, those applying for jobs at an apprentice level are often very comfortable with the technology.

Returning to the office

Firms will be returning to the office at different rates, and some may opt to remain permanently remote. It’s highly likely that, no matter what approach you take after COVID, it probably won’t be the same as what you did before the pandemic. Once there is more freedom to move around, it will be possible to combine online and offline recruitment and training methods to work out the optimum mix for your business.