How Organizations Have Adapted: Insights and Observations by Talent Acquisition Leaders

A few months ago, many recruiters’ working practices changed almost overnight. Now, three months on and it is interesting to hear what lessons have been learned and how recruiters are moving forward to a ‘new better’.  

We were delighted to host a RL100 roundtable discussion and bring together a panel of talent acquisition (TA) leaders to share their experiences. Hosting the session was Tom Lucas, head of client solutions, Suzanne Courtney, European growth director and Jon Hull, head of resourcing, Nationwide.

RL100 members who attended the roundtable discussion were: Nalan Dodgson, Burberry; Rebecca Foden, TFL; James Gillard, RL100 Leadership Council; Ben Gledhill, Thames Water; Jo Lee, Capco; Kelly Martin, Opus Energy; Alison Miller, Lincolnshire County Council; Lesa Molinari, Colt Technology Services; and Craig Morgans, IWG, Zoe Saturnahalian, Opus Energy.

The role of the recruiter and the talent acquisition team has probably never been more important and valued. The burden of responsibility upon their shoulders to connect people to meaningful work and sometimes just work has never been greater with the impact of COVID-19. Also, there is a strong need for organizations to have the talent they require to continue to deliver results. Now more than ever, the recruitment function is critical to business life, and the economic recovery.  
The TA function has adapted its practices, strengthen engagement with both external candidates and internal hiring managers and rethink onboarding.  

What are the eight key learnings?

1.    Recruiters were already agile.
Recruiters have always needed to juggle the following: managing candidates; business stakeholders; and time frames keeping everyone updated. Agility and flexibility are recruiter watchwords and the pandemic’s disruption brought this to the fore.

“There’s nothing that we have learnt that we didn’t already know we could do. What changed was our mindset. Across the organization, we had to shift our thinking and expand what we thought we could do. The tools have been there to accomplish things virtually for a while, but it has taken a crisis to jog us out of what we were doing.”

Some attendees pointed out that they had plans in place to support business continuity from the outset. However, not all organizations were so prepared. In an Aon Pulse survey, only 7% of HR said they were ready to deal with a crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

This need for agility was played out in the switch to virtual interviewing, assessment and onboarding. Recruitment and HR teams worked extensively to bring hiring into the virtual space and making the required adaptations.

“We had to be agile and collaborative and, when it mattered, we all pulled together.”

2.    The shift happened immediately.
The choice was stark. Press pause on all hiring activity as interviews in person could not take place - or make the shift and adopt, to some extent, virtual interviewing.
For those shifting to virtual interviews for the first time, it required a change of mindset – especially of more senior stakeholders.

Some senior managers raised concerns around candidates missing out on the experience and the vibe of coming into the office for a meeting. Others simply did not want to offer a job to someone who has not been met in person. This means that the hiring process has had to slow down with a hope that in-person meetings can take place in the near future.  

Some candidates reportedly loved the speed of the process as “with all the relevant senior people not travelling, the entire hiring took just five days”. However, before we adopt video interviewing wholeheartedly, we need to be “mindful that some candidates may still want to meet in-person before accepting an offer”.

For most, there was an immediate ramp up of collaborative tech or an adaptation of what was already in place to maximize its use. For others, a rejig of monies between budgets has enabled the purchase of new talent systems and it is likely that “budgets will be tight for a few years”.

3.    Remembering that virtual is not new for everyone.
While shifting to virtual hiring happened almost overnight, online interviewing has been successfully carried out by other companies - having recruited senior leaders virtually due to location.

4.    Going virtual helps diversity and inclusion.
Switching to virtual video interviewing has helped interviews become more objective and remove any bias that might sneak in. Two interviewers divide up the observer and interviewer roles in separate locations. The geographic distance brings a greater objectivity to the note taking by removing any group think bias.  

5.    Flexibility and collaboration are key.
It was not just in talent acquisition that changes needed to be made.

For some, staff were redeployed into new areas. “We had to be flexible with what we did and collaborate as a business - doing what was necessary. New sales were no longer being generated; however, we needed to ensure our debts were chased and collected. So, we converted our sales agents to collection agents.”

For others, the immediate focus was on the health and safety of employees and customers. “Converting our entire office-based workforce to home working within a week was a challenge. For those that could not work from home, we brought in shift rotations and reworked the work environment.”

This sense of flexibility and collaboration was a recurring theme in our discussion – and there is a strong desire to retain this going forward.

6.    Home working has increased productivity for some, but not for others.
Many of us have enjoyed working from home during the pandemic. While 30% have actually increased their productivity, not all have thrived in the disconnect from the workplace.
For some call center-based staff relocated to work from home, productivity dipped initially as they adjusted to their new environment. For other workers, being based at home offered new opportunities. Sales associates normally based in a luxury brand store contacted their clients from home and continued to sell: they saw a way “to do something using the tools they have at home”.

7.    It is about individual difference – and the role.
Different people have reacted differently to working from home and interviewing remotely. This shows that ‘no one size fits all’. “Some have blossomed while working from home, while others have needed support to become motivated.”

It is individual preference, work style and personality that highlights how comfortable we are with the change and being away from the usual – and whether we want to go back into the office environment or continue to work from home.

Of course, other factors beyond individual preference come into play. Those requiring access to confidential or technical systems may be better placed back in the office. Also, not all of us have a home environment set up for distraction-free working.

8.    Virtual is here to stay (to some extent).
In the future, we could see the hiring process becoming a hybrid of virtual and in-person meetings with a greater use of technology for the earlier stages. For many, the entire removal of a final face-to-face meeting before an offer being made would require a real shift in mindset by stakeholders.
“Virtual interviewing has been thoroughly tested and it is great to see how it is transforming everything. There is no excuse anymore”.  

Onboarding is also being redrawn and, for one firm, the decision has already been made that the graduate intake in October will be virtually onboarded and will not come into an office until “at the very earliest, the first few months of 2021”.


It is clear that being forced to react to the pandemic has brought the discussion of, amongst other topics, virtual recruitment to the table. This has meant that what had previously been thought of as too difficult or impossible, has become possible.

As one panellist summed up: “It’s something we’ve been interested in for quite some time. This gave us the push that the business needed.”

Go to our website to learn more about virtual assessments.

Disclaimer: This document has been provided as an informational resource for Aon clients and business partners. It is intended to provide general guidance on potential exposures, and is not intended to provide medical advice or address medical concerns or specific risk circumstances. Due to the dynamic nature of infectious diseases, Aon cannot be held liable for the guidance provided. We strongly encourage visitors to seek additional safety, medical and epidemiological information from credible sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. As regards insurance coverage questions, whether coverage applies or a policy will respond to any risk or circumstance is subject to the specific terms and conditions of the insurance policies and contracts at issue and underwriter determinations.

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