Recruiting and onboarding during COVID-19

Hi, I ‘m Amanda, one of the People Team Leaders in the Digital world of NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA).

I’m responsible for line managing the Team Managers and operationally supporting the people within the Digital team. Working alongside a team of Professional Leads who offer support in the different digital strands and using the matrix management model, we ensure all our people are fully supported, both personally and professionally.

We can do this better

When COVID-19 struck and many businesses slowed down, we as a Digital team became busier than ever; collaborating with NHSX, NHS Digital and Public Health England to deliver vital services to support the country during the crisis.

When lockdown hit, recruitment didn’t stop, or even slow down, in fact, things needed to move quicker than ever.  We needed to staff large numbers of new COVID-19 related services coming on board while ensuring that our existing services weren’t affected. Our recruitment drive went into overdrive but with a very different approach.  With people being interviewed and recruited online and working from home, we still needed to offer our applicants and new recruits the best possible experience.

What changed

We began by contacting all applicants who were already lined up to attend face-to-face interviews, to discuss options. We could put their interview on hold or offer a virtual alternative. For many a virtual interview made sense as many other aspects of their lives had already moved online.

However, the way we interviewed did change. Instead of reserving a car parking space and a visitor badge, we needed to ensure that they were ready to take part and interview on screen. Everything from checking that they had the right tools to recognising that at any time a pet or even a child could join us as part of the interview.

Three months down the line and the new virtual recruitment process runs like clockwork. It’s become the norm and I really struggle to imagine going back to face-to-face interviews. We can now interview someone who is halfway round the world and still get exactly the same responses to the questions we would ask if they were sitting in front of us. Our decisions and outcomes don’t change.


With interviews going well but the country still in lockdown, it was important that anyone joining us or waiting to join us had a full induction.

We had to make sure that their experience of joining our team was as good if not better than it would be working in our offices.  Developing networks, building relationships and getting to know their colleagues was vital, but we needed to be creative as to how we could achieve this with no face to face interaction. Ordering kit and getting logins for systems and workspaces still had to happen, but we needed something more. 

We began by streamlining our start dates to ensure we created communities of people all joining a new team at the same time and organised regular virtual engagement events and training sessions for all new starters including lots of fun stuff too. 

While getting to meet and know each other, our new starters also needed time to themselves to review information on their own, complete online mandatory learning, to set up their workspace, and start collaborating with their new project teams.

Everything we did helped to ensure that all our new recruits felt part of the Digital team and the wider NHSBSA from the very beginning.

Helping us to grow the service

We received great comments from candidates on the new approach and also some good solid feedback on what would have made it even better for them, which has given us the opportunity to move from good to great. Now we are almost four months in and  making changes after every intake. Our team has grown and we are looking at what else we can do to support and develop our new recruits.

Sharing best practice

Sharing our story has been interesting too. Just before lockdown I worked closely with recruitment agency Gravitas to bring on board new digital recruits. Gravitas were so impressed with our approach to remote recruitment that they invited me to co-host a “roundtable” event for NHS and other public sector organisations to share the great work that we had done.

It was really satisfying to be able to share best practice more widely which I hope will help other organisations to successfully recruit and on-board during the crisis and beyond.