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Covid-19: How has our HR team responded?

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Image byJames Healy using Creative Commons Licence 2.0

In this blog post, members of our HR and Capability team at the Parliamentary Digital Service explain how the team has adapted during the pandemic, and share some insights into what we have learnt; we have a new way of recruiting and onboarding, but what matters is putting the PDS value of care at the heart of it all. 

Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, our aim has been to strike a balance between keeping business activities moving and doing everything possible to protect our staff, the parliamentary community and prospective employees. We've needed to come up with additional levels of support, with initiatives in areas such as culture, our values and employee wellbeing.

The need for most employees to work from home has meant that we've not been able to conduct face to face to interviews or start new joiners on the parliamentary estate. We reviewed our processes to enable remote ways of working. Our response has been integral to our ability to successfully recruit and onboard during Covid-19.  

How are we conducting interviews? 

Interviews are being conducted by video call using Microsoft Teams. If candidates are invited to interview with us but haven't used Teams before, reassurance is key. We need to make sure that candidates feel at ease during the interview.

We give everyone invited to interview a 'hints and tips' document, with advice on how to prepare space and lighting, how to employ 'active listening', and how to use notes for presentations.

How has onboarding changed? 

We had to quickly adapt and develop new processes and guidance so that onboarding would continue smoothly and without delays.

We followed government advice and now carry out 'Right to Work' checks over Teams calls. We arrange with our Hardware Asset teams for IT kit to be couriered to new starters. We carry out remote HR inductions on every starter's first day and ensure they have everything they need in order to begin work remotely, and with confidence.

Challenges and opportunities

An early challenge was making sure that interviews could take place using Teams and that they would be a success. Our priority was to ensure that our team, panel members and candidates were supported so that the interview process was compliant and carried out effectively, whilst maintaining a good candidate experience.

We are now more digital in our ways of working. We no longer produce paper interview packs and use Office 365 collaboration tools to assist with creating digital packs. This has presented its own challenges as the packs take a little bit longer to make. 

Another challenge has been the delays to deliveries. If a new starter receives their kit late, this has knock-on effects.

Additional support

We have given recruiting managers and panel members support documentation to help them with recruitment and onboarding. Some teams within PDS, particularly the Hardware Asset Management and Service Desk teams, have also been on hand to support us in HR.

All teams worked collaboratively to create a robust process so that new starters had support as they first logged on to help with any technical issues.

Any advice to other HR staff?   

  • Pause and reflect. During the first weeks of lockdown we consciously made an effort to slow down and pause our recruitment and onboarding process. This gave us time to review and update our ways of working to reflect remote working whilst providing support to our staff and candidates.  
  • It’s okay to make mistakes! We are working in unprecedented times and things do not always go to plan. If that happens, slow down, stand back and learn from it.
  • Collect feedback. This helps with evidence to improve the recruitment process and experience for everyone concerned.
  • Stay in touch. Once a new joiner starts, we conduct a one month meeting where we ask them about their onboarding experience. We also meet with new joiners as a group and recently met with staff from the Portfolio Management Office (PMO) and learnt about what has gone well for them and what they felt about our HR support and if it could be improved.
  • Think social. The overwhelming feedback was that new starters wanted ways to improve the social aspect of joining a new organisation when the work is remote. We found these sessions really useful so we’ll be carrying these out with new starters every few months from now on.  

Lessons learnt

It's important to be patient. Working from home means that everything takes a little longer. Take regular breaks and remember that it’s okay to do so. 

It’s a great time to be part of digital in PDS and Parliament. Hear about the transformation taking place at the heart of democracy from Tracey Jessup, our UK Parliament Chief Digital and Information Officer (CDIO).

Our latest PDS ​job ​vacancies​ are worth checking regularly. ​

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