Skip to main content

For all of us involved in scaling a business, having the right team is an essential ingredient.  The second half of that is to retain them.  When lockdown first hit businesses, many people looked with horror at both those challenges.  Some are still struggling.  I set out to find the expert secrets of the people who are triumphing.

Finding people to recruit

Jimmy Williams is the CEO of the Urban Jungle, which provides insurance to generation rent and millennials.  They doubled their team in 2020 and anticipate doing the same this year. Jimmy finds they are swamped with applications, but not necessarily people with the right qualifications, so they plan to improve their filtering.  They find Zoom works for interviewing, but they like to do practical tests, so they also plan to develop these in exploding formats to prevent sharing between applicants.

Jimmy says that it is “harder is getting to someone’s personality, so we often ask more direct questions about that. It’s not like anyone has any out of work interests at the moment, so we have to get it out of them!”

Donald Lindsay is People Operations Director at the hugely successful FreeAgent, which makes award-winning cloud accounting software for small businesses and their accountants. While FreeAgent has had low turnover, when Donald has needed to recruit, he too found a great pool of motivated talent in the market last year and expects to see much the same this.

Natalie Lewis of Dynamic HR Services also feels that with so many good people who will be made redundant, the talent pool will be large in 2021, but the key will be in the selection.  The choice is even more comprehensive than before. Entrepreneurs worldwide are no longer restricted to employing people locally or even nationally.  A global company in San Francisco might be hiring someone who lives in a remote Cornish cottage.  But pulling precisely the right fish out of a worldwide ocean will challenge everyone in the business of recruitment in 2021.

Integration post recruiting:

Both Jimmy and Natalie agree, the biggest challenge is often not the recruitment but integrating them remotely.  “It’s not like it can happen by osmosis or down the pub,” Jimmy points out.  Urban Jungle encourages everyone in their team to bring their personality to work, but Jimmy admits it is hard to do.

Companies have to create that crucial buy-in to vision, mission, and culture, and this has the crux of the lockdown challenge, which Natalie describes as behavior onboarding.  “Previously, with people in an office together, it was much easier for newbies to pick it the culture and internalize it from the people around them, what they hear and see, embodied in the physical room.”  Without it happening naturally, leaders have to create it.

Natalie believes it is the companies that have been open to change and adapting that are thriving and cites Gitlab as a perfect example.  They have a flat structure, high accountability, and responsibility.  Natalie believes that even post-pandemic, companies like this will retain hybrid working.

FreeAgent moved the whole company to remote work in March last year and quickly adapted to virtual recruitment.  Donald says this meant both updating their range of interview guides and processes so they cover online settings and upskilling their staff so they could properly manage and lead this work.

“Even before the pandemic,” Donald adds, “we were looking at how we could strengthen the employee experience at FreeAgent. 2021 will see us building on these strong foundations.”

Creating culture and retention from day one

I asked all three of my experts for their top tips, practices that they find work best to build and retain great teams in new times:

Jimmy’s top tips:

  • Jimmy says that they work “very hard to keep the team both productive and happy.  “We’re trying to maintain our usual levels of transparency, despite being in a physically different space, which makes that difficult.”  One thing they do to maintain transparency is that some of their senior team members now have ‘open 1-2-1s’ with their direct reports so that more junior team members can eavesdrop on what is going on like they would in the office.”
  • The second Wednesday in the month is “Workmate Wednesday,” which is just to have non-work chats with colleagues.
  • They also use their social budget to send people little treats in the post and include some remote socials. “Remote cocktail making for the Christmas party was brilliant,” Jimmy adds.  In addition, having found that around 20% of their team were suffering from their mental health after lockdowns started in 2020, they replaced their social budget for a mental health fund, offering counseling and yoga session in place of after-work drinks. This does seem to have helped and the team is coping better with this lockdown.”

Donald’s top tips are:

  • Donald believes that “flexible working arrangements will become the new normal going forward when it comes to future recruitment with fewer roles requiring to be based full-time in our HQ.   There will be more of a hybrid split between office-based and remote working from home.”  He believes this kind of flexibility is likely to be an important factor for many applicants in the future, so it’s vital to adapt and meet these expectations as quickly as possible.
  • Donald also plans to strengthen FreeAgent’s progression and personal development.  They will offer people the chance to upskill and also to explore other careers within FreeAgent.
  • They will also aim to improve things like salary bands, inter-departmental movement, flexible working arrangements, and succession planning “so that employees feel properly valued and nurtured.”
  • FreeAgent is also continually reviewing staff benefits packages to ensure they are as strong as possible.  Donald believes that “if our people don’t feel they have a voice or are valued, we simply won’t be able to retain the amazing talent we have here.”

Natalie’s top tips are:

  • For Natalie, it is all about building culture.  One tip is that everyone on a remote team to have google hangouts open all day.  People being able to see each other makes a crucial difference to isolation.  They can always mute for an important call.
  • She recommends enforcing virtual coffee meetings a couple of times a day.  Her experience is that people embrace it at first and then lose interest, so you need to really encourage it until they see the benefits – which are huge.
  • Natalie says that to retain teams, a culture of compassion and flexibility will be the absolute key in the future.   Many people have to juggle work and family responsibilities in these lockdowns, and they need understanding and flexibility to remain committed and happy.

Guided by the experts, I conclude that selecting the right talent will be the challenge for 2021 from a vast global pool.  Integration is critical for culture.  And when it comes to retention, the keywords are flexibility, transparency, compassion, and showing you value your team in every way possible.  Just as they have always been, but much more so.

Jan Cavelle has several decades of founding micro and SME’s behind her and is now a freelance writer and author. Throughout her career, she has worked on various campaigns to support and encourage other entrepreneurs.   Her first book is Scale for Success: Expert Insights into Growing Your Business, Bloomsbury Business, 2021.

Share this post:



Just left us a 5 star review

Charm has been an excellent collaborator, going above and beyond to help me find a suitable role. He has been supportive in addressing any concerns I have had, working diligently to find solutions that are beneficial for me. Thankyou for your efforts!

Excellent quality service

My line manager is Charm and he couldn't have been more patient, supportive, proactive, and professional. Been with many agencies, it's hard to find a place where you get treated with respect. Very glad I joined.

Principal Education is the best agency I have worked and working with since I arrive in the UK. One of their staff named Charm is a wonderful person, he's a good listener and find solution to every problem or challenge you face at work. He's the most patient and understanding person I have met. He never goes angry, instead he provide solution and ensures you get the best of your request. Most importantly you get paid at the right time.

Jai Bance was fantastic, got me an interview for a job I really wanted very quickly and was super supportive throughout the process, complete angel :)

Jai has been of excellent help! he was quick, attentive and adamant in successfully finding and pairing me with the current role and sector that I am working at! I could have not felt anymore supported from the team at Principal Education!

This is probably the best agency I have joined , and I have joined a few. The pay, staff and work environment are all so professional and welcoming. They always have a new opportunity ready for you. I really recommended them!!!

Principal education has been reliable ever since I started working with the company. I have been constantly in work, my pay rate has been substantial, not to mention the service overall, has been professional. Jai Bance, who is one of the agents that ensured I get suitable locations that will get me to work on time, moreover, the work that he has placed me in has helped to enhance my skills in my profession.

Great work from Charm Dube! Super helpful and polite.

Jade was amazing! Helped me get through a long process and was always happy to help with positive energy as well as finding solutions.

Good agency, Charm was brill.

I can’t thanks Charm enough for finding me an amazing job !!!! Recommend 100% Thank you sooo much

Happy with the service I’ve received from a professional and approachable team. Found work quickly, with an excellent rate of pay. Feel looked after. Glad I registered with this agency!!

Principal Recruitment is one of the best supply agency that I have worked and still working with at present, they are very effective with their dealings. Jai has been so good to me since I joined the company by giving me a listen ear. His communication skill is top notch to the extent that I have also referred people to him.

Excellent, Charm was a very helpful and organised person I really enjoy working with him. He is very responsible and respectful. I hope he will be very successful in his job.

It’s been amazing working with this agency. They’re all very professional and helpful especially Charm and Jai.

Principal Education is a great organisation . I really enjoyed working with them. A dedicated, professional and amazing team. I have no doubt to strongly recommend it to everyone.

Charm is a good recruiter, awesome company to work through, assigned to some good schools as well; a streamlined service.

Charm has been proactive in searching for a suitable teaching role, consulting me to review my specific requirements and being available for calls and flexible with times.

Charm has been very helpful and attentive. He has worked hard to find the right job role to match my experience and skills.

I have been working with Charm for the past month and he has been excellent at finding opportunities that are tailored to exactly my skill set and preferences. He keeps in constant contact to update me with how things are progressing, feedback and has been successful in finding me the right school for me. Very dedicated and driven to find the exact work for you, I would highly recommend this agency and Charm in particular.

The service I received from someone named Connor at the agency has been unbelievably incredible. He kept me updated on all the details, kept regular contact, made sure everything was transparent and made my needs a priority. Connor ensured I received the best possible rate and confirmed all the details so I felt secure once we had discussed this. I am registered with a few agencies (which haven't been so great) but I no longer need the others because I have been treated so well and got the job I wanted straight away. Very pleased with Principal :)

I have had plenty of work through Principal Recruitment. Charm is brilliant and has found me suitable assignments and is always reachable should I have any questions. Right now I’m doing an assignment at a lovely, local secondary school and I really look forward to going to work there. Thank you Charm. I can wholeheartedly recommend Principal Recruitment.

Charm has been really helpful, he helped me find a school that works for me, that I’m comfortable with. Communicates well, I appreciate how he’s helped me.

Really helpful and friendly. Supportive with finding work opportunities. Thank you Charm!

The app is very useful to see the job role & location, very good pay rates. Consultants very helpful and supportive!

The agency has been really good. Charm has been helpful very supportive.

Signed up for this agency and since then, their communication has been amazing and take into considerations my work needs as well! Recommend working here for others as well:)! Charm has been amazing helping me as well so kudos!

As a new member of staff joining the staff team at Principle has been a quick and easy process and understanding in the needs required for suitable work

Wonderful staff both in Essex and London. Charm from the North London office is always informative, patient, focused and understanding. No false promises, completes the work and goes the extra mile. Nadine Somers-Music Teacher

Good communication by Jai. Anyone can trust to enter into schools and work .

With Principal I am working locally and I am happy with them as they always have managed my timesheets according to my availabilities and so on. I am really happy and Love working with this company, staff are great and so supportive. They make sure that you are comfortable with where you are working and that you are okay to travel.

Updated*2023 Aired my issues and concerns and they more then made up for it. My complaint was handled well.

Been a behaviour mentor for 4 years and I've been unlucky enough to have only worked with jai bance for the past 3 months. In those 3 months he's managed to get me my current highest paying roll as a temp & secured me a contract within my first school working with principle. In general I'm not a big fan of recruitment agencies as they often only view candidates as a pound note but these guys know the roles (in detail so your not walking blind) support you through the many challenges you will face as a temporary worker but most importantly the pays fair and its always payed on time. Cheers for all the help principle.

Amazing helped to get the job I want in instant And was helpful throughout

Principal solution has been brilliant. Great work ethics lovely caring staff especially Jai, he has been patient, supportive and professional. I was delighted with the level of personal attention I received. I have been very pleased with the agency and would definitely recommend them to anyone considering them.

The agency onboarding process to being offered a suitable assignment was seamless and fast. I would recommend Principal agency to others seeking work. It has been a pleasure liaising with Jai, Head of Sales

Principal Education brings with it a huge amount of experience from its Team and a commitment to making Supply Teaching Placements easier to manage with higher rates of pay! Sign Up now!!

Fantastic. Highly recommend

Simple and efficient, got started with Principal recently and already got well paying work within days. Hoping the agency continues to deliver and remain hassle free.

I had my first agency job and within minutes of arriving I felt very well looked after as it was my first time at this school. I thoroughly enjoyed working alongside the agency.