For many companies globally, the initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic was to put a complete freeze on hiring. As social distancing measures quickly emerged, one of the main reasons for this universal move was a hesitation to hire driven by the uncertainty of interviewing and onboarding candidates remotely.
While introducing new hires remotely can be a big change for companies that don’t already have a consistent and defined process in place, this time offers an opportunity to shift the way we work and use technology to rethink and enhance the way we onboard.
Tips for onboarding new hires remotely
Xref CEO, Lee-Martin Seymour, caught up with Tegan Oakley, Head of Customer Success at Enboarder, to discuss the best practices for onboarding new hires in a remote environment. Here we summarise many of the fantastic tips that Lee and Tegan covered - you can also watch the full interview here.
1. Ask the right questions early
As this is a very sensitive time for some, especially new employees, the best way to kick off a positive remote onboarding experience is to get a clear sense of what problems you need to help solve for the individual.
Many candidates who have made it through the interview stage during this time will have a range of new concerns such as job security or how they will manage their new family circumstances while working from home. It is important to listen to these and address or answer them as early in the process as possible to help instill confidence from the get go.
The conversations you will have with new employees might be quite different during this time, so be sure to consider in advance how you will handle these sensitive topics and what solutions you could put in place or offer.
2. Provide a window into company and culture
Consider creating a digital welcome pack for new employees that contains some helpful details and fun insights that they can dive into before even starting their new role. This could include a friendly welcome video from the team along with some background information on the company. If appropriate, you could include a couple of your most popular blogs or tell a story about how the company came to be and where it is headed in the future. This could also be a good opportunity to introduce any company values that are important for this new employee to learn and embrace.
The current climate offers us a chance to rethink the onboarding process and while some of these suggestions are not new, they can be used in a fresh new context to help employees get a first look at a company and familiarise themselves with the culture so they feel more prepared for their first day.
Pro tip: Avoid making the digital welcome pack a tick box exercise for mandatory items that need to be done - save that for week one and focus on creating a friendly introduction.
3. Keep communication constant
Given current uncertainties of current times, it isn’t really possible to over-communicate. New (and old) employees will be very thankful for a lot of transparency and clear communication during this time.
If you were welcoming your new employee in person, there would be many natural opportunities to greet them and get to know them through day-to-day conversations and interactions. It is important to spend some time considering how you can create these moments in a remote setting and be sure they’re included as part of a structured onboarding process (so it doesn't get forgotten).
For example, why not have a virtual team lunch to help make your new colleague’s first day feel as special as it would if you were all in the office together. Managers should also encourage team members to reach out separately and schedule times for individual video chats about their roles, to start building connections early on.
However you decide to kick off co-worker relationships, ensure that it is kept up beyond just the first day or week and that clear lines of communication are meaningfully kept open going forward.
4. Boost engagement and productivity
Managers should be purposeful about setting up a plan for the first two weeks of employment to ensure the new staff member has clear expectations and knows how to be spending their time. Most managers already do this, but it becomes more important in a remote setting.
Consider creating simple training videos that could help replace what would usually be ‘job shadowing’ in an office scenario. These could be as simple as a screen recordings relevant to the role, such as demonstrating a discussion between a customer service representative and a client, showing the best way to handle a common complaint.
Another suggestion would be to allow new hires to join meetings where they can ‘ghost’ in the background and get a feel for how the business operates.
If you put in the time to build a library of useful content, you will easily be able to mix and match videos for specific roles or give new employees access to a range of training opportunities.
“When it comes to learning, people are happy to self-serve but only if you are able to offer them the tools, resources and necessary information to help get them started” - Tegan Oakley, Enboarder
5. Foster company culture while working apart
The mark of a great onboarding experience is a seamless transition from someone feeling like the new kid on the block to part of the team. This is where creating a positive company culture comes into play.
One tip is to encourage staff to use their video during meetings (where possible) to help maintain a sense of interaction that includes body language and facial expressions. Building on that, consider ways you can add an element of fun to your team meetings by planning small activities such as sharing your top five favourite items in the house right now (home coffee machines are having a hot minute).
Depending on size, as a company or department you could also consider how you can keep connected by swapping out Friday drinks at the local pub with virtual drinks from home. You could also get creative about how you celebrate birthdays like getting a cake delivered or jumping on a conference call to collectively sing happy birthday.
Company culture is different for every business, so consider your usual work environment and look for new opportunities to create those ‘water cooler’ moments online.
6. Build relationships based on trust
Trust is an important part of any employer-employee relationship, but working in a virtual environment increases the need for trust and transparency across the board.
It’s more important than ever to ensure you have the correct due diligence in place so you only hire people you feel confident you can trust from the get go. This will help to set both you and your new employee up for success from the start.
And this goes both ways, be sure to gain your new employees' trust right away by demonstrating genuine transparency and giving them opportunities to shine. Set your new hires up for success and they will be more than willing to rise to the occasion and show you what they’re capable of.
During this sensitive time, company updates are an important part of gaining the trust of both your new and existing employees. It’s important that the leadership team is clear and very transparent as new changes or developments arise. If delivered with honesty and sensitivity, there is an opportunity for these updates to be well received.
Overall, it is important to keep in mind that this is a really challenging time for most people all over the globe. Hiring managers and managers in general should be prepared to be more present and open than usual and consider how to utilise new tools to create an onboarding process which instills confidence and connectivity.