This article was originally published in April 2020.
The recruitment process isn’t complete when a candidate accepts your job offer. Finding and hiring the right talent also means onboarding the new hire and preparing them to succeed in their job. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to influence how business gets done and keeps employees working remotely, important processes like new-employee onboarding need to adjust to the current virtual world.
Getting onboarding and orientation right will help new hires feel welcomed, excited and supported as they join your organization. This phase is extremely important for the ultimate success of a new hire, and it can impact the overall success of your HR function. A recent report from The Boston Consulting Group and the World Federation of People Management Associations ranked onboarding as having the second-highest overall impact on revenue growth and profit margin of all 22 HR practices.
Finding the best ways to provide a positive virtual onboarding experience can boost your organization’s productivity. You can turn the lessons learned from pandemic adjustments into long-term, permanent improvements for your onboarding. Below are key considerations for implementing these approaches now and in the future.
Evaluate Your Existing Approach
Your current process for onboarding and orientation may already be good at getting new hires up to speed for working in an office environment, so it probably needs some adjustments to work well virtually. As with any change, ensuring that all stakeholders are on the same page is important. HR, talent acquisition, and hiring managers need to have a shared understanding of how your organization’s virtual onboarding will work.
To help make up for the fact that new hires can’t be in the office, focus on helping new hires feel informed and connected. First, add relevant content to provide new hires the information and resources they need to be productive. Look to recent employee communications regarding COVID-19 and working remotely. The information you have provided to existing employees making the adjustment to the current situation will also be useful for new hires. Also, consider ways you can create balance between training/presentations and letting the new hire actually do something. New hires need to be informed and well-trained, and they want to feel focused and productive. Support the new hire and let them settle into their new position without feeling like all they are doing is orientation activities.
Balancing orientation activities with work activities shouldn’t mean shortening the duration of onboarding, however. In fact, orientation with a longer schedule than normal can be helpful. If your onboarding is typically completed in one or two days, consider spreading those activities across several days or a week. Working from home requires flexibility from everybody – a well-structured onboarding program will help give the new employees more flexibility within their position and ensure they feel supported over a longer period.
Here’s an example what a virtual onboarding schedule could look like:
Welcoming Employees to Your Organization
It’s natural for people to feel anxious and vulnerable with new situations. This is especially true for people starting a new job during a global pandemic. The best thing your TA/HR team can do to welcome new hires is to communicate clearly and regularly. From the time a candidate accepts the job offer, let them know what their onboarding and orientation experience will include. Set clear expectations, so they don’t feel burdened wondering if they have everything covered leading up to their first day or stress about “proving” themselves as a new employee.
It’s important new hires feel they are a part of the team during onboarding and orientation. A video “welcome” message from the CEO or another leader in the organization is one example of a way you can make new hires feel important. You want new hires to feel good about their decision to join your team. Sending the message that they’re a valued addition by providing them all of the information they need to get up to speed quickly will help do that.
Hiring Manager Responsibilities
The hiring manager plays an important role in determining the ultimate success of onboarding – especially during unique circumstances. No other individual has a bigger impact on whether a new hire feels supported and welcomed in their new job. Hiring managers should understand that they need to go “above and beyond” what they would normally do in the early weeks after a new employee joins.
They need to stay involved in onboarding new employees beyond their first day. Outline the hiring manager’s responsibilities for the phases of pre-hire, Day 1 and each of the first four weeks. The hiring manager should know exactly what their own process should be for onboarding the new employee and understand which aspects of the process need to be different due to working remotely. One idea is to give hiring managers a checklist of onboarding activities and guidance they can use to bring a new hire up to speed. Here are things to include on your list:
- Daily check-ins between you (hiring manager) and new hire for the first week
- Keep cameras on – this keeps engagement high and makes interactions more personal
- It’s your job as a leader to overcommunicate to your new hire
- Virtual team welcome, “get to know your team” meeting
- Assign the new hire a team “buddy” who the new hire can go to with questions or for support (in addition to their boss)
- Mail a handwritten card to arrive at the end of the first week
Virtual onboarding will be most effective when both hiring managers and new hires understand what they have to do and when. A successful start will pay dividends in performance and retention over time.
Work with your IT team to get any needed technology to your new hire as soon as possible. If your organization is providing a laptop, figure out the best way to ship or courier the device to the employee’s home, or devise a plan for them to safely pick up technology in the office. New hires also need to understand their troubleshooting options. Provide clear instructions for whom and how to contact if they need tech support and ensure that your tech support team will be available to help.
Before the new hire’s start date, provide training for the virtual communication platform you intend to use for onboarding. List and provide resources for your organization’s different communication tools and online communities. Their introductory meetings should leverage these platforms and be conducted via video – face time is important. At the least, you want the employee to feel empowered and prepared to hit the ground running on their first day and feel connected to their coworkers from the start.
Administrative and Compliance
The administrative and compliance aspects of onboarding are vital. Every country (and in some cases, states and provinces) is reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic in different ways. Think about how you can adjust your requirements to successfully and legally hire new employees with little to no in-person interactions.
Work with your legal department to understand what steps in the background screening process are required for a new hire to start working and what important forms and documents can be completed either via email or web-based platforms. For documents that need to be witnessed in person, such as identification, you may have some options depending on the legislation in your country. One is to have a family member of the new hire act as a witness. Another is to use a video call to take photos of the identification “in-person.” There are also technology platforms designed to support ID verification.
What you can do:
- Create a plan for hiring employees, outlining if any of the background/compliance steps can be delayed without impacting the start date. Clearly communicate expectations for completing any outstanding tasks and the potential consequences should any of these steps not be completed properly.
- Partner with your HR team to monitor any daily policy changes or requirements in the countries or states your company operates within.
- In the case of regional and global companies, each country is managing this differently. Do not assume adapting your process to one country’s requirements will be applicable in other countries.
Examples from Global Leaders
While talent acquisition has slowed down in some industries due to the pandemic, for others it has sped up to help meet increased demand for their goods or services. Here are stories from some Cielo clients who are seeing an increase in TA needs about how they’re handling onboarding during this time:
- One organization is using a popular video chat platform for onboarding. To help keep people engaged, they’ve incorporated several roll calls throughout the day and set the expectation that attendees may be called on to respond to questions. They’ve transitioned some onboarding modules to their online learning platform, which tracks attendance and comprehension.
- A leading healthcare company is conducting the HR aspects of orientation virtually, while clinical orientation remains in-person, onsite.
- One company is holding a remote orientation weekly for all new employees. They’re conducting onboarding and orientation with a combination of their e-learning platform and virtual training via WebEx.
- Another client put together an e-learning module on their training platform with all culture, diversity and executive welcome information. The platform also includes links and benefits resources.
Short-term Tweaks or Long-term Tactics?
Given the overall uncertainty across industries and the adjustments businesses and individuals are forced to make, support for new hires is more important than ever. Making the extra effort to help new employees feel comfortable will help create employer brand ambassadors for you and build up camaraderie in your organization overall. Doing this effectively requires a united effort across TA, HR, business leaders, hiring managers and teammates.
New hires will play an important role in leading your company’s performance down the road. Successfully onboarding them will prepare your business with an engaged workforce committed to moving forward.
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