Executives around the world agree that onboarding new employees in the midst of a pandemic has proven more challenging than anticipated. Yet, it is also widely recognised that effective onboarding of new employees is crucial for a successful recruitment. Effective onboarding teaches employees what you expect of them, the details of the job, the structures, processes, systems and workflow of your company, and more. Additionally, onboarding helps retain your employees. According to one study, 60% of employees who received a structured onboarding program stayed at their jobs three years or longer.
"To successfully onboard new employees remotely, it is our experience that the creation of a personal experience framework centred around a so called “buddy-system” is key."
Henrik Brabrand, CEO, Albright Partners A/S
The 5 steps to ensure successful remote onboarding of new employees:
1. Assign a buddy to the new employee
A buddy system is an onboarding and knowledge sharing method used to orient new employees. More importantly, it allows for the all-important “personal touch” and involves assigning the new employee to a workplace buddy. The buddy is an existing employee – often future team member/colleague - who guides the new employee through the first few weeks or months on the job. The buddy and the new employee benefit from daily remote check in’s during the first 2-4 weeks after which the frequency can be reduced to e.g. every third day or once a week. It is best if the buddy and the new employee can meet up physically on the first day to get to know each other. Moreover, if the two are working part-time physically at the workplace and part-time from home, we recommend that they align calendars, so they are in the workplace at the same time – especially for the first 2-4 weeks.
The buddy system encourages an open and effective dialogue and tends to break down social barriers. It enables new employees to have a personal support structure from the get-go and accelerates the development of social networks and cross-cultural experiences.
2. Make an introduction to the culture
A common barrier to a successful onboarding process is difficulty adjusting to company culture. Without a physical office, new employees are hindered from experiencing casual introductions or chats with new colleagues. This can constitute a problem as new starters will often require more support and a longer adjustment period. Often the new employee experience feelings of isolation, loneliness and a mix of other pandemic-related emotions. Moreover, it is worth remembering that not everyone thrives in a virtual workplace environment – e.g. more extroverted employees will miss the opportunity to engage with new colleagues, while introverts find group video calls daunting. Getting to know new employees quickly and being introduced to the key elements of the company culture, means teams can support the communication, learning and socialisation preferences of new employees from early on.
Your culture introduction should include:
a high-level description of your company (history and important milestones, mission statement, short- and long-term business goals, etc.)
a run-through of the company’s cultural DNA (i.e. artefacts, norms and values, underlying assumptions)
an office code of conduct (i.e. communication, commitment, inclusiveness, etc.)
3. Team up new remote hires
Teaming up new remote hires with each other can be key in making remote workers feel like integral parts of the organisation, both during their onboarding and after it’s completed. When you are “in the same boat” it is easier to ask the “stupid” questions, identify short cuts and share experiences essentially increasing the level of trust and engagement among the group of new hires and easing their overall transition. An important first step to achieving this is to create a space for them get familiar with each other, their buddies as well as other people they’ll be collaborating closely with remotely. This includes taking time to schedule and organise teleconference sessions to introduce employees (remote and on-site) to each other as well as their future colleagues. Having a closer relationship with someone inside the company from the start will often ease the new employees’ anxiety and increase their engagement.
4. Communicate, Communicate, communicate
Implementing a clear line of communication between HR managers, line managers and new employees is especially important as the virtual nature of COVID-19 recruitment distances candidates from the process. Hence, HR managers and line managers must overcompensate for these physical barriers and implement communication strategies to ensure the employees feel as though their time and energy is valued by their employer.
5. Ensure remote work-stations are operational from day 1
As the home work environment will be key to a successful onboarding, computers, furniture and other hardware should be installed well ahead of the start date of new employees. Consequently, it is worth taking your time to confirm that they have received all necessary equipment for their work and follow up on IT and HR as they assist the new employee in this process.
Feeling part of the new team from the get-go is important
Getting acclimated to a new job is not just about day-to-day tasks and responsibilities, it is about giving the new employees a feel for the in-office experience. This can be anything from giving a virtual tour of the place they will (eventually) be working from to orchestrating a virtual social hour so that teams can bond with their new colleague. Small things such as a signed welcome card from their new team, a gift card or some branded merchandise can go a long way to making people feel like part of the team, even when they’re physically distant.
New hires are usually quite anxious about their roles and responsibilities, and even more so for remote employees, who have the added disadvantage of having to figure a lot of work-related procedures and best practices on their own. So, make sure you help put them at ease by answering questions that many new hires are afraid to ask (e.g., regarding vacation policies, bonuses, reimbursement procedures, etc.) while also addressing the most common things that will be expected of them to know when they start working. Even the best onboarding programs will leave new staff with many unanswered questions, so stay open for feedback from your remote workers and make sure that their leaders do the same.