Onboarding is an important step in any company’s talent acquisition process. It helps a new hire get acclimated to their role and team and decreases the learning curve. But what happens when you need to onboard remotely? While some industries are slowing hiring right now, others are ramping up. And for those facing hiring in a remote world, there can be a large question of how to train new hires successfully in a virtual environment. Yes, video conferencing will have a big role to play but what else can you do to successfully onboard a remote employee and make them feel welcome? Let’s break down some of the differences between in-person and remote onboarding and what you can do to help your new employee get up to speed faster.
How can you onboard remotely?
Remote onboarding might feel strange but there are a few things you can do to help smooth the process as much as possible.
Hardware and software: Luckily, even before the pandemic we lived in a digital world so a lot of an employee’s tech setup can be done remotely before day one. However, there might be some hardware pieces they need such as a laptop, monitor, keyboard/mouse, headset, etc. Plan in advance who will be responsible for getting the hardware together and who will send it out. If IT needs to remote into the laptop to install company software, for example, try to do that before the computer reaches your new employee. It’s nicer to have everything set up on day one, rather than leaving it to the new team member try and sort it out themselves with IT. This is particularly important for larger companies who might have overloaded IT teams at the moment.
Plan training documents in advance: If there is an employee handbook or any sort of documents that are helpful to physically have at the start of a new job, arrange to have those delivered before the employee’s first day. Yes, you can send all this in a PDF if you have to but there’s something nice about having a real book to study up on or a welcome binder to flip through. This also gives you the chance to throw a little something extra in their mailed packet. You could included branded pens or stationary. Or even a welcome chocolate bar to give your new hire a smile.
Structure training sessions: It’s easy to be overwhelmed when you start a new job and that problem is compounded by working remotely. There’s only so long you can stare at a video screen before you start to miss things. In person, it’s easier to pick up on visual cues that a new hire might be struggling and it’s time for a break. Online some of that information can be lost as everyone is trying to keep their faces attentive. Not to mention a typical first day is probably mapped out over team lunch breaks, meeting new colleagues, or having some sort of welcome event. Without those additions to break up the day, your new hire can be easily overloaded with too much information. It’s better to plan smaller training activities over time, even if that means a few shorter days up front, to give your employee a chance to internalize what they’re learning.
Culture and values: Even if you’re all working remotely, culture and values should still exist. Hopefully your company is doing remote team building sessions or virtual hang outs to keep culture strong. A new hire will likely be transitioning into some of these virtual calls sooner rather than later and it can be a unique kind of pressure to participate for the first time in a remote setting. Set up some time to introduce the new hire to your mission statement and walk them through some of the key aspects of your culture or events you’ve done in the past. Give them a sense of what life is like both at the moment in an online setting and what it used to be in a more normal time period. Keep in mind, a LinkedIn survey showed 71% of professionals would take a pay cut to work somewhere that aligned to their values. So keep values and culture top of mind because some day we’ll all be back in the office and you don’t want your culture to suffer during your time apart.
Face-to-face meetings: While we might not be able to meet in person, video meetings are still an important part of onboarding. Your new hire needs to meet the team, even if it’s through a webcam. You often feel out of the loop when you start a new job and if you never see anyone else throughout the day, it’s hard to feel connected. Encourage everyone in the team or department to set up an intro meeting to chat and trade stories. They can even virtually walk a team member through their typical day to provide a sense of what work will be like once we’re all back in the office. If you can, try to have at least one video meeting a day so the new employee doesn’t feel isolated before they even get off the ground.
Technology, technology, technology: As much as we want to make onboarding seem as normal as possible, the fact of the matter is there are just some things we can’t replace. Luckily, technology is doing a good job of shrinking that list. Don’t be afraid to test out new tools if they’ll help bring a sense of normalcy to your onboarding and training. Communication programs like Slack or Teams can help provide a centralized place to collaborate and chat. Video software like Zoom or Skype can make virtual coffee breaks or team meetings a snap. There are even online training modules or webinar classes you can use to bring your new teammate up to speed. We’re all still adjusting to our newly remote world and there may be a tool out there that will benefit the whole team, not just your newbie. When in doubt, check if there’s an app for that.
Acknowledge the strangeness: At the end of the day, even the best onboarding program is probably going to feel a little weird right now. Lean in to the discomfort and bring it up. This gives your new hire a chance to discuss how they’re doing with the challenge of being a new remote coworker and see if there’s anything they need that can help ease the transition. If nothing else, it opens the door to a more human level conversation that isn’t necessarily all about work. Take onboarding a little more slowly and with a bit more slack and it will be successful eventually. People just need time to find their footing.
Onboarding matters, even if it has to be virtual
We know onboarding accounts for much of the long term success of a new employee. In fact, 20% of new hires leave within the first 45 days. If you need to hire right now while maintaining social distance, don’t let this crucial step in the employee journey fall through the cracks. It’s tempting to gloss over your typical onboarding program with the promise of redoing it in person but no one knows when that might be possible and it’s better to set up your hire with a strong foundation right from the start. Virtual onboarding might not be your typical approach but the key is to make it as personal and interconnected as possible. Don’t overload new hires and check-in with them as often as possible. It’s easy for new employees to feel alone but when you onboard successfully, they’ll feel like part of the team even at a distance.