The COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented and many companies and HR leaders have had to quickly pivot to a new remote work model that requires companies to assess how they can bring remote employees into their company culture and get them up to speed so they can be productive as quickly as possible. It also changes how we keep employees engaged, informed, and feeling like part of our company culture and organization.
The changes due to the novel Coronavirus have been so significant that our workplaces are unlikely to ever be the same. We must be able to not only change the way we manage and lead, but also create an experience for new employees that can mimic our in-person new employee training and communication. There are several components to doing so, but here we’ll outline the top six things HR leaders can do to create a seamless onboarding process.
1. Schedule communication and engagement. With being remote, we need to be more intentional in our efforts. This means scheduling meetings, coffee chats, and opportunities to talk and connect more. As part of the remote onboarding process, develop an online training manual that includes dates, topics, task descriptions and expectations, and an indication of how progress is evaluated. These activities can be collected and made available to access online in the form of video or group chats, along with a learning library that makes it easy for your new remote employees to find the information they need. Regularly scheduled face-to-face (video) meetings with key team members and leaders mimic the same type of interaction on-site employees have access to.
2. Get creative with engagement. One of the challenges with engagement in a virtual workplace is switching things up. Your virtual onboarding group sessions should be engaging, and most video conference platforms have a chat feature. Encourage participants to ask questions and share experiences. Create an experience that feels personal, speaks to smaller groups of employees, and allows for immediate feedback and Q&A. You can have your CEO introduce your company culture to your broader new employee group, then schedule breakout sessions based on your new hire teams with their team leaders or managers.
It’s also important to educate managers and team leaders on the importance of making time for one-to-one meetings with direct reports, as it is crucial to the success of onboarding programs. In fact, 72% of employees surveyed by Enboarder said one-on-one time with their direct manager is the most important aspect of any pre-boarding or onboarding process.
3. Utilize automation technology for things like I-9s, employee handbooks, and other essential employee onboarding information. When selecting the right onboarding technology, it is key to select a user interface that is simple, task-oriented, and works with your organization’s internal workflow. IntelliCorp, for example, provides a real-time view into the status of current and past background checks and offers a customizable dashboard that enables HR teams to easily manage tasks associated with the new-hire process. Additionally, it allows remote applicants to complete onboarding documents such as employment applications and direct deposit forms, to name a few examples.
The Form I-9 is a time-sensitive document that must be completed by the third business day of an employee’s hire date, but employers can actually start the I-9 process as soon as they accept an offer for employment. Take advantage of this extra time and consider using an electronic system capable of handling I-9s for remote hires. Using an electronic I-9 system can assist your company in maintaining compliance even when you use an authorized representative who is not familiar with I-9s.
4. Seek feedback often using online surveys, one on ones, and skip-level meetings. Without the data from feedback, you have no way of measuring the success of your onboarding program, the increased investment you’ve asked for from your executive team, or departmental success. One of the most obvious (and beneficial) ways to improve your onboarding program is to survey your new hires that went through your remote employee new hire training after 1, 6 and 12 months have gone by. Use that survey data to identify the program components that worked, those that need improvement and those that need to be added.
5. Communicate onboarding schedule and expectations to new hires. Setting expectations is key to helping eliminate confusion and feelings of overwhelming and anxiety. Giving access to your internal employee site as soon as the offer is accepted is a great way to get new hires acclimated quickly. This should be a destination for incoming remote employees to find everything they need to know about working for your company, including standard operating procedures, what technology the company uses (such as performance tracking apps and communication tools), company values and expectations from remote employees.
6. Partner with IT. HR’s biggest ally in the new remote workplace is IT to ensure that not only do employees receive a virtual orientation, but they have timely access to things like technology, system accesses including email and if needed VPN.
Finally, until recently, onboarding has been treated as a single event rather than a process: New hires are passive participants in a one- or two-day orientation. They receive information about policies and procedures, sign lots of paperwork, and connect with their supervisor. Today’s talent economy requires forward-thinking companies to assess how they can bring remote employees into their company culture and get them up to speed so they can be productive as quickly as possible. With a continuous virtual onboarding model, you can extend the onboarding period so your new hires can get the basics out of the way quickly and begin working with common team members and hiring managers concurrently as they have regular check-ins with your HR onboarding team.