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Remote onboarding: How to make it work

Remote onboarding: How to make it work

Onboarding is typically a time of meeting your new colleagues and coming to terms with your new working environment and culture.  But in these days of home and remote working, you might switch jobs without moving location.  So how do organizations do onboarding when more and more people are working at a distance and connecting virtually?

Staying remote

Even as the restrictions introduced to combat the pandemic begin to be removed, it’s likely that working from home or outside the main office will continue.  The technology that enables working at a distance has been stress-tested and generally stood up well.  Many employees, including new hires, have seen advantages for their work-life balance in working from home.  And teleworking opens up options for organizations too – from saving on office rent to being able to have a more diverse, self-sufficient, and self-motivated workforce.

But it’s one thing to move out of the office and switch to home working.  It’s quite another to start a new job remotely with the prospect of not setting foot into the organization that’s hired you.  Yet, if organizations want to attract talented new hires, they’re going to have to face that reality and prepare to onboard individuals and groups of workers remotely.

Socially distant

The first day at the office is usually a mix of excitement and trepidation.  The anxiety generally diminishes as you meet your managers and colleagues.  You get shown around, introduced and made to feel welcome.  That social aspect of onboarding can be as important as the scheduled training and formal induction process.  A sense of recognition and feeling of belonging are vital in creating a positive experience and getting new hires off to a good start.

The contrast between that first day and one that begins with a person logging in from home is stark.  Of course, meetings can still take place, but they are mediated by a computer screen.  How does an introduction via Zoom compare with sitting down with someone face to face?  How can you receive proper recognition when your presence is only seen but not felt?  In short, how do you make remote onboarding inclusive?

Strategies for remote onboarding

The technology that facilitates remote working can be used to implement remote onboarding.  But it requires strategy as well as logistical tools to make remote onboarding a success.

1. Planning ahead

The first step is to recognize that there needs to be a dedicated, agreed process in place to allow new hires to onboard remotely.  This means taking time to prepare the new hire for the reality of beginning his or her new job from a distance.

From a practical point of view this will mean establishing that the new person has the right technical infrastructure to start working: hardware, software (standard and proprietary), reliable WIFI, suitable office furniture, ease of access and the right level of permissions to information and resources, and so on.

But beyond access to work, you’ll need to organize meetings and other events to introduce the new person to colleagues and establish social connections, as well as introducing him or her to the organization’s culture.

2. Meeting the team – virtually

Although a person may be alone in their physical setting, they’re not working alone.  Meeting the team is not just about personal introductions, but also about establishing from the outset a sense of team identity.  This is a challenge when people are connecting virtually, yet it’s important to use technology not just to connect people to a project, but also to allow time during working hours for personal connections to be established.  This may mean regular virtual coffee breaks where work talk is discouraged in favor of getting to know colleagues or end of the week ‘happy hours’.  Organizations can look to social media and its apps and strategies for encouraging bonding over distance.

3. Overcoming isolation

A sense of being an outsider can linger even when you’re surrounded by people, but it’s easier to feel lost if there’s no-one around.  Although our digital infrastructure allows for instant messaging and posting it can feel more daunting to ping someone rather than drop by their desk.  So, access to people matters as much as access to ICT and information during onboarding – and indeed beyond.  Set the expectation for new hires and their colleagues that it’s okay to initiate contact via a text or message.  Encourage video calls so you can put a face to a name. Instead of emailing out an org chart or list of team members and their roles, look to create a Facebook or LinkedIn-like interface where people learn more about the person and see the work and other activities they’re involved in.  You should also look to put in place a mentoring or buddy system for remote new hires that require the mentor to be more proactive and reach out.  Mentoring might also include an automated AI component to deliver notifications, announcements, and recommendations, as well to answer queries.

4. Going digital

Onboarding is a mix of admin and training.  To operate a remote onboarding program, you’re going to need to have all the necessary forms, booklets, manuals, contracts, certification documents in digital format and stored in and downloadable from a repository that is easily navigable, widely accessible across devices, and searchable.  Training programs can be transformed into e-learning modules and assets that are managed on a platform and which can be added to, updated, and repurposed as required.

5. Singly or in groups

Remote onboarding can involve one person at a time or, increasingly, it might feature a group of people.  Whichever the scenario you’ll need to strike a balance between providing general information and support and personalizing the onboarding experience so that new hires relate to what they’re being asked to do.  Having a searchable, online database of onboarding assets allows you to tailor the experience and the process for individuals or groups.  Batch onboarding – onboarding a specific cohort of new hires – has the advantage of efficiency and saves time.  But it also makes the individuals feel part of a team and instils a feeling of belonging from the outset and helps mitigate the sense of isolation and neglect that can easily arise when working at a distance in a new organization.  Yet even batch onboarding programs should introduce activities that personalize the experience.

6. Getting feedback

Personalization is a key tool in evaluating what’s working and what’s not.  It’s harder to keep track of progress and engagement over distance, so good feedback is essential to onboarding success.  The opportunity and requirement for new hires and their managers to offer feedback needs to be in place from day one.  Feedback can be managed through online surveys or meetings or through performance tracking tools that record activities and milestones that can be viewed in dashboards or through reports.  Technology can speed up the feedback loop and be used to quickly take remedial action if required.  Establishing the practice of giving regular feedback also helps promote a culture of transparency, openness and trust that should underpin good working practices during onboarding and beyond.

Necessity the mother of invention

In the current climate, organizations will have to turn to remote onboarding.  But out of that necessity come certain advantages.

The need to induct people into the organization remotely makes the onboarding process more employee-centric as the focus is on reaching out to new hires and being more aware of their particular needs.  The personalization that results helps make the onboarding experience more relevant and engaging.

Remote onboarding can bring dividends in terms of efficiencies in getting people up to speed and in time management.  It encourages a sense of responsibility in new hires which makes them more resilient and open to doing things differently.  It also makes organizations consider different ways of engaging their staff.

Remote onboarding is here to stay

Currently there seems no option but to engage in some level of remote onboarding.  But what happens when people return to offices?  The likelihood is that at least some elements of remote onboarding programs and processes will remain as organizations and employees realize the advantages it can bring.  Remote onboarding then won’t disappear but instead will become the impetus for organizations to embrace a broader strategy of digital onboarding.

Effective onboarding has never been more critical. Get in touch to find out how Learning Pool can help.

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