Before the pandemic hit, employers could ease co-located new hires into a role by pairing them with a buddy, gazing at a monitor or collaborating on a whiteboard from the comfort of company offices until they were up to speed.
With teams distributed and operating at a distance — a trend which continues for many even as some parts of the country ease restrictions — onboarding and training staff is evolving to support hires whose only reference of the company is in the digital realm.
Employers are getting their new tech staff up to speed by relying on code-savvy assistants, automated IT support tasks and a growing box of cloud-based tech tools that focus on collaboration and communication.
Upon entry, newly onboarded staffers at global tech services company Globant receive access to a set of digital tools that help foster company culture and boost performance, said Haldo Sponton, VP of technology and head of AI development at Globant.
New teammates tap into company culture through an online portal, Sponton said in an email to CIO Dive. But the tech-enabled support stretches to the work itself.
Engineers can use an in-house virtual assistant fluent in natural language and programming language. The bot responds to technical questions with relevant code that can give developers context into projects they join.
Getting new staffers situated with internal systems while remote is a task ServiceNow deals with each Monday. Access to communication and collaborations tools with increased support is a priority in that process, said Mirza Baig, senior director of IT service management at ServiceNow, in an interview with CIO Dive.
While onboarding, workers get to select the hardware and applications they require to work effectively. As part of that process, a virtual agent can assist — and sometimes independently handle — employee requirements.
"The bot can talk to you in natural language, interact with you as if you're interacting with a live agent," said Baig. In some cases, the request bypasses the IT team and is performed by the bot. The virtual assistant existed prior to the pandemic, but IT expanded its self-service capabilities with remote work.
With more processes going digital, hardware and connectivity used by new hires should respond to work requirements.
"Great hardware makes everything easier," said Job van der Voort, co-founder and CEO at Remote, in an email to CIO Dive. "If your employees have to use a slow computer, or their internet is poorly set up, working remotely becomes much harder."
Even for workers who spend most of their time on calls or email, the company provides high-end equipment, van der Voort said.
But access to hardware at enterprise scale tightened as the pandemic hit. Disruptions to the supply chain caused by the lockdown in China shrank PC shipments in Q1 of 2020 as states and countries issued stay-at-home orders.
Previously remote companies for which remote work was part of the culture fared better than their non-remote counterparts. As laptop supplies dwindled, IT teams were left without much of a stockpile to turn to.
For global companies, providing access beyond U.S. borders increases the complexity. Singapore's lengthy lockdown made ServiceNow turn to virtual desktops since hardware delivery became complex. Where available, workers can get equipment shipped directly from vendors, which simplifies the process.
Collaboration tools play an essential role for distributed onboarding. With a remote workforce of 22, Remote focuses on having a single place "where everyone can easily collaborate," said van der Voort, no matter which kind of tool that is.
"One thing I've learned from onboarding so many remote workers is that the tools you use are really a secondary concern," said van der Voort. "Much of [the candidate's] experience comes down to the human interactions."