In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies in the U.S. have transitioned to a remote workforce at the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means companies moving forward with hiring plans will most likely onboard new employees virtually.
Certain fundamentals of onboarding should remain the same, according to Sally Stetson, principal and co-founder of executive search firm Salveson Stetson Group. Employees still need to understand how their role fits into the bigger picture, Stetson told HR Dive in an email. But now it's a matter of ensuring a company can communicate effectively even when no one is in the same office.
Have a flexible time frame for onboarding
The basics for any onboarding program include formulating the procedures ahead of time; setting up a buddy or mentor system for new hires; and having a standardized procedure to set up training sessions, Vladimir Shifrin, technical director at Armix Group, told HR Dive in an email. That doesn't change when workers go remote.
"The organization should begin with the broader company overview and then provide a more specific briefing on the department where the employees will be working," said Stetson, who has more than 30 years of experience in the executive search industry. "The content usually includes a briefing of the overall business; company structure, overview of services and/or products and an introduction to key leaders and important resources available to employees across the company."
A typical onboarding process could be lengthy, said Shifrin, and remote may add further challenges. "Fully onboarding and integrating an employee so they understand the ins and outs of the organization can take up to six months," he said. During the first month, an employee should have time to get to know the company's culture, products and procedures, he said.
However, the first two to three weeks are critical to setting employees up for success, Shifrin added. To welcome new hires on their first day, the HR department should set up a video conference call and introduce the team, he said. An emailed welcome package may "consist of your company's product information, specific to the company knowledge, for example acronyms used, and a welcome letter from your CEO," he said.
The length for remote onboarding can also depend upon the person's role in the company, Stetson said. "Since they won't have the luxury of face to face interactions, the more frequent video meetings the better to ensure new employees feel connected to the company," she said.
Collaboration between HR and IT for online training programs is key
HR professionals and IT professionals typically evaluate how they can improve the employee experience so workers are able to learn effectively, according to Stetson. In a remote environment, they need to "work hand in hand to provide a seamless experience for onboarding," she said. The HR and IT teams can collaborate on using a company app for training purposes, Stetson suggested.
"Some companies have more sophisticated tools and provide a company app with all of the key details the employee needs to know to be successful in their jobs," Stetson said. "The apps also allow them to connect with key stakeholders who answer questions in real time."
A prearranged onboarding plan, a task calendar and video conferencing software can help HR and IT streamline the online learning process for new hires, Shifrin said. "Simple video conferencing software with video capturing capabilities, such as BlueJeans or Zoom, can be used to capture online training," he said.
HR and IT departments should also incorporate video recordings, Shifrin added. "Many companies underuse videos," Shifrin said. "Much of the information can be pre-recorded and shared with new employees."
He also recommended setting up consistent online training sessions and team integration procedures. "Do regular check-ins about the training process," Shifrin said. Find out what is working and what is challenging, he said. "This will help you fine-tune along the way and prevent frustration on your and new hires' parts."
CEOs should practice transparency
Part of the typical onboarding process is meeting executive leadership, including the CEO of the company. Those starting a new job during the COVID-19 pandemic may feel especially uncertain, which makes transparency from leadership crucial, according to Stetson.
"Leaders need to communicate on a regular basis to both reassure employees and provide them with ongoing updates that may change the way the employee and the company operates," she said. She warned that lack of information creates confusion and rumors. "Employees begin to develop their own 'stories' about what is happening," she said. Clear and authentic communication helps employees feel reassured, Stetson said.
In addition to the ongoing tasks calendar and defined long and short term goals for the new hires, Shifrin suggested that leadership should have sharable operational procedures for remote work during a crisis, which include "clear guidelines on emergencies for employees, and chain of command."
"In today's world, uncertainty is one of the most troubling aspects for companies," Shifrin added. "CEOs should be transparent on how the pandemic is affecting the company, and what is being done to protect the enterprise and its employees."