Although the numbers are starting to trend down and the vaccine is being rolled out with much fanfare, the reality is that it still might be a while before we get back to “business as usual.”
The reality is that your employees are likely going to be working at home for quite some time and that may include new employees too! But how do you teach new employees about your company culture, your business norms, and the genuine feel of your “office life” if you can’t get them into the physical office? Below, we outline seven tiny tweaks that you can make to your existing onboarding program, provided it has proved successful in the past, to make your new employees feel like one of the gang (even if they can’t share a cubicle!)
Don’t reinvent the wheel:
The best news about making your onboarding program virtual is that you really don’t have to reinvent the wheel! As we touched on above, if your program has proved successful in the past, the only thing you really have to change is that your face-to-face meeting becomes a Facetime, Webinar, or interactive meet and greet! As such, your virtual training should still seek to help employees become familiar with your company and its mission and values, assist folks with connecting with their bosses and colleagues, give them the tools that they need to be effective in their new role, and (perhaps most importantly) make them feel welcomed and included.
Walk in their shoes:
One of the things that can get lost when you aren’t sharing a physical space with an employee is being that casual touchpoint for those silly little questions, so try to anticipate the needs of your employees before you even begin the onboarding process. Set them up with regular check-ins with folks in various departments that can anticipate or address questions as and when they arise without the new hire having to fumble on their own or figure out who to chase down for some answers. In addition, you should also provide a more general point person, be it a HR rep or their manager, that they can contact at any time to address those casual questions that could have been answered by a quick swing by a cubicle.
When adapting your onboarding program, think critically about what your workers need in order to be successful in their role. Now think about what adaptations you might need to make now that they are at home. Assume that your new employee doesn’t have any materials at home and offer the full suite, pulling back only if there are certain items that they have and use at home already (such as a printer). Beyond that, let them know the process for obtaining refills for certain items, such as printer paper or printer ink, and who they should notify should some piece of their equipment experience a problem.
Get the ball rolling…:
In the pre-pandemic times, business leaders would typically reach out to new hires to express their excitement that they were joining the ranks, while an HR rep, or sometimes the new hires’ manager, would follow up with some basic “what to expect on your first day” type of information. While a list of what to wear or where to park may be somewhat irrelevant in today’s work-from-home environment, your new employee could still benefit from a little pep talk and some prep work! Have your manager or business leader pre-record their welcome message via video and send it along, as well as the relevant information on how and when the employee should sign on for their first day and what to expect in terms of the first few days. If you’ve sent along equipment to get them up and running, now is also the time to include some instructions, as well as a point of contact should they need to troubleshoot any issues. If your first few days are typically pretty paperwork heavy, you could also send over those forms now — or better yet, digitize the forms to really speed the process.
…and keep it in motion!
Working from home can be isolating at the best of times but imagine doing it when you’ve never even met your coworkers in the flesh! In the pre-pandemic times, most companies spent about 30 days onboarding their employees. However, with folks working from home, it’s harder to integrate your new hire into the company culture. As such, you’ll benefit from mapping out check-ins with your new employee at 60 days and even 90 days and being sure to spend those checkpoint meetings not only addressing questions and concerns, but also reinforcing your company culture and norms. Moreover, the experts suggest that you set up these check-ins with at least two people in your organization so that they can gain different perspectives and insight about the company.
As we touched on above, building out your company culture when no one is in the office to actually embody it can prove tricky. However, some companies have had success buddying up new hires with a “cultural ambassador” who can serve as a touch point for all things values and mission. These ambassadors can set up scheduled conference calls or video chats where they discuss finer points of your mission, such as your corporate giving program or volunteer opportunities, and help employees navigate how to participate.
Close the loop:
Virtual onboarding is not only new to your employee, but it’s new to your company and like any new process, chances are you’ll have to make changes along the way to truly make it work. With this in mind, we recommend that you poll your new employees about their experience. Find out what worked, what fell flat, and what they think those that come after them might benefit from. Remember, changing the game does not mean that you failed, but rather that you’re committed to making a program that will truly benefit your employees and make them feel at home.