How can HR remotely manage… onboarding?

People Management’s series looks at the implications of many employers now having to conduct all people processes remotely in the wake of coronavirus

The world of onboarding has been given a virtual makeover as many candidates across the country face their first day at a new job from the comfort of their own homes. Which means, as the nation enters near-lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19, HR faces another challenge to add to its list: making a new hire feel welcome remotely. 

While onboarding is often bespoke to each business, there are some universal elements: an introduction to the team, a tour of the office and a meeting with management. Failure to do one (or all) of those things could result in the new employee quickly looking elsewhere. In the words of Sue Lingard, director of Cezanne HR, effective onboarding ensures recruitment activities “aren’t a waste of time” (or money).

Crystal Boysen, head of people at Canva – an Australia-based graphic design company which has successfully hired, inducted and onboarded two groups of new staff since the Covid-19 outbreak – said having a great onboarding process was essential, irrespective of working arrangements. “If you’re hiring new staff while working remotely, it’s critical your onboarding process is adjusted to suit this,” said Boysen.

Introduce more structure

Glassdoor is another company that has developed a remote orientation programme for new starters in response to coronavirus. The new programme, which is usually a full day of learning, was “condensed down to four hours”, reported Jo Cresswell, community expert at the organisation.

“We involved fewer facilitators to keep the sessions shorter and snappier and instead thought through a more detailed, post-orientation experience for new starters during their first week,” she added. “Given the lack of in-person interaction for new starters, having a more structured first week than usual was important.”

“Managers will need to provide more structure so employees aren’t just sitting there not doing anything and feeling demotivated,” agreed Claire Williams, director of people and services at CIPHR, which is due to welcome new hires in the coming weeks.

Williams advised managers will need more support than usual from HR to structure the new starter’s induction process, and that managers will need to plan to a “greater level of detail” than normal.  

Ensure new starters still ‘meet’ the right people

Williams said the main change to its induction programme has been the introduction of regular sessions with senior management via video call. “Instead of the regular monthly sessions with directors and managers, we are running those all in a single day, twice a month, so the new starter can book out that whole day for meetings,” she said

“Managers should take even more care than usual to ensure the new hire is being introduced to relevant people in the business,” agreed Lingard. 

Regarding how this has worked at Glassdoor, Cresswell said: “Virtual introductions took place with representatives from different teams where they gave new joiners insight into their roles and their teams’ responsibilities. This was followed by longer individual breakout sessions with the teams that individual new starters were joining.”

Lingard added that new starters should have a video call with their line manager so the employee is “given a friendly welcome, as they would when first arriving at an office”. She explained that the welcome should include a ‘tour’ of the systems they will be using and an overview of key stakeholders. “If a team video call can be organised for the first morning, that’s an ideal way for the new hire to start to get to know their team,” she said. 

Stay in touch before someone starts

Lingard warned feelings of uncertainty may be high in the current climate – especially for new starters, who may be anxious about the security of their new job (‘last in, first out’ as the saying goes…). She said it’s important to “reassure that plans for them to join the organisation are going ahead”.

“Now is not the time to make an offer and then go radio silent on your new employee until their first day. Good communication will protect your relationship with the candidate – and your wider branding as an employer,” added Lingard. 

Cresswell said new starters at Glassdoor were communicated with regularly before their first day, which she said was “even more important during these unusual times”. This meant they only had “three simple instructions to start their first day”. They were: open your laptop, open Zoom and introduce yourself. 

Get equipment ready 

Businesses should also try to replicate standard onboarding practices remotely by ensuring all equipment and technology is ready for the employee on their first day. 

Boysen said Canva’s HR team collaborated with other teams to ensure devices were delivered before the start date, and even “packed some food from [Canva’s] kitchen” to go with it. She added: “We’re currently working to courier any devices to our overseas and interstate new hires.”

CIPHR added an additional check with IT before delivery, and a secure pick-up location. “Equipment is being shipped to our IT staff’s home addresses, being configured, and then couriered to a secure locker where new starters can collect that equipment. That process is secure and doesn’t involve any face-to-face contact,” said Williams.

Don’t micromanage

Just as with longer-serving staff, managers trying to monitor and control employees’ time is likely to create feelings of resentment. Lingard said “finding the right balance is vital” with a new hire, and warned against the “inherent danger” of over communicating and micromanaging.

“It does not provide the independence for an individual to make their mark within the role. Equally, a complete lack of contact can lead to the misalignment of values and leave a new hire feeling disconnected.”

Deepak Shukla, owner of Pearl Lemon, an SEO agency that has been operating and onboarding remotely for three years, said virtual onboarding can in fact mean getting “more honesty from people”. “One of the advantages in virtual onboarding is the psychological sense of freedom to ask questions without any of the inhibitions that may come from face-to-face interactions,” said Shukla. 

Get social

As with the wider workforce, it’s crucial new employees can immerse themselves within the culture of the organisation, even though doing so remotely.

At Canva for example, its kitchen team has posted cookery videos on Slack and fitness videos are uploaded to Zoom. “We’ve also started holding company movie nights where the entire team will vote on a movie to watch at the same time while commentating via Slack,” said Boysen.

At Glassdoor, branded gifts have been sent to all new hires starting remotely, in line with its standard onboarding process. “All new starters were sent company ‘swag’ – a branded reusable water bottle, notepad, pen and branded rucksack – to help embed them into the company culture,” said Cresswell.  

“While some aspects of your onboarding process might need to be adjusted, it’s more important than ever to ensure that newbies feel welcome and comfortable, especially if you can’t meet face to face.”

Check back online for more ‘How can HR remotely manage…?’ articles, exploring how to conduct training and disciplinaries virtually during the coronavirus pandemic