By John Bonoff
Thinking back to a year ago, the transition into pandemic life was a strange and, at times, uncomfortable change to the way we work. But perhaps even stranger is the experience for those joining organizations during the pandemic, without ever setting foot in an office.
So many of the traditional cues we look to in the first days of a new job are nowhere to be found: the friendly handshakes and casual chats, the neighbor you can pepper with questions, and the work environment that helps you block out distractions. With a full year of pandemic living and working under our collective belt, now is a great time to reflect on all the changes we’ve been through at work, and whether or not your onboarding program has kept up. Using the following strategies, take time to craft an onboarding experience that mirrors the virtual landscape and promotes strong, lasting connections with new employees.
Embrace digital across the board
While certain aspects of your traditional onboarding program are no longer possible, some may be more easily adapted than you think. Missing your benefits fair, where vendors and snacks abound? Consider an interactive virtual presentation or webinar that allows employees to get the information they need directly, and follow up with resources or content that walk through the details. Struggling to replace in-person team introductions? The next best thing might be to schedule a one-on-one virtual meeting with every member of a new employee’s team. Personal interactions are where culture comes to life, and it’s important to dedicate time for it right off the bat. From first-day walkthroughs to third-week questions, think through the company technologies that can make virtual onboarding feel the most human. And because interactions with fellow employees will play such a large role in this, make sure the communication habits of existing team members are taken into account when reimagining the onboarding experience for new employees.
Make onboarding an experience, not an event
Condensing onboarding into an employee’s first week made a lot more sense before COVID-19, but even then, it wasn’t the most effective plan. Spreading that information out for a smoother ramp-up period allows new team members to more easily process and retain everything that comes at them, and take time for things that aren’t in the schedule, like checking in with coworkers or taking breaks. In the age of remote onboarding, consider a multi-month campaign that guides new employees into their role, cleanly organizes all the information and training they’ll need, and reduces the likelihood they’ll get lost or frustrated along the way. Creating a cache of company resources or how-to guides that can be accessed at any time will also be helpful. “Embrace the idea that you can’t possibly over communicate,” writes Bruce Anderson, contributor to LinkedIn’s Talent Blog. “While you don’t want to overwhelm your onboarding cohort, you do want them to feel welcomed and certain that they’re getting the tools and instructions needed to navigate the road ahead.” Information overload has always been an obstacle for new hires, so stretching out the onboarding timeline and making key knowledge easily accessible will make all the difference for remote employees.
Let automation make things easier
Creating a longer, more comprehensive onboarding campaign certainly makes sense, but sustaining regular communication for several weeks or months isn’t always easy. New initiatives can take priority and reminders can get lost in the calendar. For businesses that are returning to work after extended closures, all the changes can make this even more difficult. Luckily, automating your onboarding campaign with an app or internal communications software will ensure simplicity and consistency. In addition to improving the employee experience by guaranteeing a cadence for new messages or content, it also saves time on the planning side by eschewing additional meetings and coordination efforts down the road. With employees starting as often as every month, creating a unique onboarding campaign for every employee is not efficient. Automating a single wave of communications for new hires will allow you to duplicate the campaign for future employees, and ensure everyone receives the same introduction to your organization.
Empower people to drive the process
As important as company-wide planning and processes are, the onboarding experience hinges on the people who will support your new hires directly. Managers will, of course, play a large role in helping new employees feel like a real part of the organization, and organizations in turn must give managers the time and resources they need to do so effectively. According to Victor Snyder, contributor to entrepreneur.com, “Best practices in developing culture include holding managers accountable for training, communications and collaboration, and arming them with the tools necessary to do so in a manner consistent with the expectations of digitally savvy workers.” Along with buddies and other members of the onboarding team, managers should serve as entry points into company culture, and help new hires understand your shared values and the people who make them matter. Finding ways to make virtual connections engaging, interactive, and welcoming, will help new hires tap into your company’s spirit and start to add their own piece.
In the first few days of a new job, when the information is coming fast and your brain is working overtime, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. That feeling can be even more intense without someone next to you who has been there before. Virtual onboarding requires that we do what we can from a distance to quash that feeling, not by combating the digital landscape, but by embracing it. COVID-19 may have precipitated a digital revolution of sorts, but virtual onboarding will be standard long after the pandemic. Take steps to ensure your onboarding experience leverages the digital landscape to foster real, human connections with new employees.