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Onboarding new hires in the age of remote working

Onboarding new hires in the age of remote working

By Juliane Sterzl, VP of UK&I, CoachHub

Companies across the world have been required to change their working practices and evolve in the wake of the global lockdowns imposed by nations to try to halt the spread of COVID-19. For those businesses still looking to grow and add to their teams, lockdowns present the significant challenge of how to successfully integrate new members of staff to the team, while operating remotely.

Starting a job at a new company presents challenges by default under normal circumstances, but starting a new job without even being able to meet any of your colleagues adds many more to the pile – for those hiring and those being hired. How can companies onboard new staff effectively?

Remove communication barriers

Without a doubt, communication is the most valuable tool in an employers toolkit when onboarding new staff. For a new employee in particular, it’s really important to have a clear idea from the start of where to go for help. It takes time to establish close work friends, whom they can ask questions of to erase their doubts or concerns, and particularly when a physical barrier is present.

Encourage even the smallest questions and lower the barriers to asking – for example, instant messaging apps, like Slack, promote more informal communication than slower media, such as email, and can provide the impression of a safer space. One solution is to create an ongoing video call link, which can be staffed in turn, where the new hire will always be able to discuss concerns and queries – think of it as a digital office door that’s always open.

Building the confidence of new employees is part and parcel of this. The tendency for a new joiner to bottle up questions and concerns, and try to press ahead solo can be amplified when they’re not surrounded by colleagues whom they can nudge in an informal manner.

To mitigate against this, try to eliminate any and all barriers to communication, and encourage dialogue – no matter how small or how brief the call is. Giving your new hire access to a third-party advice-giver, such as a digital coach, can also help empower them to honestly assess where they need support and will foster a culture of open communication across the board.

Structure their day

Juliane Sterzl

Juliane Sterzl

Structure is fundamental to ensure that everyone knows what they need to do and when, and doubly so for new starters. Under normal circumstances, overengineered meet-and-greets can feel false and forced and adding a little spontaneity and fun to the induction process is worthwhile.

Populate their calendar with meetings, colleague introductions and conversations as well as training sessions, and ensure that your existing staff know what they need to be walking new hires through, and when. You should also communicate all this with the joiner before they begin their new role so that they know what to expect from the outset – and who they should turn to – to help alleviate any new job nerves. With everyone working remotely and coordination far more difficult, organisation is a must, so don’t be afraid to go overboard.

Setting up shop at the virtual ‘water cooler’ 

For most, one of the most highly anticipated elements of a new role is getting to know new colleagues. It’s easy to underestimate how much communication happens daily in an office. From group lunches and personal chats around the proverbial water cooler down to subtle interactions, such as positive body language or a passing smile, it goes far beyond official meetings and work-based conversations. All these levels of communication contribute to the overall team atmosphere, and are difficult to replace while working remotely.

It is important to introduce new hires to as many co-workers as possible, particularly those from different teams or job roles, whom they may not come into contact with otherwise and to facilitate conversations outside of a work context. To help your new starter feel like part of a happy, healthy and close-knit team, introduce remote lunches or coffee breaks, after work drinks, or even a team treasure hunt, whereby new employees are provided with a list of names from the company and have to find out their colleagues’ interests and hobbies.

For example, an after-work virtual pub quiz may not be high on your priority list, especially if it entails staff staying at their computers outside of work hours. But you’d be surprised at how much people benefit from this – socialising with colleagues is an essential part of maintaining team morale and individual wellbeing, and will ease any transitions for new starters.

Transitioning into a new team culture and building relationships with your new teammates is a challenge we all face when we move to a new workplace. In the current climate of the pandemic and social distancing, this is undoubtedly a much greater challenge. Acknowledge the difficulties, but maximise your efforts to smooth out the friction points and try to recreate virtually as much of your social community as you can.

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