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How Can We Maintain New Hire Engagement When Onboarding Remotely?

HR Question:

We recently hired a new team member, and we’re worried about onboarding them when we are all working remotely due to COVID-19. How can we maintain new hire engagement when doing onboarding remotely?

HR Answer:

For some companies, remote onboarding is nothing new. They may have team members across the US, or even internationally, and are familiar with the process of bringing someone on board without ever physically meeting the person. For these companies, they are able to maintain new hire engagement when onboarding remotely because remote work is already built into their culture. But, for the majority of others, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted unprecedented pivots to their day-to-day operations, including adjusting their onboarding plans to a new remote structure.

Many companies prefer in-person onboarding for the opportunity to build casual rapport with their new employees, and to introduce them to the in-office environment. Employees enjoy the opportunity to take new team members out to lunch, introduce them to the rest of the team, and help them acclimate to a new environment. The in-person onboarding creates a sense of immersion, allows the employee to live and breathe within their new environment, and requires the new hire to remain engaged in their day. So how do companies ensure these new employees feel engaged from the moment they sign their letter of employment – even from behind their own computer screen at home?

Engage from the get-go

When you’re onboarding a new employee, it’s more than just paperwork. In the SHRM article  “Virtual Onboarding of Remote Workers More Important Than Ever,” Lianne Vineberg, Founder and Director of Talent & Recruitment at Talent in the 6ix, states that “the No. 1 thing to remember [when onboarding a new employee] is that you’re building a foundation for the new hire to have new relationships in the workplace and helping them to have a voice, which is even more important when they are remote.” Furthermore, employers should strive to make virtual onboarding seamless, dynamic, and informative.

Without the opportunity to physically immerse the new hire into the company culture and environment, it becomes imperative that strong relationships and lines of communication are established early, making them feel comfortable and welcomed.

Consider adding helpful touchpoints to encourage engagement. Once the employment letter is signed, kick off the celebration by sending the new employee a welcome email.  Best practice is for the direct supervisor to send this email, introducing themselves and establishing a relationship. Consider sending the typical welcome packet they would get on day one to their home, giving them an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the company even further.  Encourage the new employee to set up their home office, including tips and tricks from their new team. Ensure all necessary technology is available to help the new employee start their first day at 100%. This could include sending them a laptop or other necessary hardware for work from home.  Send a welcome gift to the new employee’s home – maybe a plant, company swag, or office decorations. It’s the thought that counts.

Embrace the familiar

When onboarding a new employee remotely, there are some steps that won’t change, no matter where someone is working. Many companies have an hour set aside for the new employee to work with HR on benefits, handbook review, and typical onboarding tasks. HR will need to review technology, remote or on-site requirements, make sure that they have the tools that they may need, etc. While these rote tasks don’t accomplish establishing that “welcome to the team” feeling, they present an opportunity for more creative connections – such as chatting with HR as the paperwork is filled out and allowing time to get to know their HR contact.

Start off strong

In their first full week, establish weekly video check-ins around the same time to create a sense of routine and an open line of communication.  Assign a mentor and begin to create 30-, 60-, 90-day development plans. Schedule Zoom meetings with each member of the new employee’s department to allow time for those casual get-to-know-you conversations that would normally happen around the office. According to Miro’s “The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work,” you’ll want to formally introduce them to the team and provide a bit of background on them in advance. Make sure the team understands the new employee’s role. To increase engagement and bring some fun into the day, run some team games or activities virtually involving the new employee to break the ice.

Keep up the momentum

Continue checking in with the new team member to make sure there are no unanswered questions. In their second week, schedule Zoom meetings with other departments.  If the company is small enough, schedule video 1:1 with every employee.  Consider scheduling a virtual lunch with 2 or 3 employees, just to continue building new relationships. Keep these opportunities and events going throughout the first month. Once you reach the one-month anniversary of their first day, celebrate again! Make it a big deal to schedule time to talk through the first month of employment.  Consider this 30-day check-in with their direct supervisor and Human Resources to get two different perspectives.

Onboarding may look a little different right now and the practice may not be exactly the same, but it’s now more important than ever to bring new employees on board in a successful, welcoming, and lasting manner. It’s up to managers to ensure that their team, both new and tenured employees, is moving forward as smoothly as can be expected amid the pandemic. The key is having a clear plan and frequent two-way communication.

Would you like to find out how engaged your employees are? Strategic HR can help. We will create a custom survey to mirror your work environment and goals for the business, administer the survey as a neutral third party, and summarize the findings with recommendations for improvement. To learn more about our employee surveyscontact us now.