4 ways to onboard new staff while working remotely

September 3, 2020

Liza RobbinsBy Liza Robbins.

Over the past few months, so many people have struggled with remote working.

It’s been difficult to maintain friendly ties with people in the office. When you only meet online, there’s very little chit-chat.

It’s more difficult to know what’s really going on in the firm and to collaborate really effectively with your colleagues.

Now imagine how much harder it would be if you weren’t an established team member…

…But a brand-new employee, who had no pre-existing ties to your office or to your team.

How would you get to know your peers at work? How would you familiarise yourself with company culture… Get to grips with the firm’s systems and processes… Or even ask questions easily?

You would probably feel lost for a long time – and much more isolated, and more of an outsider, than normal.

It’s a challenge many of our firms are grappling with right now.

There’s no question that like companies the world over, many are carefully considering their resources, and have had to put staff on furlough or even, sadly, make redundancies.

But at the same time, in many firms, recruitment hasn’t halted entirely. Many are welcoming a student intake right now.

For others, the war for talent has taken a surprising turn…

I spoke to one Kreston firm recently which told me that the Big 4 were laying off good people right now – and they were snapping them up!

But if you’re lucky enough to be welcoming new staff right now, how do you onboard them, if much of your work still takes place remotely?

Here are my suggestions, to add to your normal induction process. Many of them make sense in ‘normal’ times as well…

1. Kick off the induction process before they start. Now, more than ever, your new recruits are going to be nervous before taking up their new positions – for all the reasons I outlined above!

Use the period after they have signed their contract, but before their first day, to make your new recruits feel welcome in your team, build up their excitement and reassure them that they have made a fantastic choice.

Send them a “Welcome pack” with a personal welcome from the managing partners and an introduction to their line manager and team.

It could also include useful information about your firm and its client base – and a schedule for their first few days at work, so they know what to expect.

Make sure their line manager sends them occasional updates about company or team successes (without breaching confidentiality).

Not only will this help them feel included, it will give them something to talk about with colleagues when they start.

Finally, brief their new team about your new hire ahead of time.

Integrating a new employee is going to be a team effort… Make sure everyone is ready to play their part from Day 1.

2. Hold Day 1 in the office – if possible. Many countries are now allowing (or even encouraging) some staff members to work from the office.

If that applies to you, try to bring your new employee into the office for their first day, so they can get a physical sense of the place and meet at least some colleagues in person.

This will give them a more solid connection to your team and also, perhaps, a sense of what work life might look like for them, once you move away from remote working.

Since onboarding a new team member is so challenging to do remotely, if you are allowing some staff to work from your office, see if you can give new employees priority for this.

3. Organise introductions. Your new employee needs to get to know their colleagues quickly – and you can’t leave this to chance.

Organise a team introduction over Microsoft Teams or Zoom, and then schedule personal online meetings with key team members over their first week.

And encourage your staff to reach out to their new colleague once in a while, just to find out how they’re doing and get to know them more personally.

It’s difficult to recreate those “water cooler moments” when people casually talk as they pass each other in the office – but we must try.

4. Develop their 30-day plan. New employees working remotely will need even more structure and guidance than normal, not just over their first days but over their first month and quarter.

Remember they don’t know your firm – or how you work – at all, and this can be hard to absorb online!

I suggest a 30-day plan, which gradually immerses them in your world – introducing them to their colleagues, the tech they’re going to need to do their work, your systems and processes, and of course your clients.

Plus, set out clear objectives for them during this period, so they have a clear understanding of what’s expected from them.

Their plan should include frequent meetings with their line-manager to check in with them, answer their questions and offer feedback.

A “buddy” or mentor they can turn to easily with questions might be useful too.

Of course, new employees’ induction can easily last more than 30 days – it’s just difficult to plan much further in the current climate. So repeat as necessary.