Onboarding new employees is usually a very exciting time. Your business is growing and you’ve given an opportunity to someone to progress, or start, their career. It’s a time of celebration, happiness and excitement. The possibilities are endless.
In today’s climate there are elements of that which are still true – your business is still growing, and you’ve still given somebody the opportunity to build their career, but there is an undertone of uncertainty that lingers with everything we do right now.
‘Uncertainty’ is the most commonly used word right now, but it’s the most fitting. It’s important to remember that this is a challenging and stressful time for everyone, and that needs to be recognised. Your family, friends, colleagues, employees and everyone around you is navigating this new climate in their own way, and are trying to do the right thing.
This is a new environment for us all, and the actions we take now are different to the ones we took before. The reason we say this is because your onboarding process for new employees will also be different to how you’ve done it before, and if there was ever a time to try to provide certainty, clarity and security to people it’s now.
Onboarding is one of the first experiences a person will have as a new employee at your company, and sets the tone for their journey with you. It’s important that it’s positive, even though things are chaotic at the moment. We have spent some time reaching out to some companies who already have remote practices in place, and people who have gone through remote processes, to really understand how to move forward the best we can.
We’ve broken it down into digestible chunks, not everything might apply to your company but think about what could be implemented, and what changes you might need to make.
Plan, plan, plan
This is vital. You need to spend a lot of time planning your onboarding process. Unfortunately, we don’t know how long things will remain as they are, so it’s quite likely that you will need to use this onboarding process more than once, so put in the work to make it effective from the start! Before you jump the gun and start looking at what great things your new employee will do, you need to sit down and design the whole blueprint of their journey to set them up for success.
Ideally, you should start this about a month prior to them starting, to give you time to revise, edit, trial new processes, etc. Invest the time figuring everything out and it will set you up well for moving forward.
Which nicely segways into our next point:
Checklists can be many things – a list of things to get to or else a built out guide of what to do for each part of the onboarding process (we prefer this one). This way, nothing gets overlooked.
Your checklist should include a list of tasks that HR, IT, finance, hiring managers, workplace team, onboarding buddy, etc. need to do. What needs to be prepared, and by who? When does it need to be done by? Starting your checklist early means you won’t be grasping for time to get this done a week before a new employee starts!
Are all of your onboarding materials ready and up to date? What content does your new employee need to see? Where are things kept? Who needs to set up email accounts and access to the company VPN etc?
It’s useful, if you haven’t already done this, to make sure that your documentation is easily available. Maybe you use Google docs, or Confluence, or something similar. Having a single source of truth will lessen the stress of trying to remember where you saved something! Having a single source with links to relevant materials is the best way to think about this, instead of having multiple links that you send someone. Single source of truth, always!
This will be your new hire’s complete guide of reference for everything. It should include multiple things:
- A welcome message! Make it personal and welcome them to their new position
- An overview of their team, their role and their mission. It’s nice to include the company values here too
- Buddy! Who is their onboarding buddy? What is their availability and working hours? What’s their Slack/email etc. The onboarding buddy will be a completely available resource for new hires to get up to speed with everything and be a person who they can reach out to with any questions.
- Who they need to meet. This is crucial for a new employee, not only to get to know the wider team, but to understand the organisational structure, who does what and who they will be interacting with the most in their role. It can be nerve racking enough starting a new role, so it’s handy to pre-populate their calendar with these meetings (over video), and an agenda of what will be discussed, to make sure that everyone on the list gets ticked off!
- A Day 1 to 90 breakdown. Obviously, you’re not going to break down every single day, but an overview of what to expect and achieve on day 1, week 1, week 2, week 3, week 4, and then week 5 to day 90 (with dates included) will be very useful. Particularly in remote environments, having a guide of what to do and what to work towards all laid out is incredibly beneficial.
- General onboarding materials. What do they need to know about your company and your company mission? What do they need to get up to speed with things? You will already have all of this information available for onboarding in person (you likely have sessions with product/ development/ compliance teams etc.), so just make sure that those resources are in the onboarding document. It’s worth keeping in mind that this could be the first time a person has gone through a remote onboarding process and, with everything that’s going on, may be overwhelmed. Try to ensure that your materials aren’t too content heavy and coming all at once, maybe what you would do in one week you could extend to two? Consider the other factors in play here, and try to ensure that the onboarding material is digestible.
- Company events/meetings. This will be for things like town hall meetings or particularly important dates. These will all be over video for now, but they won’t be forever so it’s good to include everything!
Ideally you should send the onboarding document to your new employee the week before they start (after they have been set up on internal systems) so that they have time to read through everything and get themselves mentally prepared – including what time they start, and the first thing they should do on their first day (perhaps a meeting with their buddy or manager). If their manager is in a different time zone, for example, make sure that they start their day with something meaningful to make them feel comfortable and part of the team. Don’t leave them sitting at their computer and not sure of what they should be doing!
Week one should include already scheduled meetings with their manager and buddy which should not be cancelled for any reason. Perhaps you’ve onboarded multiple people at the same time and you will have groups working on a project together? This is the time for them to meet their team and start discussing how they are going to approach it.
It’s worth investing in the right tools (if you haven’t already) to allow your employees to collaborate efficiently when working remotely. Slack, emails, Zoom (or whatever your preference of video conferencing is) will be worth their weight in gold in making sure you can all communicate well and get your work done. For your new hire, set up their Slack prior to them starting so that they can jump in from day one. Anything that promotes communication promotes collaboration and leaders should be demonstrating good communication in general using these tools – lead by example!
When looking at tools, and communicating remotely, it’s worth looking at how you can make more of your interactions asynchronous. Maybe you have a weekly meeting where you delegate what needs to be done, and by who, to reduce the amount of back and forth during the week checking things?
This is short, but powerful. Document literally everything. Everything.
It’s not as easy when working remotely to just ask a colleague a question and have an immediate response. Documenting things means that everyone knows what’s going on, what updates have been made, what the current status is on projects etc.
Not documenting things will lead to mishaps and miscommunication in the future, so make sure that everything is recorded. If it’s not tracked, it’s not fact!
Under normal circumstances, new employees pick up their laptops, badges etc. on their first day in the office, but we’re in a different situation now.
In the current environment, be sure to ship any equipment (or company merchandise!) they will need in plenty of time and discuss any possible delays with your vendor or courier service.
Health, recognition and communication
As a company, you need to recognise that the reason you are currently looking at onboarding new hires remotely is due to a global pandemic. This isn’t a choice right now, so it’s important to over-communicate to both new and existing employees. Help people establish good remote working practices and give them time to settle in – remote workers generally work too many hours (it’s easily done when you’re in one location all day) so try to help them establish some boundaries to prevent burnout.
During this time people are stressed not only for their health, but for their success. If you are in a position to be transparent that things are slower than they usually are, or that as a company you are not reaching your usual goals, then communicate that. It can help people feel more relaxed knowing it’s not all sitting on their shoulders. Recognise that this is an uncommon situation, and the best thing that we can do is work together to get through it.
While we can’t get together for Friday drinks any more, is there anything that your company can offer to not only make your new colleagues feel part of a team, but also to positively impact their mental health? (We’re all cooped up inside at the moment, and need an escape of some sorts!) Maybe you can set aside a half hour, or an hour, on a Friday to have virtual drinks/ coffee and to chat about things outside of the obvious. Maybe some of your longer-tenured employees could write some articles about how things are done in your company, and things they really enjoy about working there that can be shared?
As a final thought, think about shoutouts for your team. It can be stressful starting a new job so if after a few weeks, when they have settled in, your new employee does a particularly good job on something – let everyone know! Give them a shoutout on Slack, or email. These are small actions, but go a long way when making someone feeling part of the team. Having a #gratitude channel is a nice idea – we should all celebrate the wins, regardless of how big or small they are.
Mistakes will happen, nothing can ever be perfect the first time, but the more time you spend planning and considering the experience of your onboarding, the better you are setting yourself up for success. Be intentional about everything you do, and mindful to make sure that you are providing all the necessary tools, materials and communication for someone to do well.
Hopefully things will get back to the normal we once knew in the not too distant future, but chances are that you will have to onboard multiple people remotely, so it’s best to have all of this well thought out. There’s so much information we could include here, but at the risk of writing a novel, we thought that these were some of the core points to focus on.
We are here to talk this out with you. We’re available on email, phone, LinkedIn, Slack, Twitter and via our website. Don’t be afraid to reach out if you want to work through this – it’s what we’re here for 🙂
Coming in the next few weeks, we will look at all of you who are interviewing for a new job at the moment and how to best prepare for doing all of this remotely. We got you 🙂
We would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who took the time to speak with us. This wouldn’t have been possible without your help, and we really appreciate you giving us some insights!
Thank you all!!