The majority of the workforce has arguably become accustomed to remote working in the last six months as circumstance has simply dictated a need to operate away from the office. And we are seeing more businesses choose to remain virtual as the feasibility of a complete return to places of employment remains a challenge, not to mention undesirable for many employees. But it would appear that the future is virtual – to some degree at least – and, in general, the HR community is in support of this.
However, continued remote working isn’t without its challenges. Aside from managing the transition for existing staff, the longer a business operates virtually, the more processes that need to be moved online. There will need to be adjustments to talent plans to ensure they are relevant in the modern world. And as more businesses begin to look at hiring talent as some positivity returns to the UK economy – with data from growth analytics platform, cube19, revealing a 14% increase in professional vacancies in July – the next barrier to overcome will be the move to virtual pre and on-boarding.
Taking onboarding online
As with any HR system, it’s not possible to simply take existing procedures and put them online – as seasoned talent experts know, it’s far more complex than that. In fact, one of APSCo’s affiliate members, Tina Holt, HR expert and Director of JTHR Solutions, covered this topic in a recent webinar, and her advice certainly proved insightful.
Here are some of her recommendations to make virtual pre- and on-boarding really work for you:
Communication is key during pre-boarding
There will certainly be elements of the pre-boarding stage that will be the same – the individual will need the usual information in terms of an offer letter, a contract, start dates and anything else you’d usually send. The crucial difference at this stage in a virtual world is the level of communication.
The new hire’s circumstances are unlikely to be the same as they were last year. The likelihood that they have been working remotely themselves for an extended period is high. As such, they won’t have the clear-cut feeling that their career is about to change. And because they are spending more time at home with little chance to separate home and work life, a large proportion of their communication will be with their current colleagues.
It’s important now that you as their new employer break this communication up and be much more visible than you would be in a more traditional setting. Individuals are likely to be much more susceptible to counter-offers in times of uncertainty, so in order to prevent anyone getting cold feet, regular communication is key.
Obviously, timings will depend on the length of their notice period, but consider what information you can share with them in the lead up to their start date that will help keep them engaged, including anything that they may have missed from the traditional interview process. For example, during an in-office interview, individuals will have a chance to get a feel for the office, the company culture and they will likely get the chance to walk round and meet some of the team at some point.
This is unlikely to have happened virtually, but it does present an opportunity to engage with the new hire during the pre-boarding stage. Scheduling video calls in the lead up to their start date will help these individuals feel engaged, prepare them for their first day and will allow them to get a feel for the culture of the business.
There are also some elements of the on-boarding phase that can be moved into pre-boarding to support the early stages of communication. For example, in an in-office setting a new hire would come into the workplace on their first day and IT will have already set up their computer and any other technology they need. However, in a virtual world, waiting until the start date to get the relevant technology to the individual simply won’t work. Instead, they need to be able to log straight in on their first day and hit the ground running. Getting IT to connect with the new hire before they start and get them completely set up adds to the extra level of communication and will only help with the transition period from one role to the next when the physical move to a new location isn’t possible.
Getting the CEO on board is also highly advisable. Being able to send a welcome video from the CEO that’s tailored to the new hire adds a level of personalisation that can be hugely impactful. And, of course, the benefit in an online setting is that these are often much easier to organise than the traditional face to face meetings with the senior team that a new hire may have historically had access to.
Adjusting the onboarding process
Perhaps the greatest challenge that any new hire will face when starting a new job virtually is the fact that it will feel like very little has changed. They will still be working in the same place, their at-home commitments will be the same, they just have a new employer. There are a number of ways to support this transition, though.
Some elements of the traditional on-boarding programme can be implemented in an online setting and certainly should. The usual team lunch, for example, should certainly still form part of their first week, albeit through a video call.
Consider as well giving all new hires a virtual buddy. In an office environment, individuals naturally gravitate to those around them for assistance, but in an online world this human connection is removed. Assigning a virtual buddy will help a new hire adjust and retain the personal interaction and connections that are developed in the workplace.
Another adjustment to consider is how to manage the expectations of new hires in their first few weeks. In this remote world, employees are being given much more control over when and how they work, and it’s important that new starters are aware that it is acceptable for them to work at their own pace in their own time. It may sound simple, but often the smaller steps have a bigger impact and this will certainly help create a sense of loyalty with the business.
Perhaps more importantly in this flexible world, though, is to regularly review and amend the on-boarding process. We are operating in unprecedented times and accepting that some processes aren’t working will be much more beneficial in the longer term than pushing ahead with something that isn’t suitable. As with most HR strategies, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, so the virtual on-boarding programme you use will need to evolve with your business, and achieving this starts with acknowledging what needs to be changed.
The remote world we’re operating in now has its pros and cons, but it can work. Making small adjustments to the likes of pre- and on-boarding plans can make a big difference to new-hire engagement and will certainly help HR and talent teams managing in this incredibly agile world.