From client meetings to internships, COVID-19 has transformed some of the most foundational aspects of the profession from in-person interactions to online experiences. And while many observers expected firms to pull back on hiring as a result of the pandemic, that has not come to pass – if anything, many forward-looking firms are viewing this unprecedented period as an opportunity to add hard-to-come-by talent.
However, one concern about remote work that continues to bubble up is the difficulty in establishing and maintaining firm culture with staff so dispersed, and this difficulty disproportionately affects new employees. How do you demonstrate the firm’s culture to a new hire, after all, when the traditional face-to-face onboarding process is in many cases now completely virtual?
In a recent article for Fast Company, author Sharon Patterson cites data indicating that nearly 33% of new hires look for a newer job within their first six months of starting at a company – a figure she notes may be in fact be higher for employees who have started new jobs remotely this year. Yet despite this negative impact, only 27% of companies have a virtual onboarding process. It’s more important than ever, in other words, for organizations to develop an effective onboarding program that gives their new remote hires a proper welcome and a good feel for the corporate culture – even if they can’t experience it firsthand for now.
Patterson suggests four ways to create such a program, which she believes will better acclimate employees at the beginning of their journey, so they’ll be more likely to feel a sense of belonging and loyalty over the longer term:
Patterson believes digital onboarding tools should not be seen as a replacement for human interaction, but rather as supplements to generating a positive employee experience and fostering a sense of camaraderie. To that end, she says managers and team leaders should leverage video technology to establish one-on-one connections – not necessarily formal or even work-related connections, she notes, but even just occasional personal check-ins to let them know they’re a person and not just an employee.
Think Like a New Hire
While many onboarding programs are viewed as long checklists of to-dos, Patterson says leaders should think more like a new hire and ask themselves how they can create an optimal virtual employee experience. It helps, she believes, to map out everything a new hire would be expected to know in the first 30 days, 60 days and 100 days and use that information to package a formal onboarding offering and follow up with interactive check-ins or coaching from various team members to ensure the employee feels welcome and has the needed tools and support.
Prepare for the New Employee’s Arrival
Some leaders may want to rush through the onboarding process so a new employee can step into existing projects right away, but Patterson thinks it’s important to instill in employees a sense of ownership over their onboarding plan by setting clear expectations, establishing timelines and laying out actionable goals. She believes this is also the time to help employees feel immersed in the company’s culture and values by designing a schedule of video chats with different teams and getting other team members involved to help the new employee learn more about alternative benefits, such as time off to volunteer and how to take advantage of it.
Digitize the Process
Finally, Patterson says the key to combating the traditional onboarding problem of endless paperwork is to identify the most important tasks, simplify what paperwork can be condensed and digitize resources so that new hires can complete everything online and refer back to them when needed. One way to achieve this is gamification, such as transforming written documents into interactive webinars or online modules to help boost engagement and retention of the information.
Patterson closes by citing data from the Wynhurst Group showing that employees who had the benefit of a structured onboarding process were nearly 60% more likely to be with the same company after three years – a compelling argument for firms to try and deliver a more positive virtual experience for their new hires.