How to onboard new employees while working remotely during the pandemic

Onboarding new employees successfully can be a hard task for many companies. This task turns even scarier when a company is forced to become fully remote for the first time without much warning. This is the now the reality for so many organizations during the coronavirus pandemic.

While you might think it’s not the right time to take on new employees and introduce them to the company, most organizations are two months into working remotely so the show must go on,  and hires must be made despite the pandemic. As remote work becomes the new normal for most organizations, human resource employees are going to have to get creative in order to make new hires feel comfortable, valued, and ready to work.

Ladders spoke with Heidi Collins, the Vice President of People Operations at 15Five, which started out as a completely remote company, to find out her top tips for company’s that are onboarding employees remotely for the first time ever.

The most important aspects of onboarding new employees while working remotely

Whether remote or in the office, the most important thing to keep in mind while onboarding employees is to make sure that the employee is continually updated throughout the onboarding process, from the time that they receive their offer letter to the end of their first week.

In order to do this, you should keep a constant flow of communication between you and the new employee so that they feel valued and supported. Onboarding can be an overwhelming or scary time for some people and going through this process completely online and at home can emphasize or increase those feelings.

“Our team will send an offer letter, and as soon as it is signed we will send them a welcome email with their benefits and perks,” Collins said.

As the employee’s first day approaches, the team then sends the individual information about the next steps. This next round of updates includes information about their company email, onboarding workflow, and their hardware, for example, their computer, mouse, and monitor. Each company will handle the issue of technology hardware differently. While some employees will be able to work off their personal laptops, others might require the company to send them a laptop, as well as additional monitors, keyboards, or a computer mouse.

How to introduce new hires to employees while working remotely

Generally, a huge part of onboarding a new employee has to do with introducing them to the company and its culture, which means introducing them to other people in the company.

In a remote company, which many organizations are right now, whether that is temporary or long-term, professionals onboarding new employees must compensate for random interaction and be deliberate about communication rituals and regiment.

“We have an award-winning culture and have deep, meaningful conversations about our lives even though most of us haven’t met each other in person,” Collins said. “We build communication rhythms to have the right conversations within a company.”

In today’s world of uncertainty and unprecedented situations, it has never been more important to over-communicate and checks in with people about how they are feeling, thinking, and working.

At 15Five, the company introduced a Best-self Kickoff that employees take part in during their first few months at the company. This program involves the employee speaking openly with their manager so that both managers and new employees get to know each other’s working styles, strengths, and ambitions.

The organization also has a People Operations team, which makes sure that someone is available for all of the needs of the new hire by answering their questions or concerns in a timely manner. The individuals on this team offer Zoom calls for more face-to-face interaction, and to make sure that the new employee’s concerns are heard.

“It’s vital to create a culture of psychological safety from the get-go…it’s much easier to talk about it than actually build it, though,” Collins said. “As leaders, we need to go first by showing we’re not perfect and we’re struggling too. Leaders need to show up to work and try our best to set an example for the rest of the company.”

According to Collins, the keys to thriving in the world of remote work are empathy, compassion, and flexibility.

Common mistakes companies make while onboarding employees remotely

Whether in person or online, onboarding is typically focused on the company mission, vision, and values.

According to Collins, successful onboarding also shines that spotlight back onto the new individual joining the team. In order to do this, Collins recommends asking the new employee a series of questions about themselves:

  • What do you want out of this role?
  • What are your career ambitions?
  • What’s important to you to balance home/work life?
  • What does flexibility work look like to you?

“At 15Five, we aim for all employees to know what they want before getting into the job, so we’ve provided a lot of structure around job clarity, and getting to know their strengths before getting onboarded,” Collins said. “Part of our onboarding process includes taking Gallup’s StrengthsFinders and VIA character strengths, to identify their top 5 strengths and learn more about their personality and how it can be applied to their new role.”

The hardest part about onboarding employees while working remotely company-wide

According to Collins, the hardest part about onboarding remotely is not having that face-to-face interaction that allows you to help new employees feel comfortable all the way throughout their first day.

“It’s hard to miss out on that 1-on-1 time, or time with the team to gain a more personal experience, which has made us be very intentional about the way we’ve built our culture,” Collins said.

In order to replace in-person interaction, 15Five hosts various activities throughout the work wee. Like many companies, the organization implemented team “happy hour” Zoom calls. The organization also has Question Fridays, which involve employees joining Zoom calls for face-to-face interaction in order to get to know other employees on a more personal level. Another important aspect is the weekly check-in between employees and managers, which allow the employees to not only get to know their manager better but also to ask any questions that have come up throughout the week.

During times in which companies are remote, even administrative onboarding tasks, like I9 verification, can be opportunities for new hires to have important conversations with current employees.

The advantages of onboarding employees remotely

Onboarding a new hire, while the entire company is working remotely, may sound impossible, but it can be done, and it even has some advantages over onboarding new employees in a traditional office space.

The first advantage for a completely remote company is obviously that there are substantially fewer overhead costs, and you don’t have to find spacer a new hire in a potentially overcrowded office.

The biggest advantage for working remotely is that it expands your talent pool immensely, allowing you to be able to choose from qualified candidates in any location. While many companies are committed to getting back into the office when it is safe to do so, leaders can also begin to consider hiring employees that will work remotely for the long-term.