This is how workplace onboarding needs to change in 2021

Welcome to our new series where we explore the most important industries, trends, and topics related to your career from every angle. This month we are exploring remote onboarding in 2021.

2020 was a heck of a year and will be remembered as such for a long time. Not only did it remind everyone how easily daily life can be upended by a single global catastrophe, but it also necessitated a shift in how the world’s workforces do business. For health and safety reasons, many companies decided it was time to cut the office shackles loose and have employees work remotely

However, for lots of companies, remote work wasn’t—and still isn’t—a normal, standardized practice. As such, onboarding processes are stuck in limbo. How does a company on board in a remote environment when on-site onboarding has been the norm for so long? Onboarding is an important process that can determine if a new hire stays with a company or abandons ship early on, so getting it right is key. Here are some proposed changes to the process that could help companies and their new hires in 2021 and beyond.

Embrace modernity and its benefits

As a result of COVID-19 and the decentralization of workforces, many companies are finding out that there’s no reason to have employees cooped up in an office together.

Remote work can save a lot of money and time in a lot of different areas by nixing office costs, eliminating employee commute times, and reducing the number of inefficiencies brought about by in-person scheduling conflicts. With there being so many positives to going remote, it’s no surprise that onboarding can benefit as well.

I reached out to XY Planning Network‘s Director of People & Culture, Ryan Watin, to get his thoughts on which old-school onboarding processes may start to disappear in the near future.

“Ultimately, this depends on the industry and the resources available,” Watin prefaced, before mentioning how adaptable companies and people can be when confronting situations that necessitate seemingly impossible changes, such as what 2020 put everyone through.

“To answer the question,” Watin continued, “cumbersome in-person orientations should probably go to the wayside. This won’t happen for all, but will eventually serve as a differentiator in how companies are integrating new team members into their respective organizations. This was already on the horizon as priorities of the incoming workforces (Gen Y and Gen Z) prefer (and eventually will expect) easy, intuitive, and remote integration (online onboarding, I9 completion, etc).”

Remember the person

Remote onboarding isn’t without its drawbacks. Beyond the quantifiable benefits of in-person, centralized workplaces, there’s also the undefinable gain that some people derive from sharing a space with others—the human factor.

“Some folks really thrive on face-to-face connection,” Watin said, when asked about the pros of in-person onboarding. “There’s also a lot lost in body language, communication via Zoom-only processes.”

As such, remote onboarders need to work a bit harder to establish meaningful connections and working relationships. John Balogh, Relativity Support Architect, shared these thoughts with me regarding the matter.

“Given today’s remote work environment, onboarding needs to be more hands-on than it was in the past,” Balogh said. “New hires don’t have the same ability to stop by someone’s desk to ask them a question or discuss an approach to a problem.”

Communication barriers are a serious issue in the remote world. If a new hire feels colleagues are out of reach, there’s a chance they may forego seeking necessary assistance, which could have numerous negative long-term ramifications.

“As they aren’t meeting colleagues in person, they may have a more difficult time reaching out to people with questions or challenges they are working through,” Balogh said. “Individuals responsible for onboarding need to be proactive in reaching out to new hires to make sure they have access to all necessary resources to help them manage these situations.”

It’s sage advice. Proactivity and a hands-on mindset from those facilitating remote onboarding efforts are going to be essential in replicating the experience of on-site onboarding.

Go hybrid or go home (either is fine)

Not every business is going to be able to shift its entire operation to a remote environment, even if it’s able to transition part of its workforce to a work-from-home setup.

For companies with just a few new hires who absolutely need to be on-site for one reason or another, there’s a solution: hybrid onboarding. Many companies have gone all-in on remote or on-site onboarding, but half-and-half might be a perfectly tenable solution going forward.

For hybridization, there are two major components to keep in mind. First, make sure that remote and on-site employees are both receiving resources, documents, credentials, and anything else necessary for their job functions at the same time so neither half lags behind the other.

And in order to streamline the process on a company level, it can be useful for businesses to create a comprehensive virtual onboarding deck that contains all major information new hires need to know. That way, remote and on-site employees can learn from the same source and the business can avoid unnecessarily doubling up on onboarding expenses.