COVID-19 disrupted the work landscape when it made remote work the norm instead of just an option and prompted jobseekers and companies to evolve the setup almost top to bottom. No one could have predicted this drastic shift, the same way we cannot know for sure now whether we can go back to the old ways completely or have to develop a hybrid or blended approach postpandemic.
WFH reset the button for both the individual and company. From finding the balance between productivity and employee wellness, delivering expected results amid pandemic-induced challenges to maintaining the existing workforce, both parties had to rethink existing strategies. Hiring, onboarding and training also need to be modified to keep pace with all the changes the new setup has brought.
A new employee’s first weeks at work are vital to their growth and sense of belongingness in the new environment. Without on-site activities and face-to-face meetings, a new employee’s experience with the new workplace is now limited to what happens on-screen. Employers then must find new ways to immerse new hires into the company culture and their new role using limited resources. Similarly, new recruits should be open to new strategies to make the most of this new way of doing things.
I moved to a new company that does full WFH some months back after working a couple of years with another company that mixes WFH and two days in the office. While it has been my intent to find a job that will enable me to write more and improve my content building skills and so was looking forward to the job change, I was still naturally apprehensive despite my curiosity, especially as regards the WFH component and starting without meeting the new colleagues at all.
My first week, however, was a revelation — getting onboarded to my new job virtually was not as difficult as I had initially feared. My orientation week involved being introduced to the company and its values, meeting my new team and learning about what we do, discussing goals and expectations and even my probationary milestones. All of these took place via Zoom. The orientation was nearly like the traditional welcome to a new company, minus, only, the office walkthrough.
I was lucky enough to join a team that tried to provide as much information and training at the onset to serve as foundation for my work. They accommodated whatever question I had, even when the answer was obvious. I can comfortably express my thoughts and opinions during brainstorming sessions — something I, as an introvert, am not confident doing during face-to-face meetings. We discuss the team’s workload and adjust if necessary to accommodate everything without overloading each member. Aside from that, my supervisor communicates her expectations and guides me in every task I am assigned to while allowing me to work independently.
While I still have so much to learn, I’ve managed to settle in quite nicely with my new team and company and I’ve gotten past the uncomfortable part of the adjustment period. Just the same, I cannot deny that a gap still exists mainly because of the distance. The classic lunch break chikahans or after-work hangouts that bring workmates closer are reduced to little jokes over the Viber GC or between Zoom discussions. This can be a challenge for the new employee when trying to build a strong rapport with the other company members.
The employer side
The onboarding process is very critical. It sets the tone for the new hire’s experience with the company. It helps the newbie acclimatize to the culture and people and provides the groundwork for their performance.
A WFH setup makes all these a lot more challenging. Here’s what employers can do to make the virtual onboarding as effective as possible:
Get creative. How do you welcome to the company a new hire you actually haven’t met in person? It is already hard enough to create that good impression and provide a positive experience for the newbie such that they’d feel they made the right decision joining the company. But doing so virtually makes it doubly difficult. Think of how you can make the new recruit feel welcome even though they are sitting at home and you are as well miles away. Try putting yourself in their shoes and think about what you would need and start from there. Would a virtual tour of the office help? Maybe have a quick virtual meeting with the rest of the team to introduce everyone before you start with one of the orientation meetings.
Consider extending the onboarding process. For many companies, on-site onboarding and welcoming takes just a couple of days or maybe a week. For a virtual counterpart, information overload is a bigger concern because of the physical distance so try to compartmentalize the entire process to make it more manageable. It will be hard to tell if the new hire is getting bored, restless or still listening in a virtual meeting. So don’t do everything in one go as many are wont to do in a face-to-face orientation. The first day can just be introductions and a short company culture discussion and then you can give the new team member some own time to check out the website or any company videos.
Go personal. Make the process a lot more welcoming and engaging by taking into consideration the new hire’s setup at home and any concerns they might have about the virtual process. They could be at a loss as to how the onboarding will happen. They will enter a new work environment without personally experiencing it. Walk them through the procedure as early as possible: Explain how they will get their work tools. Discuss how the paperwork will be handled. You can even do all these before their official first day at work. Some companies send their new hires a kit with all the materials they will be needing to serve as a soft launch.
Optimize your PowerPoint presentations. This WFH setup limits you to the four corners of your Zoom — or any app for that matter — room. Creativity is going to be your friend in building a good onboarding experience. Make the presentations informative yet fun. If the company culture or vibe is young yet impassioned, reflect that in your presentation. Add music, pictures, age-appropriate GIFS — you name it! Share some prepandemic stories from the office as well to give them an idea of the bond among co-workers.
Supplement prezos with other materials. During an in-person orientation, HR manuals, magazines or brochures are usually given to new recruits for additional insights about the company. Send your new hire the soft copies of these. If these are not available, you can walk them through the company website and tell them to explore further during their self-study time. You can also share corporate company videos so that your new team member can visualize the voice and image of the company. Have them browse your company’s social media pages as well. Our team has a Google Drive that houses reference materials such as our style guide and content calendars. A self-study time was given for plowing through these files. Remember the newbie kit mentioned above? This can be that kit will all these soft files.
Strategize on company culture immersion. If you have an internal newsletter, introduce the newbie there a corresponding picture. Try a company-wide email announcement if a newsletter is not available. Have the new hire join as many meetings as possible, both internally and with clients to ease them into their tasks. Add them to any — maybe all — group chats for work. Another way is assigning a “virtual buddy.” As their supervisor, there are times when you’ll be held up in meetings and tasks that will need your utmost attention. Have one of your team members help you out in welcoming the new guy. Plus, if your new employee is still quite young, they might be less intimidated by someone in the same age range as them.
Set expectations and goals clearly. Even as you try to make the virtual onboarding easy and fun, don’t forget that part of this process is to discuss what the job entails. It will be very helpful to talk about team and team member assignments and timelines from the get go. Discuss attendance and reporting guidelines in your WFH setup. Outline the probationary goals and schedule and metrics for performance review. While you can expect the new team member to work independently and at their own pace in this remote setup, clarifying expectations soonest will help them ease into the team’s process.
Make the training a continuous process. The training need not stop at the end of the first week of the new hire. If you can’t organize regular formal training or workshops, one-on-one mentoring can be an alternative. For content-related work, in particular, regular feedback on copy submissions benefits both the team member and supervisor.
Check in with them constantly. In an in-person setup, the supervisor would usually stop by the new hire’s desk and ask them how they’re doing. This isn’t difficult to translate to WFH terms. Pop a message to check in on them. For their first few weeks, make the first move yourself. A new team member may hold back from asking questions because they worry that they’re distracting you from your own work or are simply shy. These one-on-ones do not have to be formal meetings. Reassure them that your chat box is open anytime for their questions, especially when they’re working on a task. Also, be open to any concerns that they might have, task-related or not.
Add in a little social time. Don’t be just all about the work! Sneak in some casual chitchat about topics that you and your team can laugh about, even some personal details to get to know them more. You can consider doing virtual lunches or coffee sessions too. Let your new employee in on some team inside jokes or get to know their quirks and interests that you can chat about during these social times.
What about new hires themselves? What should new hires keep in mind when settling into their new job?
Be an active virtual participant. Help your supervisor address the challenges of a virtual onboarding by articulating any clarifications you might need. Addressing your questions and concerns as early as possible will also help you understand the job, company and culture soonest so you can be efficient in your tasks.
Be ready to hit the ground running. Do your homework. Don’t rely only on the training provided you. You have to do some digging yourself. WFH requires a bit more independence, after all.
Set up a work space at home. Having your own working space at home will allow you to focus and set boundaries between work and personal. If you’ve got the resources to fashion a desk entirely based on your taste, that’s great! But it’s also okay not to focus on the aesthetics too much. A space in your living or dining room that you can identify as your work area, from now on, is good enough. Make sure it’s also distraction-free so you could attend those Zoom meetings in peace.
React out, you have to. You are entering a new — if not your first — company and there’s a lot to know. Your supervisor and teammates will be expecting you to ask questions, so stay curious and don’t hesitate to ask whatever comes to mind. This is especially important when you are unsure about something when completing a task. Don’t go rogue and do things your way! But also be mindful of the questions you ask. Too many obvious questions might give the impression that you will need a lot of hand-holding.
Introduce yourself in emails. Unless your company does a virtual welcome for every new hire, you’d meet other co-workers outside your team only during a cross-team virtual meeting. The other teams might not even know that a new member has joined the company. So it might be best to introduce yourself when sending out emails. You can opt for something as simple as “Hello I’m [name], a new member of the [team]” followed by your intended message.
Watch how you chat. It’s difficult to tell a colleague’s personality through chatting as anything can get lost in translation. Making an impression on your team and the rest of the company is even more challenging in this situation, so consider how you compose your messages. Try reading it out loud to yourself. What might sound okay and normal to you might come off rude or distant, if not the opposite, to others. Emojis help in reflecting what a person feels, so don’t be afraid to add them to your messages. But do avoid them in official emails. A smiley in your message might make you look not so serious or less competent than you actually are.
Featured photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels.