Making a success of remote onboarding

Humphrey Chen on how to avoid becoming ‘The Great Regret’ for incoming employees

There has been much talk about the ‘The Great Resignation’ or the ‘The Great Reshuffle’, which refer to the mass exodus of employees leaving their jobs for perceived greener pastures. 

While companies have taken an overwhelmingly reactive approach to this problem, they should instead be focused on measures that aim to leave a great early impression so the cycle doesn’t continue. The lack of attention in this area is supported by Eagle Hill Consulting research that found 58% of employees believe starting a job during the pandemic was harder than before and that employee onboarding has barely evolved two years into the pandemic. 

Organisations are setting themselves up for failure if they aren’t working towards a virtually-native onboarding process that accounts for significant changes from remote work environments. Below are some ways to avoid becoming ‘The Great Regret’ for new employees.

Video still is under utilised and isn’t user friendly in the way a document is for research or referencing

Every detail matters in remote onboarding

In-person onboarding involves plenty of structured meetings and documentation, but it also has intangible elements that often go unnoticed and underappreciated. New employees get a feel for the culture by chatting to individuals that aren’t part of their scheduled onboarding experience and are already beginning to gain their footing in the social ecosystem. All of these important intangible aspects of a new job orientation are areas that require extra effort in a remote work environment. It takes hard work and dedication to try and regain these once-natural elements of onboarding.

Employers must script the order of onboarding activities, from the welcome note outlining the entire onboarding process and the delivery of the swag welcome box on the first day, to the ‘watercooler’ Zoom/Webex/Teams/Meet/BlueJeans conversations that new employees should have with their peers. An onboarding buddy should be assigned for the first month to offer the information and guidance a co-worker in the adjacent cubicle would normally offer in an office setting. They could also help teach how to operate some of the organisation’s chosen collaboration tools, whether that’s Slack, Teams, or others. Additionally, a list of all key stakeholders and their functions relative to the new employee should be shared for reference. 

Overcommunication is the only way to properly compensate for the onboarding changes of shifting from an office setting to a remote work environment. Drafting each interaction for at least the first few days will go a long way to making new employees feel good about the new position.

Don’t be afraid to use technology to make onboarding easier

In the office, initial welcome meetings serve as a great way to ‘break the ice’ and interact with others while learning the ropes. In a virtual setting, the meetings take on a more functional role to deliver the necessary information to do the job correctly. However, the meetings now can serve as a valuable, referenceable data source that can be reviewed to improve the onboarding experience for future new hires.

Multimodal AI, which is the combined processing of different types of data like image, text, speech, numerical data, and so forth has made it possible to index video content so employees no longer have to take handwritten notes or skip through each video at 10-second intervals to find specific topics they wish to resurface for further information. 

Despite being one of the most widely used ways to communicate in a virtual environment, video still is under utilised and isn’t user friendly in the way a document is for research or referencing. An onboarding video that essentially has a table of contents is especially useful for high IQ job functions, such as a software engineer, that have plenty of programs and processes to learn.

Project management platforms like Trello and Monday are also an excellent way to make onboarding easier for new employees because they can share a project roadmap with others in real-time and show the history of that project as well. Even small details like a great e-signature program can go a long way to making a seamless first impression.

Don’t forget the fun!

It’s easy for remote onboarding to become mundane and isolating, so it’s important to schedule introduction calls simply for the purpose of getting to know new colleagues. Plan activities – and not just ones directed at new employees, but shared experiences that they can naturally enjoy without the attention being all on them such as employee appreciation days (collectively or by division), company game nights, weekly happy hours, etc. These activities should be routine and not sporadic, as employees are more likely to attend if it becomes part of their work rituals.

Don’t wait for questions – anticipate them…

The phrase “don’t be afraid to ask questions” is often overused during the onboarding process, however it comes across as hollow because many new employees will still feel uncomfortable asking questions no matter how much they are welcomed by managers. Creating a FAQ document for different roles within the company will hopefully help to answer some of the basic ones they are unlikely to feel confident enough to ask. The pressure of not knowing when to ask a question and second-guessing their work at the beginning of the job can lead to needless stress and a poor experience, which impacts the view of the company whether it should or not.

The onboarding process is a company’s version of the first impression and it’s critical to employee retention. It’s no coincidence that more than one-third (37.9%) of interviewees exited their organisation within 365 days or less and two out of every three employees that leave in the first year make that decision within the first six months. Organisations must worry less about the Great Resignation and care more about being the ‘great regret’ for new employees. That way the cycle can be broken and companies can begin to feel some stability in the talent department.

Humphrey Chen is the CEO and co-founder of CLIPr, connect on Twitter @humphreyc and LinkedIn

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