Diana Brandl shares best practices for creating a successful remote onboarding experience

For roughly a year now, many people have been working from home due to COVID-19. Companies face the challenge of continuing to onboard new employees during this crisis. Does onboarding work remotely? And if so, how? 

Answers to these questions can also be applied beyond the corona crisis, as companies increasingly allow employees to work from home or even decide to hire remote teams.

In most companies, onboarding new employees is a lengthy process that begins well before the new colleague’s first day on the job. In this article, I want to take a closer look at the challenges faced by all those involved in onboarding during this special time and present approaches to solutions that can be seamlessly integrated into existing processes.

Assistants play a significant role in many onboarding processes. Let’s make it a success! 

Innovative preboarding

If you don’t already have a standard preboarding process, now is the time to create one.  This is even more important in remote onboarding: Keep in touch! 

Send a welcome letter, preferably with information on how to proceed. In it, inform your new employee:

  • how, when and where they will get the technical hardware to be able to work remotely if necessary;
  • who the main contacts are and how to reach them;
  • how the first working day and the induction will take place virtually. A structured induction plan, which is ideally sent with the welcome letter, helps here.

Ensure you send positive signals during preboarding. Consider sending a bouquet of flowers or a branded coffee mug along with the letter, two or three weeks before the start date. The small amount of money invested here will ensure the new hire starts with a positive mindset. 

Providing technical infrastructure

Without the right technical equipment, the remote workday is difficult. It is therefore important to provide each new employee with a laptop with VPN access – sent by post if necessary. The IT department must install all relevant standard programs, communication tools and task planners. For data protection reasons alone, the provision of company laptops, etc. is extremely important.

Tools and apps

Onboarding tools can help with networking and finding one’s way around in an unfamiliar company. New employees are picked up virtually at the start or even beforehand via an onboarding app such as Trello and thus get to know the company culture step by step. 

Some of these programs contain chatbots, the option of integrating interactive content and videos, learning blocks and to-do lists. Relevant information can be shared in a timely manner. Trello, for example, has developed an onboarding template that functions like an interactive to-do list and allows the new employee to get to know the responsible contact person. Look at this example: https://trello.com/b/qr3AcASr/new-hire-onboarding.

Trello has even prepared a wonderful template you can use. You can find it here: https://trello.com/b/AajSOFV1/template-onboarding-new-hires 

Once a new employee is part of the team, introduce them to the tools you use for collaboration and project management. Consider training new hires on how to make the best of these tools. They will love your efficient productivity and streamlined workflow process. 

Social integration

Offer insights into your company early on. This can be done through an onboarding app, a newsletter, or access to the company’s intranet. An invitation to join the company‘s LinkedIn group and other social networks is also an option. Another way to make connections is an invitation to virtual training sessions before the official start.

Advise supervisors to focus more on the personal component in the current crisis period. More time than usual should be allocated for the team to get to know each other – directly or remotely – as well as for questions and exchanges. In addition, newcomers should be assigned an experienced employee in the form of a mentor. Sometimes the Assistant is the best onboarding buddy and mentor! Get prepared for this role and raise your hand even if it means more work for you. 

Virtual Welcome Day

While in some companies the welcome events for new employees continue to take place on site – in compliance with all hygiene rules – many companies welcome their newcomers remotely. Introductions to the company culture, product portfolio and more are equally possible remotely. Supervisors must introduce the new employee during the first video conference and explain the next part of the onboarding procedure.

Normally, you walk into the office for such an event and shake a lot of hands, but of course you can’t do that right now. But that doesn’t have to mean you can’t offer new employees a welcome package during COVID-19.

How about a virtual tour of the building, a funny movie in which colleagues introduce themselves, or a video conference with the entire team? This way, the new starter can introduce himself to the others and will also have a face in front of him in the future when he writes an email to a colleague. 

There are many creative options to generate such a welcome day. Make it an unforgettable virtual event. 

Communication and orientation

Once the new employee is finally on board, create a sense of security with an orientation plan. If possible, content included in this plan should be offered virtually as a webinar, e-learning course, or digital handout (e.g., a ‘how-to’ tutorial). 

Key onboarding content can also be delivered by team members using video chats and screen sharing. Daily virtual team meetings provide structure and help the new hire integrate more quickly. It is also helpful if team members actively approach the newcomer to make them feel welcome and allow them to handle initial tasks on their own to give them the feeling that they are important and not a burden. 

As in the preboarding phase, a high level of communication remains indispensable. Assistants are well placed to be heavily involved in these processes with their empathy and emotional intelligence. 

Gaining feedback

It is particularly important to conduct employee interviews during remote office times. This allows you to better gauge the mood and emotional state of your staff. Unlike in the office, where you can pick up on non-verbal feedback, you need to consciously look for feedback during these times. 

Ask the following questions after your new employee’s first week:

  • How did your first days of work compare to previous jobs?
  • What could we have done better?
  • What helped you fit in with the team?
  • How can I support you better?

Don’t forget to schedule the manager’s appraisal interview with the new employee. The lack of personal contact makes regular communication from the office even more important. 

The best way to do this is via video chat, because it is more pleasant for both sides if the facial expressions of the other person can be seen. In the appraisal interview, agree on tasks and goals and discuss previous work results. Feedback is very important – from both parties. Constructive feedback from the manager gives encouragement and adds to the motivation of the new employee. 

Feedback from the new employee is an invaluable asset: they bring a new perspective on established workflows and may provide opportunities to improve processes.

Rules and guidelines 

Last but not least, binding guidelines must apply to the entire team in the remote workplace. Specify whether there are core times when everyone must be present, and how and whether teammates should sign in or out. This can be done via a simple message in team chat, for example. Also remind your team that break regulations and rest periods might apply (depending on your company and law). 

Be open to personal hardship cases: for example, if small children are forced to be at home, it is difficult for an employee to always adhere to the rules. This is where tact is needed.

In exceptional situations (such as the current COVID-19 crisis), it is important for companies and managers to have confidence in their own employees, and also to make it as easy as possible for new employees to get started, despite more difficult conditions. 

Let your new employees know that they are not an additional burden but an enrichment in these difficult times.

Conclusion

There is no substitute for personal onboarding. 

Companies are longing for the time after contact restrictions ease. Many organizations have had to rethink their onboarding processes and have had the opportunity to optimize them. Adidas, for example, plans to continue to conduct individual parts of onboarding virtually even after the crisis. This allows them to streamline the onboarding process and even stretch it out over several days.

Finally, be honest and do not try to downplay the extraordinary situation. Not all processes will run smoothly. Communicate this to your new employee and reassure them that you will always be open to addressing any issues.

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Diana Brandl holds a degree in International Administration and Management, specializing in Office Management. Throughout her career, she has worked successfully for C-Level executives within global corporations such as Sony. She joined the professional ... (Read More)

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