Onboarding Employees Remotely

Sunday, June 21, 2020

At Head Hunt International, we strive to ensure that all our candidates, whether remote or otherwise, feel welcome in their new positions, and that our clients are fully supported in their recruitment and onboarding efforts. We realise that the first days of employment are crucial to the success of the new arrangement, therefore the induction process is an important opportunity for the new employee and their employer to build a lasting strong relationship.

A fully developed and well-structured induction process is even more important when hiring a person to engage in remote work due to the unique challenges that come with this nature of employment. Organisations seeking to maximise the retention of newly hired remote talent, reduce the stress and anxiety felt by new employees in isolation, and benefit from the productivity of their new team members as soon as possible, must understand the importance of a comprehensive induction programme and develop an onboarding process that takes these unique challenges into consideration.

Successful recruitment is not complete without a top-notch on boarding programme to match.

The Link Between On boarding and Retention

On boarding is essentially the process through which new hires in an organisation adjust to their roles and responsibilities within their new working environment.  According to research conducted by Hill and Trist (1955), staff are more likely to leave during the early stages of employment, therefore the first couple of months is a particularly vulnerable period for the new hire. Essentially, the longer an individual stays with the organisation, the lower the probability of them leaving.

Evidence collected from the studies of Hill and Trist (1955) suggests that new starters in an organisation are more at risk of leaving in the first six weeks of commencing the job. Their Survival Curve model shows a negative correlation between the number of people leaving an organisation and the length of employment.

 

Based on Hill and Trist (1955)

According to the researchers, new hires go through three phases upon commencing employment:

  1. Induction Crisis

    The induction crisis occurs within the first few weeks of starting, and at this stage, the new employee is most likely to leave the organisation due to unrealistic expectations, workplace conflict, lack of training and support, and feeling unwelcome. The employee is highly vulnerable – they may be perplexed and overwhelmed by their new role and experiencing high levels of fear. Hence, having sufficient support and guidance during early onboarding in crucial in order to minimise the negative effects of the induction crisis. The goal is to establish a connection with the new hire during these first few weeks. 

  2. Differential Transit

    The differential transit occurs after a few months, as the new hire begins to settle in and feel more comfortable in the workplace, and thus the risk of the employee quitting significantly decreases. Evidence of a new hire getting to this stage speedily demonstrates an effective induction programme. The goal now shifts to maintaining and building on the existing relationship in order to strengthen ties with the employee. 

  3. Settled Connection

Employees who become socialized and adjust to their role in the long-term can be deemed “quasi-permanent”, in the words of Hill and Trist (1955). According to authors Carbery and Cross (2013), the faster the organisation moves its new employees to this stage, the sooner they can contribute to the competitive success of the company. A settled connection is essentially a safe zone from which employee commitment and engagement can begin to blossom.

Though the research of Hill and Trist (1955) was conducted over 60 years ago, it remains relevant today, with G&A Partners (2017) finding that approximately 20% of staff turnover still occurs within the first 90 days employment. Meaning that 1 in 5 people starting a new job will leave within the first couple of months! Organisations invest a lot of time, money and effort to recruit the best talent in their field – it would be totally counterproductive not to provide new hires with a successful induction experience that could secure their commitment to the organisation.

So, what exactly can be done for your new remote hires to avoid losing them to competitors?

How to Create a Successful Induction Programme for Remote Employees

Preparing for the New Hire

A comprehensive induction programme is not something that can be set up on the employee’s first day of work. It is not merely a matter of providing them with basic information and leaving them to process it. A good induction programme requires careful planning and organisation in advance to ensure it meets the needs of the organisation and the employee alike.

Consider what goals you want to achieve during induction, how much time it should take, who needs to be involved and when these people are available. Create checklists of important topics – particularly any areas you must cover to comply with legal requirements as an employer, such as health and safety information.

Consider what materials and technology the new hire will need, and deliver these in advance of their starting date together with their welcome package, offer letter and contract. Ensure the employee is connected to the digital workplace as soon as possible – set up their accounts for the company intranet, video conferencing software, messaging apps and any other relevant platforms because they provide the remote hire with a primary link to the organisation. This way no time is wasted during valuable induction time on tasks that could have been completed in advance. Furthermore, by being highly organised and ready, the employer will provide an early taste of the kind of professionalism expected from the new hire within the organisation.

A Virtual Welcoming

An important aspect of welcoming a new remote employee is making sure they do not feel unnoticed. Every time you add new talent to your team, you are adding value to your organisation and that is exactly how your new hire should feel on their first day of work. As obvious as this may seem, it is far more difficult to achieve when an employee is working completely remotely. Therefore, the hiring manager must ensure that they schedule a 1 to 1 video meeting with the new hire on their very first day. This is an opportunity to welcome the new employee, to get to know them professionally and personally, and to ask engaging questions, such as:

  • “What motivates you?”
  • “What are your thoughts on working remotely?”
  • “What are you looking forward to the most as you begin working with us?”

Showing the new employee that you are interested in their motivations and thoughts will ensure they feel appreciated and that their opinions and preferences matter to the organisation from day one.

As well as providing an initial 1 to 1 meeting, it is essential to introduce the new hire to their colleagues via Microsoft Teams, Zoom or other commonly used platforms in your organisation. Avoid simply sending an email introducing the new colleague as that removes from the significance of the occasion and can easily be overlooked by busy employees. Some companies make use of apps such as Donut to arrange coffee meetings between colleagues, whereas at Medium, a global online publishing platform, where working from home is common, employees are asked to record short introductory videos to help the team get to know them on a more personal level.

These are just a few ways to socialise the new employee with their colleagues and make them feel less isolated. According to global research conducted by the social media tool provider, Buffer, over the last couple of years loneliness has remained among the top three struggles that employees face when working remotely. Therefore, encouraging new hires to engage with their colleagues from the beginning is a good way protect employees from isolation in the long run.

After introducing the new hire to the team, consider doing a separate introduction between the new hire and an employee who can act as their “buddy”. According to Armstrong and Taylor (2014), the ideal “buddy” is a person of similar age and status with a good understanding of the work role, who would act as mentor for the new employee. Having a close colleague to turn to during the first weeks of employment could be invaluable to someone in the “induction crisis” zone, just as having a nearby colleague in the office would be. As well as helping him/her with technical knowledge, this individual will help the new employee understand company culture and teach them important unwritten rules and norms which they would normally learn by observing their colleagues in the workplace. “Buddy” can also help the new employee with any technical issues, which, rest assured, are bound to arise during the first weeks of employment and beyond! To ensure “buddy” isn’t overwhelmed with questions, however, make sure to provide the new employee with the contact details of all other colleagues and specify their areas of expertise as well as how they prefer to be contacted in order to make communication as efficient as possible for the new hire. Most new employees dread being a burden to their colleagues, so make it easy for them to sort out queries in the least disruptive way.

 

Provide a Training Schedule and Set Up Early Goals

It’s important for the newcomer to be aware of the structure of their induction programme in order to reduce the anxiety of starting a new job. An induction plan outlining the various training they are expected to complete and their scheduled times is an important feature. Completing this training day by day will give the employee a sense of early progress with the company. 

It is recommended to split the training into two categories:

  • General training: which covers the general knowledge that all employees must understand, regardless of their position within the company, and is usually carried out by HR. It involves exploring the company history, core mission, values and culture, as well as its primary products or services. It also involves providing information about less interesting aspects, such as health and safety, terms and conditions, and company polices in relation to working time, confidentiality, absence from work etc, and providing this content in written form for future reference. In order to increase employee engagement and commitment to these policies, it is important to convey the information in a way that serves them. As stated by recruitment expert, Barbara Bruno, the policies and procedures should not be presented as something done to them, but rather as something done for them. Allow the employee the opportunity to choose their benefits package and working schedule as far as possible because flexibility is consistently rated of the highest value to employees.
  • Job-specific training: this form of training involves the new hire spending time with their manager and/or experienced employees in their field to learn the technical knowledge of their specific job. It is important not to assume that the new employee has much knowledge about their new virtual workspace – what may seem basic to you, is likely not so basic to the newcomer, so ensure that you take the technical training step by step and provide them with instructional manuals for future reference. It is a good idea to start introducing goals early to the new employee, especially if the workplace culture is target-orientated and the new hire is motivated by achievement. As stated by Director of Hays, Jane McNeill, giving new hires performance goals for the first 90 days of their employment will reduce any uncertainty about what needs to be achieved and establish high performance standards from the start. As goals are assigned, employees should also be assured that the company is serious about their professional development from the very beginning; that their new position is not merely a job, but rather a first step in their career with the company. According to research conducted by recruitment firm Robert Walters, the key way for organisations to attract and retain millennials, who will make up the majority of the workforce by 2025, is by providing professional development and career advancement opportunities.

     

    Information provided during induction should not be limited to the past and present of the organisation, but also explain its plans for the future, and how the new employee fits within this vision. After being informed of their own goals, the employee should be made aware of the short, medium, and long-term goals of their department and the organisation as a whole, and how their role as an individual and as a team-player is contributing to the overall business strategy. This will increase their motivation, increase their feeling of importance, and enhance their engagement form the very beginning. They should understand  the “why” behind the strategy they are implementing to fuel their sense of purpose. Meaningful work is rewarding work, so make sure the employee understands the bigger picture behind their everyday tasks.

  •  Requesting Feedback After Induction

  • A good way to test the success of the remote onboarding process is to ask for feedback from  the new employee about their experience shortly after completing the programme. Encourage the new hire to be honest, and instead of simply asking “Do you have any feedback for us?” consider asking more specific, open ended questions that will really encourage the new hire to reflect about their experience, such as:

  • “What, if anything, did you find most surprising when you started working here?”
  • “What part of the induction programme was your favourite?”
  • “What steps could we take to improve the onboarding process for future remote hires who join us?”
  • “What improvements could make it (even) easier for new hires to communicate with their colleagues and collaborate on projects?”

Asking questions like these will not only enable you to evaluate and improve your onboarding process, but will also make the new employee feel valued within the company and speed his/her progression to the “settled connection” stage of the Survival Curve. The last sample question listed above may be particularly important, since difficulties communicating and collaborating with colleagues was found to be amongst the top three challenges of working remotely, according to research by NUI Galway and the Western Development Commission. It is therefore important for companies to continuously update their methods and platforms for remote collaboration, and to keep an eye out for new technologies that could assist with this task, as strong teamwork is often an integral part of organisational success. The new employee may provide fresh insight and notice issues with current systems of communication within the organisation that you have missed.

 

Lastly…

 

remember to make induction fun. According to Barbara Bruno, many new hires leave after the induction programme because they form the impression that the culture is not suitable for them. The onboarding process is essentially a window into the company culture, so be thorough with the information, but make it enjoyable and engaging for the employee too. This is particularly important since remote work does not allow the employee to feel the atmosphere of the office, to see the employee-friendly interior design, to hear the laughter of their colleagues or to engage in spontaneous chats with their managers – these are things the company should strive to make up for through creative use of modern technology in order to impress the newcomer and maintain a strong employer brand.

While it may seem that remote onboarding is a tedious task, the more comprehensive the programme, the faster the employee will learn the ropes of their new job and the better integrated they will become within the organisation. A few weeks of your dedicated support could lay the foundations for the successful development of a remote employee that surpasses all your expectations.

 

As the saying goes – a good start, is half the work!