If 2020 taught us anything (other than how to make a sourdough starter and cut our own hair), it was that many jobs that traditionally required workers to show up at an office can be done remotely. And, although this all occurred due to pandemic restrictions, a number of businesses (and their employees) have realized there are some significant benefits to working from home — so much so that the percentage of workers who are permanently working from home across the globe is expected to double in 2021 compared to the percentage of employees working from home prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. While plenty of companies have successfully made the change from on-site workers to a team of remote employees, in many cases the processes for onboarding hasn’t adapted in a way that streamlines the process for virtual onboarding. Read on to learn more about recent changes in the U.S. workforce, plus helpful strategies to better onboard new hires.
A Rapidly Changing Workforce
It’s no secret that the pandemic impacted various industries in vastly different ways. In 2020, companies worldwide faced astronomical job losses and hiring freezes. In some cases, those freezes remain in place. However, other sectors that provide services in high demand due to social distancing are actually booming. Amazon, for example, announced plans in Spring 2020 to hire 100,000 more employees to fill their warehouse and delivery worker needs. Online ordering has never been more prevalent, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
Of course, that hasn’t been the case across the board, but even among those industries that took a hit, many are recovering. In fact, in November, 2020, the unemployment rate was 6.7 percent — down by 8 percentage points from the high in April. And those new jobs spread out in more industries than you might expect. Between April and November 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the transportation and housing industry added 145,000 jobs; professional and business services added 60,000; education and health services added 54,000; leisure and hospitality added 31,000; construction and manufacturing added 27,000 jobs each; and financial activities added 15,000 jobs, making it clear that some industries are hiring in droves as they pivot to this new normal and try to make up for lost time.
The Need for a New Onboarding Process
It’s important to note that, while various sectors continue to add jobs, those jobs may not look quite like they did a year or two ago. Not only do the jobs themselves look a little different now, but so does the onboarding process. After all, it’s one thing to help established employees get comfortable with working from a home office. Adding someone brand new (who may never set foot in a physical office with their coworkers) is an entirely different ballgame. Still, only 27 percent of companies have a virtual onboarding process. When it comes to retaining talent, not having a solid onboarding process — virtual or otherwise — can pose a real problem. In fact, according to Glassdoor, a strong onboarding process improves new hire retention by 82 percent and gives productivity a 70 percent boost!
Tips and Strategies for Virtual Onboarding
What does a strong onboarding process look like when it’s done virtually for remote employees? The specifics may vary by industry and company culture, but these tips and strategies can help across the board.
Ensure all equipment arrives on time
Are you supplying your new hire with a computer or phone? If they don’t have it in time for their first day, they won’t be able to do the work you’re paying them to do, plus it’ll make a negative — and potentially lasting — first impression. Nobody wants a lackluster first day, right? Plan ahead when sending equipment, keeping shipping routes, weekends, and holidays in mind. If the employee needs to sign for the equipment, coordinate with them to ensure they’ll be available to do so in order to avoid delays.
Want to make your delivery extra special? Include some company swag (or send it separately) to show your new hire how excited you are to have them join the team. You don’t need to go overboard; think of what a new employee may find on their desk on their first day, such as branded office supplies, a coffee mug, or a handwritten note. The lack of a physical office space needn’t lead to a lack of connection.
Develop an onboarding plan with set milestones
We don’t mean you need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to onboarding new employees, but you should take a close look at your current system and see what should be removed, added, or adjusted in order to better suit remote workers. Setting timelines for the successful completion of different milestones will help your new employees remain productive. These timelines help managers keep an eye on how a new hire is settling in and also provide the employee with the expectations and structure to empower them to dive right in or ask for help or clarification as needed. While this means you need to anticipate what they’ll be doing — and what they’ll need to know — in the first 30, 60, or 100 days, forethought can pay off in a big way down the line.
You may also want to consider including a Q&A that touches on your culture, key processes, and other aspects of the job or company that may be obvious to an on-site employee but less so for one working remotely.
Get up to date with the tech you need for remote workers
Set up new hires with any tech platforms you use right away. This technology may include software for scheduling, internal communications, project management, and video conferencing. Not only will this technology facilitate communications between the new hire and their manager and other key players, but it will likely make the onboarding process quicker and easier for all involved, too.
Digitize and simplify the paperwork process
With on-site employees, it’s easy to dump a stack of papers on their desk and ask them to sign and return the documents to an office down the hall. Between the printing and scanning or mailing required for remote employees, physical copies are a real pain — and feel old fashioned to boot. Use a service like DocuSign or HelloSign to streamline the paperwork process. You may find that on-site employees prefer this method, too.
Carve out time for regular one-on-one meetings with new hires
In a LinkedIn study, 72 percent of respondents stated that one-on-one time with their direct managers was the most important part of their onboarding or pre-onboarding process. With that in mind, managers and team leaders should prioritize setting aside time to interact directly with new hires, especially in the early days when employees work to find their footing and may not have developed relationships with colleagues yet. These one-on-one interactions can also help to ensure that the picture painted during the recruitment and hiring process matches the employee’s experience in their first days on the job, which can be instrumental in retaining talent.
Schedule welcome meetings with other team members
It’s not only direct managers who should make new hires feel welcome, especially if they’ll be working as part of a team. Since there’s no breakroom, coffee maker, or water cooler to facilitate chance meetings and random conversations, a manager or leader should set up times for team members to meet with and get to know the newest addition. Make a point to connect the new employee with peers and internal experts outside their team, too, and make sure all relevant people in your organization know about this new employee. If colleagues feel encouraged to send a welcome/getting-to-know you message, even better.
Build an engaging virtual culture
There’s no way around the fact that when a company shifts to remote work, the atmosphere and culture changes a bit — but not necessarily in a bad way. Create an engaging virtual culture that facilitates communication and collaboration by investing in helpful workplace engagement and culture tools, establishing regularly scheduled check-ins (like office-wide virtual meetings, video updates from the CEO, and required chats between managers and their teams). And don’t stop with job-specific virtual activities. Consider offering virtual mindfulness and fitness classes, cooking demonstrations, happy hours, and other casual virtual meetups. It may be helpful to assign a specific mentor or buddy for a new hire to make sure they’re comfortable joining the group at first.
Ask new hires for feedback about the onboarding process
To find out what works about your onboarding process — plus where new employees encountered any confusion or roadblocks — ask for feedback. Next step: use that feedback to make improvements. Times are changing quickly, and as employees become savvier in a work-from-home environment — and technology evolves to support remote workers — you must be willing to upgrade and adapt in order to retain the talent you worked so hard to recruit. Get feedback from employees who fit right in as well as those who didn’t stick around; understanding both experiences can add plenty of value to your onboarding process.
The success of your business relies on your employees. To help ensure the workers you hired become superstar employees who stick around for the long haul, stick to a strong onboarding program that sets clear expectations; provide employees with the equipment, contacts, and resources they need; and take into account industry and technical changes.