ONBOARDING NEW STAFF – REDUCING UNCERTAINTY FOR REMOTE STARTERS
Recent figures released from Stats NZ, show that unemployment has fallen to its lowest level on record, to 3.2% in the December 2021 quarter. That’s 34 percent below where it was a year ago, making New Zealand's unemployment rate the fifth-equal lowest in the OECD. Employment also rose by 27,700 in the quarter, suggesting that – despite our ongoing challenges in facing a global pandemic – NZ businesses are clearly continuing to hire new talent.
In our current climate – with 43 percent of workers planning to actively look for a new job in 2022, a tight labour market and the realities of the ‘great resignation’ coming to NZ– it’s become even more important for businesses to ensure their new talent are being onboarded in such a way that will give them every chance of ongoing satisfaction and success.
With remote working here to stay for the foreseeable future, and for those considering it as a staple flexible working benefit, there will be a significant cohort of new starters who will have minimal direct experience with not only the business they have joined, but their immediate teams, their managers, and the accepted ‘ways of working’ threaded through the culture of the company.
As has occurred over the previous 18 months, over the coming weeks an increasing number of businesses are also likely to find themselves still faced with the somewhat more challenging prospect of working out how to remotely onboard, train, and eventually develop employees they are yet to meet in person or have had limited in-person contact with.
A structured, well-designed, and responsive onboarding process has always been considered as a key element for ensuring employee engagement, ongoing performance, and retaining new hires well into the future. But rolling out some of the more standard onboarding procedures of office tours, face-to-face meet and greets, or corridor introductions is not going to be a realistic prospect for many of us in 2022.
So, whether your new employee is starting the onboarding process from their lounge or a socially distanced office, what are some practical steps businesses need to consider to ensure that their new starters’ first days and weeks in the “office” feel like a seamless transition?
Start the process before you hire
Clarity of Role - One of the most critical components of a successful hire – remote or otherwise – is the clear identification of a specific need within your organisation, and clear expectations of what the role will be responsible for achieving. Office-based work restrictions and the need for remote working will have an impact on this assessment, particularly when it comes to considering the optimal hours/days you will need them to work, their day to day tasks, the amount of training required, and who they will be reporting into.
Ways of Working - It may also be important to consider the current teams’ operating process for working remotely, to ensure that your new starter can accommodate their existing arrangements. Your team may have agreed on core hours, or more non-traditional working hours, for instance, so it will be essential to ensure your new hire can accommodate these expectations for availability.
Policy - Review your current Working from Home Policy and ensure that your business has access to the appropriate systems, documents, and technology required in order to onboard someone remotely.
Remote Set Up - Think about how you may need to resource your new starter appropriately to perform their role, and what adaptations may be required in order for them to work from home. Is the business going to provide them with a laptop/phone/workstation/printer etc. or will they be bringing their own devices? Make sure that they have access to a suitable workspace, and a reliable WIFI connection.
H&S Compliance - Where possible, arrange for a Health and Safety representative to contact the new employee before they start to discuss your organisation’s approach to health and safety, to determine any unique employee needs, and answer questions.
Remember to pre-board appropriately
Stay in Touch - Connecting regularly with new starters before their first day is an important component of onboarding, but it can become even more important when introducing remote workers. You can do this by calling to check in on how their notice period is progressing, copying them in on any relevant team emails, and adding them to any team chat (e.g. Teams, Slack, Whatsapp etc.) or social media groups. Make sure that you also address the unique situation they will be in and talk about how remote working is likely to impact their onboarding process and initial employment period.
Internal Information - Starter packs will still need to be sent to the new employee well in advance, but consider what additional information you may need to include aside from the usual organisational structure and handbook (such as your Remote Working Policy, Covid-19 Response Policy, Computer, Email, and Internet Usage Policy, etc).
Meet and Greet - Although you may not be able to physically introduce your new team member to the business, you will still need to let your existing staff know they will be joining the team, and introduce them virtually to their colleagues and key stakeholders ahead of time.
Make Adjustments - Make sure that you have adjusted all of your usual onboarding and training processes to suit the requirements of remote working.
Make communication a priority
Inclusion - Keep in mind that starting a new role can be particularly challenging at the best of times, let alone remotely or during a lockdown. Some new starters may be working remotely on their own, and it can feel very isolating to be cut off from regular communication with others. Consider how and when you will communicate with them before they start, and then share this communication plan with the broader team.
Stay Connected - You are better served to over-communicate with a new remote employee, than to leave them feeling alone or unsupported. Daily video catch ups or phone calls at the beginning and end of the day to answer any questions they might have, or just generally ‘checking in’ with their progress, may be necessary in the initial stages of the role.
Communication Plan - A communication plan becomes even more important if your new starter has not met their manager or colleagues in person. One of the challenges involved in onboarding remotely is not being able to turn to your teammates to ask a quick question, or to get clarity on where to find key information (such as documents, log-on information, how to navigate the intranet, etc.), so aim to remove these hurdles as much as possible by assigning virtual ‘buddies’ they can call on for advice.
Tailored Communication - It is also important to do the groundwork ahead of time and find out how your new starter would prefer to be communicated with. Team Zoom sessions are a good way of sharing information quickly and building connection but may not provide them with enough space or safety to ask trickier questions that can arise during the onboarding process. Some people prefer a phone call, or regular email check-ins, or a quick text may be sufficient as an alternative.
Mix it up - Creating multiple streams of connection will also be important for your new starter to feel included and part of the team, but it’s equally important to create opportunities for non-work-related conversations. Think about how you could incorporate regular, more social catch ups into your plan to foster team bonding (such as a weekly group lunch over video, Friday afternoon online trivia, or virtual ‘drinks’ to introduce your new starter to the rest of the business).
Make use of feedback
Two-way Feedback - A best-practice onboarding plan should already contain a clear process for giving and receiving feedback, but this may need to be adapted to suit the needs of remote working. Sharing what is working and what might need to be adjusted is important for both parties, but you may need to offer a choice of ways in which employees can provide feedback (such as surveys, online platforms, or regular check ins).
Regular check-ins - Remember that a new starter who is working remotely does not have the usual access to ready or casual feedback from their team members that they might have in a typical office scenario. Make a point of providing them with regular feedback on their progress, to ensure that they know what is going well, and what needs to be worked on.
Pandemic notwithstanding, the onboarding process itself can be an exciting, but uncertain time for new starters, and it will be critical for business to ensure they are being welcomed in such a way that makes them feel part of the team from day one.
Effective onboarding can enhance employee engagement, increase productivity and ultimately, lead to higher rates of retention. Given our current work climate and the difficulty of finding strong talent, it should be a priority to ensure that your business is doing what it takes to keep those high potential starters engaged and on board.