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Remote Onboarding: Set Up New Hires for Success

Remote Onboarding: Set Up New Hires for Success

What was once unthinkable — hiring someone over Zoom without ever interviewing him or her in person — is, like so much else in our lives in 2020, becoming the norm. At Koya Leadership Partners, we noticed in April and May that many of our clients were uncomfortable with video-only interviewing processes but by June and July were plowing ahead, fully aware that there really wasn't any other option.

We've also heard from hiring managers who've developed safe ways to meet candidates in person as the (video) interview process enters its final stages. One CEO I know set up a series of socially-distanced one-on-one meetings in a public park. Another decided to take Zoom to the next level and have "Zoom coffees" with finalist candidates in an attempt to recreate the less-formal meetings they might have had pre-pandemic.

But what happens after you've negotiated all the challenges of hiring a new employee through a video-interview process and that person is about to start her new role remotely? In a COVID world, how do you successfully onboard a new hire and set her up for success in her role while also familiarizing her with your organizational culture?

Here are a few tips for remote onboarding that you may find useful during these unusual — and unusually challenging — times:

Begin the onboarding process before a new employee's first day. Your new hire won't have the benefit of coming into an office environment, being able to ask questions of those around him, and spontaneously striking up new work-based relationships. You can help jump-start all this by strategically setting the stage for onboarding before an employee's first day. Send the employee a welcome package with an assortment of gifts or swag (anything with the organization's logo that can be displayed on a desktop is a good idea) and any HR documents that need to be signed. A hand-written note from the hiring manager and the employee's future teammates is an especially nice gesture. You should also share the employee's onboarding schedule as soon as it's available so that he knows what to expect and which tech tools and platforms he'll be using.

Speaking of tech, you want to focus on it as soon as a hire has been finalized. Communications platforms are critical during the remote period leading up to a new employee's first day on the job. Make sure new hires are familiar with all the platforms and software they'll be expected to use and that their home-office setups are integrated with your systems and fully functioning. New hires will feel particularly adrift if it takes a while to get up to speed with what's happening at their new place of work.

Consider culture. It's particularly hard for new team members to acclimate to an organizational culture when everyone is working remotely. But many organizations have figured out and are using communications platforms to build and strengthen culture. You can, too. Are there unofficial Slack channels about cooking or movies or other topics that a new hire might be interested in? Be sure to highlight those. It's also a good idea to be intentional about video meetings. Be sure to hold regularly scheduled virtual town halls or team meetings that give employees an opportunity to come together in one (virtual) place to learn together and get to know one another.

Proactively facilitate connections. Pair the new team member with a mentor and a peer who can show them the ropes, answer their questions, and serve as guides to the culture. Task the mentor or "buddy" with setting up regular virtual lunches or coffees with the new hire until they are fully acclimated, and proactively schedule virtual "meet and greets" with other team members (rather than assuming they'll happen on their own).

Set expectations. Carve out some time to talk to your new hire specifically about communications norms and practices. How and when do teams communicate? When do folks send an email or make a phone call instead of using Slack? Are there norms around response time? Are there places or methods for sharing wins or celebrating birthdays? Also be sure to talk about work hours and schedules and to let your new team member know what the expectations are around her online presence and activity (e.g., does the organization support flex hours/schedules? Are employees expected to check emails early in the day? late in the day? all day? Are they expected to be available on weekends?).

Maintain structured communications with your new employee longer than you might in a more normal situation. New hires should have a weekly (at least) check-in with their manager and, ideally, twice a week for the first few weeks. Keep the lines of communication open and encourage them to reach out if they need additional support beyond regularly scheduled check-in calls. This kind of ongoing communication — both scheduled and impromptu — is key for successfully onboarding new employees in a work-from-home situation where they are unable to walk over to a colleague's desk to ask a question.

Remote onboarding isn't ideal. But with planning and the right kind of follow-through, it is possible to do it well and set a new hire up for long-term success. Good luck!

Molly Brennan is founding partner at executive search firm Koya Leadership Partners, which is guided by the belief that the right person at the right place can change the world. A frequent contributor to Philanthropy News Digest and other publications, Brennan recently authored The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity on Nonprofit Boards of Directors.