“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
Wise words that apply as much to organisations as to people – and that are particularly apt when it comes to on-boarding remote employees. According to research that YOHO conducted recently, businesses need to work harder than ever to reassure new recruits that they made the right move. Resignations and job changes in the UK are the highest for two decades – and on-boarding couldn’t be more important. We found that 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they have a great on-boarding experience. Which is a real challenge when it comes to remote employees.
Before we go any further, let’s be clear about what ‘on-boarding’ means. It’s obviously partly about explaining the role and giving a new employee the confidence to do it well. But it’s also about making them feel part of a new gang as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, many organisations focus on rules, standards and compliance, rather than giving people a memorable experience that fires them up for the new challenge. This lacklustre approach is even worse when it’s done virtually, and a new recruit can’t fall back on informal networking and support.
This is because normally on-boarding goes way beyond the formal induction process painstakingly prepared by HR. In fact the good stuff happens in ad-hoc meetings, impromptu chats by the coffee machine and overheard conversations and phone calls. If new remote-working employees don’t have access to any of this, how do they learn the basics that office-based staff have always taken for granted, such as how many hours people actually work, how long to take for lunch and what to wear to an external meeting? These may sound like hygiene factors rather than critical issues, but in fact they really give people a sense of belonging.
With remote working, this unscripted element evaporates, so employers need specific ways to communicate culture, expectations and the help that’s available. It’s a tricky problem, but there are some proactive steps you can take to make the right first impression when on-boarding remote employees:
Not too techy
Don’t overdo the technology. Keep initial tasks simple and provide only the most appropriate hardware and apps needed to accomplish them. You set someone up to fail at their first project by forcing them to grapple with a complex piece of software they’ve never used before – when they can’t ask the person at the next desk for advice.
Don’t do a virtual process with an in-person methodology
With a hybrid or even an entirely remote workforce, you can’t depend on systems designed for an office-based experience. Think about how to connect new employees to the people and knowledge they need – and make sure more experienced staff are invested in the process too. It’s up to everyone in the organisation to welcome and incorporate their new colleagues.
More than recruitment
Stop regarding on-boarding as the end of the recruitment process, when your sole job is to get people up and running (and off your ‘to do’ list) as soon as possible. Instead, think of it as the beginning of someone’s career journey with you: focus on their well-being and how successfully they’re integrating into the team. You’ll find it much more productive in the long term.
The pandemic has created uncertainty and worry for millions of us, so by providing support and structure in the work environment, you can boost a new employee’s sense of security, to the benefit of both them and the organisation. Be explicit about company culture, working practices, systems, working hours, communication and so on, but do it in a way that makes them feel included and valued.
Cut the paperwork
If you aren’t already using digital signatures and other paperless tools, it’s time to start. It saves time, simplifies processes and stops people feeling drowned in admin. It’s unreasonable to expect people to print off long documents on their home printer and parcel them up (let alone fax them!) to head office.
Your responsibilities don’t stop at the (virtual) office door. A big part of on-boarding is to encourage people to identify with their new colleagues, teams and collective goals. This helps them feel more involved and committed, which leads in turn to better performance and lower staff turnover. Give them the tools they need to make connections right across the organisation, from a people directory that helps them put faces to names to scheduled social events where work talk is banned. These don’t have to be elaborate occasions – regular, short get-togethers can be better attended, more fun and more effective.
Allocate a buddy to each new employee to provide day-to-day help and guidance – and expect them to be in regular contact by phone or video call. Use one or more of the many available tech platforms to improve communication and collaboration. And take this opportunity to use your imagination and creativity. For example, why not provide Deliveroo (or similar) vouchers for team members to use on a particular lunchtime each week or month, so they can enjoy their favourite takeaways ‘together’?
Whatever you do, remember that the new era of remote or hybrid working calls for new approaches to on-boarding. Get it right and you won’t need that second chance.