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Effectively Onboarding a New-Starter 100% Remotely; a How-To Guide by Anna Marriott – Agile HR Practitioner & FCIPD

We are living in unique times. We’ve experienced an overnight, seismic shift in how and where we work… we’re still adjusting and making sense of our new reality.

As many companies make very difficult decisions in the next few days about staff furloughing, pay cuts, reduced hours and redundancies, not to mention the stories that abound about withdrawn job offers, underneath it all, the jobs market is still turning. Luckily there are companies out there who are able to honour job offers, who need new staff to grow their companies, and those who have pivoted rapidly to find a new niche and ways of adding or creating value in a very new world.

I’ve heard the phrase ‘when we get back to normal’ several times. We need to get our heads around the fact that we can’t go back and that we’re just at the beginning of finding our new normal. It’s a winding road paved with uncertainty and ambiguity; the speed with which things have changed has meant we’ve had to think on our feet, be creative and make big decisions in a vacuum of information. In short, it’s chaos, and to move from chaos to complexity, we have to be agile. In Agile HR, we respond to disruption and changing customer needs by putting the customer (the employee) at the centre of what we do and focusing on business value.

Overnight, we’ve been forced into our adventure to find the new normal and a new way of working. With that comes a whole set of new challenges – how do we best manage our staff and create the conditions for them to be at their best while working remotely? The employee experience is now even more important and is vital to retain talent.

Onboarding new staff at this time is incredibly challenging. Here are 6 things to think about, with a bit of an Agile HR twist, to help you and them through the first few weeks.

1.     Put yourself in their shoes 

If you were starting work at your organisation at this time, and knowing everything you know about the person, what might they be thinking and feeling? What might they be worried about? Or excited about? Here are some ideas…

·       Is my role secure and is the company OK?

·       How will I get to know my team and make friends?

·       Will people have time to get to know me? Will I be bothering them if I ask questions?

·       How can I make sure I’m doing a good job and adding value?

·       I’m excited about this opportunity and want to get involved!

Thinking hard about things from another person’s perspective is a great starting point for designing a programme that fits their needs and helps them get up to speed as quickly as possible. The business value is the reduction in time to maximum productivity. Do this if nothing else!

2.     Communicate, communicate, communicate

As soon as you can, talk directly to your new starter and reassure them (if you realistically can) about their role, how the company is doing, the impact on company performance and work and future plans. Explain where they fit in, the purpose of their role and how they’ll contribute to future success, even at this uncertain time. Transparency and a steady and consistent stream of communication about the bigger picture is important.

Make sure expectations on both sides are discussed and agreed, and reclarified often. Be clear on what good looks like. In my experience, misunderstandings on expectations are the single most common cause of performance issues, combined with assumptions that staff ‘should just know’ what to do. Nobody is a mind reader! If either of you are in doubt, discuss it openly. If your new team member doesn’t have any questions or ideas at the end of each day, ask them what they’ve learned.

Most importantly, share and capitalise on their enthusiasm – the more reassured and welcome they feel, the better they’ll perform and contribute more quickly.

3.     Ask your team to design and deliver the onboarding programme 

Mobilise your team to self-organise and design an awesome onboarding experience for the new starter. In small groups ask them to choose a theme or subject they know well – e.g. role, team, business, products, processes, customers, culture, leadership, technology – then give free reign to collaborate, create and organise the onboarding experience and deliver it to the new starter. Trello is a great tool to use for this as you can map the different stages and learning points, plus you’re your new team member access before they start.

This covers several important onboarding elements, as well as sharing the load; connection and belonging, team membership and collaboration, role familiarisation, information sources, team and company routines – and it gives your new starter a quicker insight into where and how they fit within the company ecosystem. Don’t dictate the content, unless there are some legal, compliance or process essentials. See what your team comes up with and when the initial programme is complete, conduct a retro with your new starter to get some data and make it better for next time:

·       What went well?

·       What didn’t go so well?

·       What are your insights and ideas?

·       What and who did you particularly appreciate?

You’ve facilitated an inclusive, collaborative online experience that delivers value both for your new team member and the team itself.

4.     Be good at checking in, but don’t micromanage

We’re being forced to throw our traditional mindsets regarding performance and management in the bin because we can no longer see what people are doing and how (this is long overdue!). Focus on outcomes – so rather than reviewing the process of their work, think about what a good end result would look like and talk to your new team member about it.

Re-imagine your check-ins. How about using a 15 minute daily or weekly format during the first few weeks?

·       What have you learned today?

·       What did you enjoy and why?

·       What did you find challenging and why?

·       What ideas have you had?

·       What do you need/want to know more about?

·       How can I make your remote job easier?

Maybe a list of their questions each day would work for your new team member; or you might want to set them a mini project or progress report to deliver for the end of each week. Whatever it is, remember that everyone has different learning styles and strengths, and your job as their manager is to find out what will help them deliver their best work. Ask them! Agree what’s going to work best for you both. Put structure and time-boxes around your check ins, not forgetting there will be times when more in-depth training and coaching will be needed. Give regular feedback and coaching on what you see going well and on areas for improvement.

5.     Sort the tech and logistics 

This is an absolute basic, but it’s still disappointing at how often it isn’t sorted in time. It might seem like a small thing, but every time a new starter’s tech isn’t ready it sends the message ‘you’re not that important’. Organise and courier all equipment necessary, well in advance. Be clear and communicate in advance about any online security or compliance essentials and confidentiality. Will they incur any additional charges (e.g. broadband, printing) from working at home? What about suitable working space and equipment? Clarify and communicate your policy on this and anything the company is doing to support staff.

Do they need a virtual training session on your video conferencing or collaboration platforms to get them properly set up?  Get them set up on everything, from Teams to Slack to WhatsApp to Houseparty to Asana to Flock and beyond. Make sure they have some time and guidance to get used to them if they haven’t used them before (clue: get your team to cover this off too!).

6.     Connect across the company as much as you can (and encourage it!) 

The informal ad hoc moments where information is exchanged and personal connections are made have disappeared in person for now, but don’t underestimate their importance. It’s time to get creative with the tools you have. It’s really simple, but I love this idea – one company has created a drop-in Zoom room so if at any time someone wants to pop in and have a chat then there are others there too. What a great way to make new work friends! And the virtual events such as happy hours, lunches and silly competitions are just as important to maintain a sense of fun and perspective to balance out the seriousness of the time. If you’re a leader or manager, make sure you get involved and bring people along – right now it’s really important that you role model positive behaviours, and you being ‘too busy’ will discourage others from taking the breaks we all need.

One final point… be human, and remember you’re only human. Now more than ever, nobody can be expected to have all the answers and collaboration is one of the best skills we can develop to improve our productivity, resilience and innovation. Enjoy the challenge of finding our new normal!

I also highly recommend you check out Buffer’s open blog on how their 85 remote staff communicate across 15 countries

Anna Marriott