Onboarding new team members – virtually

One of the biggest questions I’m getting asked at the moment is how people/Managers are onboarding teams virtually and this topic is definitely something that will remain relevant in the coming months and year(s) as virtual working becomes a normal part of our working life.

Case Study: 1

A friend of mine got a new job over lockdown. All of the interviews were conducted via Zoom and everything was handled virtually (e.g. signing of contracts, NDAs etc). Prior to her first day, she was sent her laptop, notes and tech and given an email with initial logins and meetings for the first week. On her first day, she spent time with IT making sure that everything worked and she knew how to use the VPN / other security elements as well as with her new Manager. During that first week, she had a mentor assigned to answer questions, virtual drinks with her new team, a virtual teambuilding event and enough activities and opportunities to connect with the organisation and the role that she would be performing. She was thoroughly pleased with how she was onboarded and her ability to pick up the role and begin work.

Case Study 2:

A peer was offered a new job just as restrictions were being lifted in the UK. They were told to come to the office to pick up their laptop and badges, but as everyone was still working remotely, there was noone to contact with questions until their manager called them at 11am. Throughout the first week, they were left to their own devices and given presentations / worksheets to look at. There was one team meeting which was held on the Friday of the first week. There was little to no support from IT as they had no realised that there was someone starting and their ability to do their new job was severely restricted because they didnt know where the files were or what they needed to do. At the end of the first week, they felt demotivated, out of their depth and struggling to work out if this was the right choice for them.

In Case Study 2: I recommended that they speak to their Manager about the lack of communication and support and within a few days, it did improve. The first Case Study was a company who had actively adjusted their onboarding process to reflect the nature of the remote environment that we were in, where as in the second case study, they were still relying too much on the physical environment and office.

How can you onboard successfully? Here are a few ideas that you can use if you are going to be onboarding in the near future:

Have a plan:

With any sort of onboarding, having a workable and realistic plan is vital. You’ll need to cover topics like:

  • How will the new hire get their tech on the first day?
  • Will there be a mentor assigned? or how will you bring this person into the team?
  • What about trainings/ introduction into the organisation?

Many organisations already have an onboarding strategy but this has had to be strongly adapted to a virtual /remote working atmosphere. This will mean discussing with the relevant contacts from HR/IT to facilitate and ensure that your team member has everything that they need and that there will be enough time to onboard properly.

I would also make a point that it will take more time to onboard someone virtually and you should plan the first few weeks accordingly.

Foster a team environment

One of the most successful onboarding schemes that I have seen involved a team meeting on the first day held via video and then daily touchpoints with the manager and a mentor on a daily basis to check in and make sure that the new hire wasn’t feeling isolated/out of touch. A few ways to foster this environment include:

  • A “team lunch” online with everyone. This could also take the form of an “agile coffee” or giving your team the opportunity to set up time with the new person
  • Consider a team building event at the end of the first week. Successful events that I have seen have been: Origami, champagne testing, photo of the week.
  • Ensure that any ‘social events’ are forwarded to the new hire. This could include ‘virtual drinks etc’.
  • Assigning a mentor who will be doing the same job/ are able to actively support them in their new role.

Give everyone time!

I like to remind people that onboarding can take longer and will require more effort than if you were in a physical location together. There are things like: Team dynamic, working styles and practices which will take longer and will mean that there is an opportunity for misunderstandings to occur.

Set clear ground rules

I always try to encourage everyone to discuss ‘ground rules’ when someone new joins so that there can be a very clear foundation for how you like to work, what is acceptable/not acceptable and other useful bits of knowledge about the organisation. This can include things like:

  • What are the core working hours? What are the acceptable working hours?
  • How should people be contacted? What are the preferences?
  • How are people addressed? (Formal names? First names only?)
  • Basic etiquette for working (how meetings are organised, what softwares should be used, timesheets etc)

Conclusion

Onboarding can be a more difficult process if you are remote but if you can ensure that you do not forget the personal connection involved in onboarding, it can be a success. What would you recommend for a successful remote onboarding?

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