A recent BBC report found that 79% of business leaders and 70% of the general public surveyed said it’s likely that people will never return to offices at the same rate as before the pandemic. This may not come as a surprise to some, as leaders and line managers have been trying to navigate the ‘best’ way forward for businesses and employees since the government directive for office-workers to work from home was lifted in July. Many of us are now used to working from home, having done so for the past 18 months, and remote culture is reasonably well established in most organisations. However, one aspect that I hear time and again when coaching my outplacement candidates is about the challenges they are running into when onboarding in a new organisation, when not everyone is working in the office all of the time.
Let’s break this down a little bit. Many of us feel a sense of anxiety or trepidation when starting a new role – there are a lot of unknowns about team dynamics, expectations, remembering who everyone is, potentially new systems to start using or using in a different way. It is completely normal to feel a little (or even a lot) unsure when starting something new. But add on top of that that a lot of us have never started a new role when working remotely or hybrid working, and there is a whole extra set of things to consider. Where often we can rely on our knowledge of having got through a similar situation previously to help us again, we don’t have that complete frame of reference when starting a role remotely.
So what can you do as an employer to help your new employees onboard well in a remote environment?
1) Stay in touch before Day 1
There’s often a delay of a few weeks between an employee receiving their offer letter and starting with your organisation. This is a really good time for you as an employer or line manager to check in and set the foundations for your ongoing relationship. This might look different for every person, and it’s important to be mindful that some people won’t have the time or desire to spend too much time speaking with their new employer before they start. Rather than making any assumptions or having universal expectations, ask the question after your new hire has accepted the position. Would they like to receive information beforehand? What would they particularly find useful? Would it be helpful to have an informal meeting before Day 1? As a minimum I suggest sending an email in the week before someone is due to start with you to let them know you are looking forward to them starting and share the high-level plan you have for their induction (and yes, you should have a plan!).
2) Set clear objectives
One of the most common things I discuss with outplacement candidates starting their new role is that they feel they aren’t contributing enough, quick enough. It’s easy to lose perspective when joining a new company and feel as though you are expected to perform every single element of your job description within the first couple of weeks, whereas with a bit more perspective it’s clear to see this is unlikely to be achievable in the majority of cases. If your new employee has a probation period, make it clear within the first couple of weeks what is expected from them in order to pass. There can be a huge range of expectations here – for some employers there is a specific list of task-based criteria you need to see evidence of, whereas for others it’s more about making sure everything is broadly on track and you are seeing the personal attributes you would expect. Try to eliminate ambiguity around this so no-one is left in the dark and worrying about their performance. You won’t get the best out of your new employee if they are constantly worrying about whether their role is secure, or they might be let go at a moment’s notice. If you make your expectations clear from the outset, everyone has something more concrete to work towards.
3) Provide regular feedback
It’s more common than you would think that feedback is not typically provided outside of more formal review points (a whole other blog in itself!), but this is really important for new starters, particularly when working remotely and missing some of the social cues we’re used to around achieving tasks. When working remotely, you can’t always see or hear how someone responds to a piece of work you have completed as you’re missing facial expressions that would usually let us know how something has landed. So many new starters assume that because they are not getting feedback they aren’t doing a good job.
Whilst I always encourage people to seek feedback themselves and try to get a feel of the feedback culture in an organisation, it’s a relatively simple thing you as an employer, or line manager can make this a lot easier for your new employee by remembering to check in with them and let them know how things are going. And this doesn’t just have to be positive feedback – new starters are generally really keen to hear constructive feedback of where they could have improved, taken a different approach, or if something didn’t quite hit the mark. As I constantly remind my candidates, it is in your interest as an employer to have these conversations from the beginning to prevent any problems or dissatisfaction further down the line, but not always something managers think to do.
There is a risk of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ when you don’t physically see someone in the office every day (or at all), so find what works for you to provide feedback, whether that’s in the moment or on a weekly basis, but make sure you are doing it.
4) Don’t forget the social aspect
Most of us don’t just go to work to keep our heads down and get the job done. Of course it’s important to do that too, but the aspect of having co-workers, being part of a team, and working towards a larger goal is also motivating for a lot of people. It’s easy for this to get forgotten in a hybrid or remote world when everyone is on different working patterns or might not all be in the office together.
As a manager, think about what you can do to include this social aspect as part of your new starter’s experience. This might be as simple as letting your team know someone new is joining and asking each team member to schedule a short, informal catch up to say hi – sometimes people need permission to do this as it isn’t a core part of their work. You might want to have a specific day where everyone tries to come to the office to meet face-to-face, or if that’s not possible, schedule a remote team chat for everyone – with cameras on.
As well as helping fulfil that need for people and a wider network, this will also help your team build stronger relationships between themselves, make them more self sufficient if they know who else they can approach in the team rather than always coming to you, and help your new employee get more information about the team culture and ways of working.
Most of these points are just as relevant to onboarding employees in person, but remembering that for someone joining remotely the experience can feel even more alien can make all the difference to onboarding your new employee successfully.
At Connor we are proud to include 90 days onboarding support as standard to our outplacement support candidates, giving benefits to your new employee but also to your organisation as people join you with a clearer plan of how to get up to speed quickly. Please get in touch by completing the form below, to find out more about how we can help with your outplacement support or sharing our experience of helping new employees get up to speed quickly and confidently.