The daily commute is now a thing of the past for many office workers. Remote working and video conferencing are staples in the workplace as the pandemic shows no immediate signs of abating, and many tech giants – Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, Apple included – are changing long-term plans to permanently move their staff to working remotely.
According to our recent COVID-19 Impact survey, 73% of respondents in APAC agreed that due to changes to remote working policies, their companies would be more likely to adopt flexible and agile working practices after the pandemic is under control.
While flexibility has increased for working professionals globally, how are these policies affecting new hires? Starting a new job can be nerve-racking; adding the stress of a global pandemic can make it even worse. Companies are now having to rethink their talent management strategies to deliver positive experiences for their new starters.
In September, we spoke with candidates across the region who have had first-hand exposure to a remote onboarding experience this year. Based on these conversations, it seems that many companies are adapting well to this ever-changing environment; however, there are clear areas for improvement.
This article delves into the various challenges facing new hires today and the potential opportunities to help companies shape their virtual onboarding procedures.
Meeting New Colleagues
Starting a new job with a new – and completely virtual – team can lack the personal touch that face-to-face meetings provide. Many of the candidates we spoke to expressed difficulty integrating into the culture of their new companies and the various working styles of their co-workers. Often, these employees felt they were unable to form relationships with colleagues outside of those on their team.
"The only part I miss is the face-to-face meetings. It takes a lot more time to build relationships without those in-person interactions. Coffee meetings and corridor chats are the biggest loss."
A common challenge we frequently hear from remote employees are the distractions that come with working from home. Whether it’s helping your kids with their virtual schooling, caring for elderly parents, or finding the space for a temporary home office, family and home demands can affect productivity.
Particularly for new employees who are unfamiliar with the role and their team’s expectations, a strong work ethic is required to remain productive while working from home.
"To keep myself disciplined and organised, it is up to us to manage our work, and we must know what to do; otherwise, we are easily distracted."
Video calls have replaced face-to-face meetings. Although Zoom fatigue may set in, facilitating a professional and comfortable digital environment can help new employees feel as though they are in a face-to-face office setting.
Another notable change in communication styles is the switch from email to direct messaging apps for faster responses, such as WhatsApp, Slack, WeChat and Microsoft Teams. These apps provide a quicker and more effective method of collaboration among teams.
However, with almost every conversation happening online, some candidates expressed the need to be extra polite and considerate when communicating as their tone is often hard to convey via email. The number of both video and audio calls have increased, mostly to avoid the misunderstandings that can often happen over email.
"I proactively reach out to arrange video calls, which is closer to face-to-face interactions. If someone wants to do a call, I suggest a video call instead."
Though the number of video calls with managers and colleagues has increased, many candidates expressed feeling distant and alone. Many reported their conversations with colleagues are often entirely work-related and lack the office "chit chat" that helps build relationships.
"When company policy dictated that we work from home, daily team calls were instituted in the mornings, so we felt a connection to others in the firm. One-on-ones with my manager, which used to be weekly, were also increased to twice a week."
"I don't feel looked after because I feel every interaction and conversation is very work-based. I have nobody to speak to about how I feel, and I do feel a bit distant and alone."
Engaging in regular one-on-one check-ins with new employees can help maintain effective communication. Overcommunication is particularly important to help facilitate a sense of belonging and inclusion in those first few weeks.
Larger, more informal get-together sessions can help integrate new hires. Several candidates reported feeling more connected after virtual coffee meet-ups and get-to-know-you calls.
Kim Pope, WilsonHCG COO, recently offered her insight as part of the Forbes Human Resources Council:
“Match new hires with seasoned employees who can answer questions and provide advice. Because it’s virtual, you can make matches based on interests rather than just putting two people together because they’re in the same office. Encourage communication by video so new hires get to see a friendly face. And screen sharing can help mentors talk through new processes.”
Structured Training Platforms
In order to put your company’s best foot forward, organise training sessions that set your employees up for success. By creating an orientation schedule and setting up video introductions with relevant team members, managers can help foster excitement among new hires as well as helping them feel more prepared and welcome.
"A proper detailed orientation plan and training schedule would have helped to understand the company better. Information was delivered in bits and pieces, and I had to initiate and reach out to relevant people to seek information myself."
Onboarding is one of the more important processes for retaining and maintaining talent. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we think and function as a society, and it’s critical to understand the challenges facing new hires today. Particularly during these tough times, a little bit of empathy will go a long way.
"Show empathy towards employees, remind managers to understand the personal challenges, don’t push employees too much. Try and delay deadlines if you can."
Effective onboarding in a time of crisis takes more time and effort; however, it seems we are quickly adapting. Even in these unprecedented times, the shift to remote working shouldn't prevent new employees from having a positive experience when starting a new role.
One thing to take away from these conversations is that employers cannot possibly overcommunicate. Ask for qualitative feedback and make sure you document and refine the process to keep managers informed. This is, after all, an interactive evolution.
An additional advantage is that managers will also benefit from the experience by learning new skills that will serve them well as remote working becomes the norm.
For additional resources on virtual onboarding, check out these articles from WilsonHCG: