Meet & Engage

Onboarding in lockdown: How Companies Can Welcome New Employees Virtually

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This article was originally published by HR Gazette. You can view the original article here.

By Jodie Grove

Onboarding New Employees During the COVID-19 Crisis

COVID-19 might well have caused predictions of recruitment to practically grind to a halt (Broadbean, the world’s largest network of job boards, argues activity in the US alone could drop by 80%), but for those firms still hiring – and those that will need to restart hiring again soon – there is one inescapable fact that can’t be ignored. In a relatively short space of time, employees have transitioned from barely working at home at all (just 7% of Americans had the option of regularly doing this pre-coronavirus), to adopting it en-mass, and now actually quite liking it. This is a big deal when it comes to the process of onboarding new employees.

Traditionally, the vital process of onboarding – whether it’s before new joiners start or occurs during their actual first few weeks in the role – is an in-situ one. New starters are physically at their new place of work, absorbing the company culture, getting a sense of the buzz of the office, gaining insight into the company, their colleagues, and where they fit into it. The value of this is not to be underestimated – firms that are successful in gaining the psychological buy-in of new starters are far more successful at retaining them and getting the best out of them.


Joining Firms at a Distance

But now, with social distancing unlikely to see the return of brimming workplaces any time soon, there will be whole scores of new employees who won’t have had any direct experience of the companies they’re joining. It means employers face the immense challenge of working out how they can get people they’ve never met in person to really get under the skin of their organization, in the way a traditional onboarding process would allow.

It shouldn’t be an insurmountable problem though. Like everything else about how workplaces are changing right now, the future of onboarding is going to have to be technology-driven. The key though is applying the appropriate technology to achieve the desired outcome.

Video conferencing works perfectly when people actually need to see each other and exchange ideas – but would not work for effectively showcasing a business to new, exciting joiners. For onboarding purposes, particularly pre-joining onboarding, the aim of technology is more effective dissemination of information (for instance, distributing company documents, information on processes and procedures etc.), as well as facilitating questioning or interactive learning sessions with many others. It’s for these purposes that specific platforms must be utilized by employers to get their all-important onboarding right.

Specifically designed onboarding platforms don’t just allow information to be distributed, they also allow for further, more nuanced onboarding outcomes. For instance, engagement, something which can be created through live group chat technology. This tech eliminates the awkwardness of conference calls and can play the role of ‘introduction from the CEO’ extremely well. Meanwhile, chatbots can serve the function of answering frequently asked questions, while diarized live streaming sessions through video (accompanied by the ability to type questions and get answers in real-time) are invaluable to allow new joiners to get a feel for the company vibe, while also having their queries answered. Remember, not everyone has Instagram-worthy houses; many might be working in the only space they can find, or with distractions in the background. The ability not to be ‘seen’ when they don’t want to, but still be able to take part in live onboarding activities, is something more employers will need to appreciate in our post-COVID-19, home-working world. Onboarding will need to think much more about what new joiners need, and how technology can achieve this.

The benefit of using appropriate onboarding technology cannot be underestimated. Online masterclass sessions for upskilling, live stream videos introducing mentors and teams, or live group chat sessions allowing joiners to meet other people in the company are just some of the exciting new ways companies can connect with house-bound new employees. Companies we work with are even using interactive sessions to show photos of the office and pictures/video of previous social events – all of which is hugely enriching to the image and impression a company is able to make.

Let’s not kid ourselves, the world of work is already fundamentally changing. There will be no mass return to offices anytime soon and so the importance of running interactive, engaging and exciting tech-based onboarding will only grow. Companies have been forced to change, but I believe they will soon start to see the benefits. In the UK, research by graduate career website, Milkround, has revealed video conferencing has now surpassed email as the most used form of business communication, with 1.8 million young workers having interviewed for new jobs using video conferencing in lockdown alone. Get your tech right, and align it to your needs, and there’s a good chance you’ll get your new virtual onboarding right too.

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