4 Tips on How Employers Can Adjust to the ‘New Norm’ of Virtual Onboarding

COVID-19 HR Learning & Development Recruiting trends

Over the last 5 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has reset major work trends, causing HR leaders to pivot their workforce-related strategic goals and plans.

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According to a recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey, more than one-third of employers are facing challenges with maintaining company culture, and 14% of companies have hired more employees in response to COVID-19. As virtual onboarding continues to become the new norm, it is important that we become more cognizant of effective recruitment and the well-being of our employees.

I have witnessed firsthand how important it is for organizations to adopt new methods. I recently took a position, virtually, as Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) at City Harvest, New York City’s largest food rescue organization. As the new CHRO of an organization that’s on the front lines of providing food to those in need, we are in the midst of onboarding new staff as we scale up our operations to meet the overwhelming demand for emergency food.

It is necessary now, more than ever, for employers to take into consideration an interviewee’s circumstances, timelines, and environmental factors while recruiting. It is my hope that the following tips help ease the process of finding and onboarding new talent, even under a pandemic.  

Create an Onboarding System that Works Virtually

When virtually onboarding a new employee, it can be difficult to effectively provide all the resources needed in his or her first few weeks. It is important to create a consistent model that includes all essential paperwork and helps set up any technological systems.

Many challenges of virtual onboarding stem from introducing candidates to the company’s culture. With that in mind, it is critical to create an outline for the employees during their first few weeks on the job; that way, they feel ingrained in the company’s mission right away.

Another suggestion is setting up virtual office tours through Skype or Zoom. This will allow employers to show interviewees and new hires the feel of the organization and its operations and values, all while remaining socially distanced.

Demonstrate Empathy During Interviews 

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us in different ways—some have lost loved ones, while others have had to turn to soup kitchens and food pantries to help feed themselves and their families. With all of this in mind, it is important to show empathy during the interview process.

We don’t know how the interviewees’ home life is and what challenges they are facing every day during these unprecedented times. It is also important to acknowledge a person’s circumstances and how the pandemic has affected his or her employment. Skills in adaptability or perseverance are key when scoping out a new hire.

While it can be difficult for employers to fully trust the process of hiring virtually, it is important to recognize there are “two sides to the equation” and take a moment to see things through the lens of an employee.

Utilize Company Technology

As the majority of our country’s workforce continues to work from home, it is critical for your organization to ensure that technology is set up and in working condition before a new hire’s onboarding. Make sure that all training materials, instructions, and guidelines are easily accessible and user-friendly.

Beyond the setup of training tools, it is useful to speak with the team who will be welcoming the new hire, see how they’ve been communicating, and note what is most effective for them. Using videoconferencing as much as possible for a new hire will ease the transition and allow for the social interaction with peers and managers he or she would normally receive in a regular office environment.

Maintain Engagement and Effective Communication

A virtual hire’s initial transition period can be a challenging time. It is important for employers to make sure new hires are communicating consistently with other team members, even if virtually. It is beneficial for management teams to set up regular check-ins with new employees during their first 30–60 days on the job to ensure they have the necessary tools to be successful.

You should consider setting up meet-and-greets with teams so the employees can have the chance to establish relationships with their new coworkers. Additionally, assigning a mentor for each new employee can help the individual understand the company’s goals and expectations.

For organizations with essential workers who are unable to work remotely, it’s also important to think through safe, in-person communication strategies. City Harvest, for example, has employees who have been working at our warehouse facility through the crisis. These employees are the ones on the ground rescuing and delivering food, meaning they can’t always be plugged into e-mail and technology.

In response, we’ve implemented a robust “huddle” communication strategy for this sector of our workforce by setting up socially distanced areas outside with tables and tents. In shifts, we host daily check-ins during which we disseminate news, introduce new hires, remind everyone of safe work practices, and encourage them to take advantage of our enhanced benefits.

Taking the time to establish comprehensive interview and onboarding processes during these unprecedented times will help your employees feel supported and connected to the work they are doing. Creating open forums—weather in person or virtually—allows us all to connect about topics we want to discuss. This type of open space is appreciated and critical, as we have all been affected differently by COVID-19, social issues, and other environmental factors.

Karrien Francis leads City Harvest’s HR department, guiding the organization’s work to manage and develop its dedicated staff in support of its mission. She focuses on the culture, employee engagement, diversity, equity and inclusion, and performance management, among other initiatives.

Before joining City Harvest, Francis served as the Director of Talent and Organizational Performance for Northwell Health. She began her career at Long Island University and has worked at Target as the Senior Executive Team Leader for the New York tristate area and Director of HR at the Jewish Child Care Association. She received the Corporate & Social Responsibility Award for Diversity from City & State of NY in 2017.

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