Onboarding: Adapting to a New Normal

business Coronavirus (COVID-19) Learning & Development pandemic staffing

The global economy has been put on hold in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The hospitality industry has been particularly hard hit, with bars, restaurants, and hotels forced to shut down and cease operations almost entirely. Other industries have shifted the vast majority of their staff to remote work and have tried to carry on business as usual as much as possible.


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A Path Forward

While many companies have been forced to furlough, lay off, or terminate staff, there are plenty that are facing surging demand and hiring new staff. Still others are simply looking to satisfy their typical staffing needs. A key strategic decision for businesses is whether to hold off on onboarding new hires during the pandemic or to try to find a way to onboard remotely.

Uncertainty over the duration of stay-at-home orders and other disruptive measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 is shifting business mind-sets. Many businesses are seeing the need to transition from viewing the current situation as a temporary storm to weather, during which some priorities and activities are simply put on hold. Others are seeing the current situation as the new normal—at least for several weeks or even months.

If this truly is the new normal, even for a few more months, businesses simply can’t continue to keep their operations on pause. In competitive business environments, top companies will find ways to keep moving forward. Those that choose to sit on their heels while the pandemic blows over may find themselves scrambling to play catch-up with competitors that found ways to be creative and agile.

Moving forward includes moving forward with staffing needs.

The Challenges of Remote Onboarding

 Obviously, there are challenges with onboarding new staff remotely, but it’s far from impossible. Here, we’ll discuss some considerations for onboarding from a distance, including input from some industry experts.

First, let’s consider some of the major challenges of remote onboarding.

Personal interaction. Let’s get this obvious one out of the way first. We all understand that it’s generally preferable for a new hire to get the first impression of his or her workplace, colleagues, and boss in person. But because this simply is not possible in many situations, it’s a challenge that must be overcome.

Supervision and “open door” policy. Depending on the level of independence expected of new hires, managers often want to walk over to check on how they are doing or let new hires pop into their office with questions and concerns. Again, in many cases, this will not be possible and must be addressed.

Equipment use. Companies probably assume those they are hiring have some of the basic equipment needed for life in a professional setting—computer, monitor, telephone, etc. In remote settings, not everyone has access to the same quality of equipment. This issue can be compounded by the fact that different industries may require specialized tools and applications.

Martha Delehanty is Commvault’s new chief people officer (CPO) and is focused on the needs and expansion of Commvault’s employee recruitment, retention, and professional development. Delehanty joined Commvault in the midst of the pandemic herself. Since joining the company, she has taken on the onboarding of 19 new staff members.

“Readily accessible gear for new starters and all the set up that entails has been challenging,” she says. “Due to supply chain challenges of other vendors, personal computers weren’t readily available so it took getting creative on how one can leverage their own computers and infrastructure safely and securely.”

Despite these challenges, though, business leaders facing the new normal are coming up with innovative solutions for moving forward.

Finding Innovative Solutions

As the old saying goes, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” That’s exactly what HR and training and development professionals are doing as they seek innovative ways to bring new employees on board during the pandemic. Here are some of the best practices they’re implementing to help them move forward.

Extra attention to the personal element. More than ever before, the process of supporting new staff needs to take their individual situations into account. “Think of the whole person, not just the one doing their job for the company,” says Delehanty. “Help with the wellness and mental support, all of which might include global meditation sessions, virtual gym workouts, and of course the social elements people have come to love such as virtual happy hours or milestone celebrations.”

Coordination with essential IT staff. IT and/or help desk staff have always played a key role in onboarding office staff—setting up workstations, helping with the company intranet, etc. But when staff will be starting off remotely, that process becomes a bit more challenging. It’s certainly feasible, though, as long as IT staff are properly engaged.

“As an evolving strategy, essential personnel in our IT department has bundled technology packages and work with HR to coordinate a time for a new hire to drive to our offices, and through a drive-thru system, safely place the equipment in the employee’s car through a contactless arrangement,” says Alanna Vitucci, vice president of corporate communications with Zovio, an education technology services firm.

Explaining Zovio’s process for onboarding new staff during the pandemic, Vitucci says, “If for some reason, we are unable to coordinate this effort, we have opted to FedEx packages to the homes of our new hires.”

Zovio’s remote support extends to its Remote Workforce Resource Center, which offers assistance with post-setup technical needs. “We have created a Remote Workforce Resource Center that is featured on the homepage of our company intranet,” says Vitucci. “This site contains resources for communication tools, testing home internet speeds, and tips, including how to maximize your screen utilizing shortcuts. In the absence of at-office interpersonal communication, we have opted to rely on instant messaging platforms (i.e., MS Teams, Skype for Business, and Slack).”

Remote training. We’ve discussed remote training in detail in a number of posts and features. That topic is extremely relevant in the context of remote onboarding during the COVID-19 crisis.

Virtual classrooms for real-time instruction, on-demand training videos, discussion boards, and other tools are extremely valuable for training new hires remotely.

To be most effective with remote training, it’s important that the new hire’s manager and the training and HR teams work together to coordinate a coherent program, as opposed to simply a to-do list of resources arranged piecemeal.

Even as some parts of the country see their COVID-19 peak in the near future, others are still weeks away. Additionally, it’s important not to confuse the peak with the end of the crisis. Furthermore, the experiences brought on by the pandemic and the global response to it have the potential to fundamentally change hiring and onboarding practices permanently.

In short, businesses and HR departments need to consider remote onboarding as a legitimate practice going forward, not only in response to pandemics and other global crises but simply as part of the new normal in hiring and retention.

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