While industry professionals are seriously thinking about working remotely, one thing has become very clear, the coronavirus pandemic that has locked many citizens indoors is also rapidly diminishing the allure of glass tower office spaces. Shopify CEO, Tobi Lutke, joined a growing number of companies shifting to working remotely and stated, “Office centricity is over and working from home will become the new norm”. The news closely follows the decision after Twitter told its 5,000 employees that they are free to work from home “forever”, as long as they are in a role and situation that allows this arrangement.
A report from GetApp called “Findings from a New Decade”, has identified that remote work habits, expanded by almost 400% in the last decade. The report found that the rise of remote work popularity is due to the evolution of technologies that includes powerful mobile devices, ultra-fast internet connections, and the proliferation of cloud-based storage and SaaS solutions.
Another important IWG study on flexible working attitudes that surveyed over 18,000 professionals from a range of different industries across 96 countries, two-thirds of global employees work remotely every week. This report also points out that in India more than half (53 percent) work remotely for half of the week or more, while more than one in 10 (11 percent) people work outside of their company’s main office location five times a week.
In the past 15 years “remote employees” have gone from being a fringe part of any Indian IT organization to a formidable part of the workforce. Considering the fact that in IT and ancillary fields there will be a larger population that will be working remotely, this will result in a change in how companies interview, onboard, and train new hires.
The Remote Onboarding Difference
Onboarding is the process of integrating new employees into an organization.
Onboarding begins from the moment an offer is made to the employee until the time the employee becomes a productive member of the organization.
An article published in the Harvard Business Review reported that almost 33% of new hires start searching for a new job within six months, due to bad onboarding experience. The importance of employee retention has been rightly emphasized by a Glass Door research brief that reveals that organizations with a strong onboarding process improve their new hire retention rates by 82%.
Even if a Company’s traditional onboarding process was effective, there is little chance of translating it to a remote working environment. The absence of face to face meetings, mentoring and office set up will make the remote hires feel isolated rather quickly. This problem will be rather more pronounced if the new recruits have never ever “worked from home”.
Similarly, traditional training methods are not going to work, where the new joiners could be observed and given a course correction. Also, day to day communication between you and your new hires may not be adequate in a remote setting, and you may not realize your new employee needs to hear from you more often. Lastly, the security risks of a remote workplace cannot be underestimated.
All of these factors that are unique to remote work environments mean that your existing onboarding process may fall short in making your new hire become productive within a reasonable amount of time. That shortcoming can translate into increased failure rates, attrition, and the problem of retention of good talent during these difficult times.
A formal structured, effective uniform onboarding program can range between thirty to ninety days.
Effective onboarding has 2 main benefits to the organization and new hires:
Hiring can be a time-consuming and expensive process. Studies show that it can cost a company almost 40% of an average annual salary to hire a new employee. Increased attrition in the first few months of joining a company can not only cost the bottom line of the company but can also greatly affect organizational morale.
Losing an employee due to improper fit occasionally is understandable. The ultimate failure of onboarding is the withdrawal of potentially good employees due to them feeling alienated or confused.
Hence an efficient onboarding program instills new hires with both confidence and warmth to start navigating the new organizational waters.
Effective onboarding improves employee performance by providing role clarity and setting the right expectations. This helps the new hire hit the ground running and feel more confident in their performance. It also creates a strong positive momentum that increases employee engagement rates which eventually leads to higher levels of job satisfaction.
Here is a checklist compiled by the Kloudlearn team so as to help you before, during, and after onboarding remote employees.
The main goal of Personal onboarding is to enrol the new hires into the vision and mission of the company.
Firstly there is a paramount need to develop quality interactions between the new recruits and key stakeholders or team members. During this remote onboarding process, video conference calls between new hires and the company’s senior management can be set up. This helps the newcomers hear the company’s future plans and goals of the organization. These calls will create an informal atmosphere which in turn will create an intimate bond between senior management and new hires. The recruits feel comfortable, and eventually more invested in their new roles in the company.
Further to the above Hiring Managers must organize one-on-one face time between the new hires and their Line Manager. This can be set up via Zoom or Skype in a personal meeting room. The Line Manager can provide the new hire with a job description that includes well-defined accountabilities or available resources they should be aware of. A good way to start is for the Manager to assign tasks to the new hires with an expectation that they must be completed at the three, six, and nine-month marks. By setting realistic targets and giving responsibility a relationship of trust is built. Moreover, this will enable Managers to assess the newcomer’s performance, openly discuss gaps in their skillset, and work to close them.
Secondly, the biggest drawback of remote work is the feelings of isolation. Remote employees often don’t know where to turn to for clarification of doubts, queries or to receive feedback. It can be daunting to welcome new employees with no physical office environment, and without the common understanding that can come from a face to face meeting. “We have had to be more thoughtful because the new hire won’t get to know people in the hallway or while making coffee, so it is taking longer for them to build new relationships,” said Karen Clark Cole, CEO of Seattle research and design firm Blink UX.
This issue can be solved by setting up a “Buddy System” where employees who may be struggling to adjust to the new Company environment join a screen-share with a team member who has prior remote-work experience. The virtual buddy is an employee just one level above the new recruit. He/ She can serve as a personal welcoming committee and introduce the new hires to their teammates, technical leaders, and various stakeholders and can help provide them visibility into all parts of the Company.
In remote working, there is a need for mentors and buddies to be pro-active in reaching out to offer their support In case of technical hires, a formal mentor can be assigned who is someone knowledgeable to approach with work-related questions. Slightly different to a buddy, a mentor is an employee with more applied experience whom the new hire, can trust for professional guidance. The mentor can help with answering questions on work processes and teaching important soft skills like time management, collaboration, networking, conflict resolution. Ideally, mentors should meet virtually with new employees and check in with them each day.
This” buddy/mentor system” can extend through the first few weeks till a few months on the job. It is very similar to having training wheels while learning to ride a bicycle. When the new rider has confidence he can then take of the training wheels.
Finally, team-building exercises such as quizzes, house-tours, and game nights can be encouraged during the onboarding period for remote employees. This helps them bond with their colleagues and serves as an icebreaker as well. Similarly encouraging collaborative learning where teams have to work on a “group project” can be a fun and innovative way to encourage team bonding as well as micro-learning.
The primary purpose of technical onboarding is to provide new joiners easy access to commonly used organizational tools and documentation.
GitLab’s Head of Remote, Darren Murph, explains it this way “Traditional in-person companies usually rely on trainers or more hands-on approaches to help new hires navigate their surroundings. All-remote companies have to be more efficient and make information easily accessible, so documentation will be essential for a smooth onboarding process. At GitLab, we provide a detailed handbook that is always evolving.”
Introducing new hires to an “employee handbook” that comprises of a video library that contains answers in video format on FAQs about organizational processes, tools will help new hires learn at their own pace and will clear up queries they may have regarding using new software tools. Acclimatizing the team to the right tools can be a very critical factor in the success or failure of the remote workforce.
The IT team can initially help the new hires with the configuration of essential digital tools, systems & accounts on communications platforms. By assigning an IT member to check in on a new employee periodically will make them feel welcome and smoothly help in resolving technical issues.
Breaking down the technical training into small bite-size steps and assigning the employee a series of small progressive activities will train them on the various systems and tools. Mobile app versions of communication tools like Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams are key for remote workers. For example tools like Zoom can also be used for screen-sharing sessions where more than one person can view a document or file while pointing at specific sections. This helps bring more clarity while working remotely.
Additionally, WhatsApp and Slack channel can also be used informally by remote employees to share anecdotes from their personal life, quotes, pictures, etc. This can go a long way in terms of fostering a sense of community and friendship irrespective of the distance between them.
Encouraging feedback throughout the onboarding process not only helps refine the current process but also improves it for the next batch of new hires. These feedback sessions must be both quantitative and qualitative in nature.
Automated anonymous surveys can be sent out to get quantitative feedback, whereas one on one video can be used for more qualitative feedback. These feedback sessions are a constant communication platform and offer a medium to offer encouragement and emotional support to new recruits.
Once the feedback process is firmly in place the HR managers can then set up time frames for training, onboarding, reviews, and milestones.
IBM’s 2016 Cyber Security Intelligence Index found that 60% of all attacks were executed by insiders of a company. Now that sobering statistic should not scare prospective employers away from hiring remote workers but should instead be used as motivation to further strengthen their security infrastructure.
When working remotely, there’s a whole list of additional factors you need to take into consideration to protect your data. For instance, if you have employees working from their home Wi-Fi, have them check their connection to make sure it is “secure”. Having a secure network can protect you from outsiders looking to tap into your connection and access your data.
The COVID-19 pandemic poses the risk of increased cyber attacks as Hackers are targeting people’s increased dependence on digital tools.
The remote hires should be educated on the organization’s security infrastructure and best practices to ensure that organizational data is sufficiently protected.
As the old proverb goes “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”.
Whether it is a permanent move or you are just transitioning to remote work temporarily in an effort to limit exposure to Covid-19, if you are a HR manager following a few points can help optimize your remote onboarding process. Enterprises like Dell have mastered the process of remote onboarding as they have not only a dedicated website but also a dedicated team as well.
Many of the things we’ve traditionally considered normal will have to be rethought and geared toward the remote experience Virtual operations require a shift in how you approach every aspect of your business, including how you onboard new hires. In an atmosphere of steep competition and a shortage of qualified candidates, a strong onboarding process can be the game-changer your organization needs to remain competitive.