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Onboarding new employees in a remote environment

Brokers / 21st August

I asked a query of our IT Service Desk last week – the reply, as always, arrived promptly; “Thanks Sarah, your ticket has been raised, we’ll come back to you as soon as we’ve finished building the new starter laptops” It served as a great reminder to me that, despite all the uncertainty and disruption driven by Covid-19, we’re still performing all our functions, including the onboarding of new starters. Indeed, for Premium Credit the past few months has not been without some recruitment activity, ensuring we’re appropriately resourced to continue to manage our business. With that in mind, I thought I’d pull together a few of my thoughts about what we’ve learned about onboarding new starters remotely.

1.  Communicate effectively and over-deliver on training

It’s so easy to forget that many of us learn, in part, how to do our jobs by observing others in an office environment. Learning ‘by osmosis’ like this has been taken away from us since the lockdown, so effective communication and training needs to replace it. We need to be mindful that individuals will learn in different ways – Adrian Lopion from Premium Credit’s Learning and Development team says: We design and develop our learning ensuring we have a range of methods to meet each learning style. Furthermore, we see learning as an important part of the engagement process moving away from learning being seen as an intervention to integrating it into the day to day workflow.

With this in mind, it’s crucial that a combination of techniques are employed such as formal training sessions, written or audio-visual guides and shadowing. Some new starters can also find training in front of a selection of peers daunting, and via digital means this can be heightened, especially when considering whether to ask questions. For that reason, it’s best to make subject matter experts available to your new starters on an individual basis, and even better, for those experts to proactively get in touch with the new starter to check understanding.

2.  Appoint an internal guide

As a relatively new starter, all sorts of questions can bubble up, from the banal to the very important. It’s more efficient to appoint a single person to manage the needs of your new starter during the onboarding period and for your appointed person to constantly reiterate a culture of ‘no stupid questions’. For many of us, myself included, we’re still learning the limitations of remote working – so be prepared to not know the answers to everything straight away!

3.  Call new starters for ‘no reason’

Looking back, I’m really pleased that when we first entered lockdown, we had a short daily team call which had an open agenda and picked up in a timely manner any questions or issues the team were experiencing – that meeting has now dropped to weekly, but the need to have a meeting which has less of an agenda, or time allotted for ‘any other business’ still remains.

For line managers of new starters this is particularly important. Those ‘water cooler’ chats, photos of family on desks, even remonstrations about the difficulty of a commute (!) all give us insights into the lives of our teams but without access to all of these informal learnings, we still need to ensure we’re building a personal relationship with new team members so that we can effectively lead them.

I recommend an informal call immediately following a wider team or company meeting as this guarantees you won’t be disrupting their flow – set the expectations that you’re calling just to touch base and that there’s no formal agenda. ‘How are you?’ is always a great place to start!

4.  Send something physical

Our Executive Committee recently sent hand-written cards to every single person in the company, thanking them for their commitment and including some personal messages of encouragement and understanding. At a time when the overwhelming majority of all information is being transferred electronically, receiving something tangible and personalised felt even more special. It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture, but the personal touch can go a long way to making your new starters feel ‘at home’... no pun intended!

5.  Ensure you have your feedback loops established

This is all about nurturing performance, not checking up on people. Unless your new starter has very similar experience in a prior role, the chances are that the first few tasks that they deliver, whether its calls made, emails sent or documentation written, will feel like a step into the dark in a remote environment. Making sure that you have proactively established links with internal or external customers in order to feedback on the service they’ve received from your new starter is a great idea to be able to course-correct, or equally to give praise for a job well done.

6.  Build a team mentality

A recent new starter may never have set foot in your office, hasn’t had anyone at the front-desk say ‘hello’, hasn’t got a desk and has never so much as shaken hands with their colleagues – but it’s still crucial for them to feel a part of the team. Some good ideas that managers within Premium Credit have come up with have included inter-team awards, quizzes and Friday team drinks. My main recommendation is to dedicate a part of your team meetings to reviewing recent work and publicly giving praise to your team for things they’ve done well – whether the praise is directed to your new starter or not, they will quickly understand what ‘good’ looks like to be able to emulate, not to mention feeling that they’re part of a culture where their efforts are recognised.

Hopefully there’s some food for thought in here – I hope your new starters hit the ground running!

Sarah Evans, Head of HR