The Softer Side of Onboarding New Talent in a Work-From-Home World

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Prior to 2020, many companies didn’t embrace work-from-home (WFH) models, but the need to protect employees and business operations in the face of COVID-19 forced even the most reluctant companies to shift to remote work arrangements.

In a matter of days, the way most businesses operated changed irrevocably — especially in terms of recruiting and hiring. HR pros and talent acquisition teams worked feverishly to figure out how to translate onboarding processes, employee orientations, team introductions, and company culture to a virtual setting.

As we head into the second quarter of 2021, the possibility of a return to the office is still shaky, and we’re starting to see the workplace of the future may be a hybrid one. In fact, our collective acceptance of the WFH model means a lot of us might never head back to the office.

But what about interviewing and onboarding new talent? These processes really benefited from in-person experiences. How will we successfully translate them to a WFH world going forward?

Onboarding, in particular, is arguably the most critical phase of the talent life cycle. The benefits of a positive experience are clear: new hires build deeper relationships with colleagues, are more productive at work, and stay longer with the company.

To help organizations build and deliver positive remote onboarding experiences, we’ve outlined some key tactics for helping new hires integrate culturally and sustaining productivity and motivation. And while new technologies have clearly been key to keeping teams working and businesses running, we touch on why companies need to reconsider how they’re leverage technology to create great virtual onboarding experiences.

Finding New Ways to Reinforce Company Culture

A fundamental component of the onboarding process is bringing new talent into the company culture. A seamless integration can lead to better productivity and retention and lower churn. As the research shows, there’s a direct correlation between a strong culture and employees feeling valued, working harder, and staying longer.

In a traditional onboarding process, new hires come to understand the company culture by immersing themselves in their new office environments. They can see how teams interact, assess the overall workplace dynamic, and gauge how they might fit in. But how do you help new hires connect to the company culture when people can’t interact in person? And when vetting new talent, how do you convey your culture in a meaningful and authentic way, but without spending an inordinate amount of time and resources on it?

Technology Is More Than Just a Digital Brochure

This is where technology becomes a key factor in the virtual onboarding process, and we’re talking about more than just using Zoom to facilitate face-to-face virtual interactions. We’re talking about the whole ecosystem of tools you can use to immerse remote prospects in your company culture, from websites and social media to the company intranet and virtual town halls.

Many companies craft their websites specifically to reach customers and partners, but now we must leverage these digital brochures to illustrate a company’s culture as well. The same can be said for company social channels and any other avenues through which organizations can deliver messaging about their company cultures. Additionally, a company intranet can provide a valuable window into the company’s culture by allowing team members to interact on a more casual basis. Though websites and intranets are a far cry from the personal water-cooler conversations of the past, these tools can be used in new ways to foster connection between potential hires and the organization’s culture.

While websites and social channels can help most candidates vet a company before applying, these digital brochures don’t necessarily help when onboarding a new executive. For senior-leader hires, your onboarding process needs as much of a personal touch as possible. We’re seeing companies host small team gatherings or socially distanced coffee chats for their new executive hires. At the same time, and perhaps most importantly, executives have had to reset expectations and engage with their team members on a regular basis — maybe even more than they did when everyone was in the same office.

Executive Soft Skills Are Now Paramount in the Workplace — and the Onboarding Process

About a year ago, Harvard Business Review published an article highlighting the fact that executives’ soft skills are becoming more important than ever in a WFH world. For an executive, those soft skills might include the ability to remain confident in difficult times, the ability to maintain focus on the big picture, and the emotional intelligence necessary to connect with others on a deep human level.

Executives can put these soft skills to work through regular team check-ins that ensure all team members have some way to interact with executives and peers. Executives may want to err on the side of overcommunicating, too, delivering companywide updates even when there isn’t much to say. And it’s important to understand the stress everyone is under right now and to approach every employee — and candidate — with empathy.

These soft skills aren’t just important for keeping current employees engaged — they can also help us level-up our onboarding processes for all candidates.

That brings us to the biggest lesson we can learn from our new reality: The shift to wide-scale remote work has given us all a new appreciation for teamwork, company culture, and daily interactions. However, we must intentionally reinforce these things daily, or else it’s all too easy for employees and new hires to become disconnected from one another when working from home.

After all, we’re social creatures. Our personal and professional needs for human interaction are still attainable, just not in the ways we might have imagined. Is that such a bad thing?

Tracy Murdoch O’Such is the president, Americas, at Marlin Hawk. Philip Young is a client partner at Marlin Hawk.

By Tracy Murdoch O’Such and Philip Young