Over the past few weeks, I have spoken with over 50 HR and Talent Acquisition Leads around HR transformation that is occurring as a consequence of the current, global COVID-19 Pandemic. Throughout these conversations, I have explored the lessons learned along the way. The overarching consensus is that this event will have a lasting impact in terms of changes in how we work moving forward. 

The crisis has caused varying levels of disruption across a variety of sectors. The speed of which this crisis has escalated has challenged even the most prepared of companies. 

Business leaders have found a way in less than 14 days to have the majority of their workplace operating from home. Before this crisis over 90% of the firms I talked to had a framework around working from home, some had virtual onboarding and E-Learning training platforms in place already, however, the idea of moving to a 100% home office model was a whole new challenge, and one that many are still all learning along the way. 

The biggest lesson these leaders wanted to share was the need stay connected more than ever and that constant communication is critical.

Digital transformation is crucial when adapting to working with different tools, driving the culture, behaviours and keeping their staff engaged via HR applications, instant messaging, social media tools, videoconferencing tools and digital learning. 

Microsoft teams has quickly become the #1 most used tool followed by Zoom which has grown from 4 million users to 200 million since January 2020. Many leaders stated that they had been talking about a Microsoft Teams rollout as an ongoing conversation for a year, but that recent events resulted in accelerating this to two weeks.

Virtual On-boarding

The traditional “employee handbook and policy manual” is not what is being used, companies are embracing agile processes to move quickly with on-boarding. 

Starting a new job generates nervousness and apprehension in most people, those starting a new job within a global pandemic will no doubt bring about more anxiety. Business leaders are conscious that with remote onboarding may be hard for new employees in terms of adjusting to the company’s culture, that it can be harder to gain knowledge on how to get things done and to not have the opportunity to bond with people and stakeholders in person. However, the show must go on, and companies need to ensure that their new hire experience doesn’t suffer as a result. In fact, it can even be enhanced with greater bonds established. 

The good news is, that many companies are tackling this problem head-on. I have gained some great best practices for onboarding remotely and how organisations are integrating their new staff into their company culture and teams: 

  • Be Prepared – treat video interviews with the same seriousness as in-person interviews. Know the candidates resume and specific questions to ask the candidate. Ensure you have a quiet well lit room and ensure all parties have the interview time in the diaries, share with the candidates how to access the video conferencing technology and if any software needs to be downloaded.
  • Set expectations Give candidates advance notice that interview will be conducted virtually, do more than just sending a link, be very specific about what is to be expected from the interview. 
  • Check technology for both parties: ensure everything is working, camera and microphone and as the candidate to do the same.
  • Be personable: make eye contact and engage with the candidate, demonstrate enthusiasm for the role and your organisations' culture and values.
  • Remove distractions: remove all distractions including our mobile and emails off.
  • Reinforce employer brand.
  • Give the candidate time: pause to ensure the candidate is done with their response before moving onto the next question to account for lag and lack of usual social cues.
  • Follow – up: send an email to your candidate thanking them for their time 

Are they equipped - 90% of staff are equipped with a laptop they had provided already by the firm. Technology plays a key part in enabling communication and remote work. Some did indicate the had some infrastructure issues. Having hardware for their first day ready, laptops are being couriered to the starters. Notify IT, organise hardware, software, account logins and other equipment way before they start along with scheduled virtual training. 

Set clear expectations – This is integral. Clear expectations around behavioural, scope of work and communication platforms must be set before they start. A clear picture of the company values, team objectives and setting tangible individual goals so your new incumbent has that focus day-to-day. Discuss upcoming projects and ensure access to shared employee resources. 

Training timeframes – For many companies, their training schedules have been set and pushed into several weeks rather than over a month. A schedule of meetings set in place along with onboarding documentation the incumbent can refer to as a guide. 

Strong virtual connections – Ensuring regular face to face virtual connections are happening daily with managers, weekly with teams, team huddles and end of week social drinks. Dedicated video conferencing for work and decided time for social. 

Team workflows - Teams who are working towards a shared objective it is necessary for them to gather to discuss deadlines etc. It is important that project status tracking and reporting more than ever. Trello was one of the most popular project tracking systems many organisations are using, along with cloud-based tools, with sharing files 

Are managers coached? – HR are ensuring managers are having a lot more visibility into the new hire’s schedule and the actual content of what’s covered in onboarding.
A schedule of what is normally 1-3 months has been fast-tracked to 2-4 weeks with several touchpoints for the new starters to connect with people virtually: 

- Face to face virtual introductions scheduled through the first week getting to know you meetings as the felt it puts human connection behind the names that they are seeing in emails 

- Scheduled check-ins daily with conversations around what have you learnt, how have you felt the onboarding experience has been? Is there any areas we can improve 

Get creative - Some organisations already had images or videos from inside their offices to give them a sense of the company environment to help them feel less isolated. A real interesting story was a new starter social wall has been created to allow new employees share experiences and tips 

Follow up and evaluate - As we all continue to work through this crisis, we are all learning. After new employees have been in your organisation for a month or so, ask them the value they got from the onboarding experience. Continue to evaluate throughout and improve this process. 

Above all, keep communicating with your new starters in every way you can. By giving your people the tools, they need to communicate, learn and support each other, you’ll help them adapt swiftly and rise to the challenge of a very different workplace environment. 

This crisis will undoubtedly have long term impacts on how we work. Technology will become the heart of every interaction, but this aside we are all going to have to make sure that we understand the value of communication a lot better. 

For some, this whole shift is going to be massive. Ensure you connect, collaborate and cooperate effectively in the weeks/months ahead. 

Thank you to the Heads of HR and Talent Leads who took the time to speak with me about their virtual onboarding in order for me to gain the data insights.

Kerry Saes 
Kerry is one of the Directors who has over 21 years recruitment experience in the Sydney and Melbourne markets, 15 of those years have been with Charterhouse. Currently in Melbourne where she leads the Information Technology and Professional Support teams. Kerry is passionate and dedicated to ensuring we continue to focus on people as experts in our fields where we gather industry information and insights for the greater good of our community.