Lockdown measures in the UK are slowly starting to lift, with plenty of businesses beginning to reopen. For many of us, however, the message remains the same: if we can work from home, we should continue to do so.

But what does this mean for managers and business owners who are trying to recruit and onboard new employees when the team they’ll be joining is working remotely?

Recruiting new staff is no doubt the last thing on some business owners’ minds right now. But for others, hiring and onboarding are essential if their business are to survive, with many having to take on new staff as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With this in mind, today on the RotaCloud Business Success Blog, we’ll be discussing just that, as well as presenting some practical steps for managers to take in order to welcome a new hire into a team that’s working from home.

Ready to onboard remotely? Let’s go!

Before they start...

So you’ve advertised your role, interviewed the contenders, and have found yourself a great new team member.

But how, once you’ve found the right candidate, can you integrate them into a team that’s scattered all over your home city, your region, or even multiple countries?

Reach out early — and often

When it comes to onboarding, especially when you’re doing it remotely, there’s no such thing as “over-communicating”.

In the weeks leading up to your new starter’s first day, it’s essential that you check in regularly with them by phone and/or video-conferencing to ensure not only that you have all the required paperwork, but so that you can put your new recruit’s mind at ease and make them feel welcome.

It’s also vital because there’s a solid chance that they’ll change their minds about joining you.

A Robert Half survey reports that a whopping 28% of candidates backed out after a) receiving a better offer elsewhere (44%), b) receiving a counter offer from their current employer (27%), or c) hearing bad things about the company they were set to join (19%).

And this is much more likely to happen if the team they’re about to join is working remotely.

Squash those doubts early on by keeping in close contact with your new hire, and remembering the “three Rs”:

  • Reach out. Aim to make contact a minimum of 2-3 times prior to their start date. Give them an opportunity to ask any lingering questions. Don’t just rely on email!
  • Reassure. Take time to (subtly!) reassure them that they’ve made the right decision by coming to work for you. If you plan to have your team return to the office in the future, be sure to discuss this..
  • Reiterate the perks and opportunities you’re offering. Talk about the things they’ll be doing in their first couple of months, but also talk about long-term goals for both them and the company.Be sure to let them know how excited you are about their arrival.

Assign them a buddy

One of the things we do at RotaCloud is assign each new starter a buddy — someone in their team who they can go to with work-related questions, as well as fill them in on all our silly in-jokes when they crop up and make sure they have someone to eat lunch with.

Of course, the lunch part would be difficult when working remotely, but we apply the same principles while working from home: assigning a buddy and educating said buddy about how to help their new teammate settle in — as well as the process for escalating any questions or issues they can’t help with.

Every new starter’s buddy should reach out to them by phone prior to their first day to break the ice and introduce themselves. The buddy’s line manager (if that’s not you!) should also be made aware that they’ve been paired up with the new employee, and concessions made to allow them to properly support them, even if it means the buddy’s productivity will be slightly less than normal for a couple of days.  

Buddies aren’t required to become best friends with their new colleague, but it always helps to know there’s someone they can reach out to without feeling like they’re pestering them!

On their first day...

So you’ve done your prep, and your new starter’s first day is finally here. If they’re working remotely, however, you’ll need to work doubly hard to make sure it goes smoothly.

Here’s how.

Use internal communication tools

Part of what makes settling into a new remote-working team so difficult is that we don’t get to properly ‘meet’ our workmates like we would in the office. This makes it hard for new staff to form bonds with teammates, and can even lead to breakdowns in communication as the tone of written messages can easily be misinterpreted.

Email is great for more formal discourses, but it can also be slow and quite impersonal. To properly simulate the physical office environment while staff work remotely — the kind where brief exchanges help new starters settle in and get to know their colleagues — you’ll need to get your whole team set up with an internal messaging platform.

Platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams are not only much quicker than email, but facilitate much more natural dialogues, without the need for the kind of lengthy soliloquies that emails often become. The platforms also facilitate — if not actively encourage — the sharing of things like animated GIFs and emojis, which make it much easier for users to convey the true intent of their message.

As well as having the option to create ‘channels’ for different topics and groups of people, these platforms also come with voice-call and web-conferencing features, so your staff can conference much more freely — even sharing their screens and annotating in real-time.

Internal messaging platforms have become much more than just a way for teams to chat — for many, they’re where workplace culture is born, so it’s vitally important that your remote-working team have access to one.

Book in some staff meet & greets

Your new starter will never get to know the people outside of their immediate team if you don’t create opportunities for them to do so.

To solve this problem, you should arrange a time and date for each team or department to set up a 30-minute video-call with their new colleague to introduce themselves, find out about what they do at the company, and ask any questions they might have.

By using video rather than simply voice-calling, your staff not only get to put faces to the names of their coworkers, but also pick up on the subtle intricacies of others’ personality through things like their body language, manner of speaking, and even their accent. Your new starter will also feel much more connected to the company they’re joining than if their self-introduction was done via a few lines of text on a screen.

Book in a couple of meet-and-greet slots in your company per day during your new recruit’s first week or two, until all teams have taken part.

Create a one-week action plan

What could be worse than sitting down to start your very first day with a new company, only to find yourself with nothing to actually do? Answer: doing just that while you’re stuck at home with no one to ask!

On their first day, schedule a call with your new starter and run through their schedule for the day — prepared in advance by you and/or their line manager and ideally stored online (Google Drive is perfect for this) so that you and they can look at the exact same document at the same time.

With the schedule open, discuss what they’ll be doing that day — whether it’s meeting their teammates or taking care of any leftover paperwork — and then together flesh out a schedule for the rest of their week.

You want your new starter to have plenty to keep them occupied without them feeling overwhelmed. Equally, you don’t want them to have so little to do that they spend most of their day twiddling their thumbs in front of their computer, worrying about whether or not they should be bothering anyone or asking for things to do.

Schedule regular catch-ups

As well as setting clear, achievable goals for your new starter, it’s vital that you or their line manager have regular, one-to-one catch-up meetings for at least the first couple of weeks they’re with you.

The frequency of these catch-ups is of course up to you, and will vary depending on the size of your business, but we recommend having one a day for the first 2-3 days, then dropping it down to a couple of times per week.

Use this time to answer their questions, set short- and long-term goals, highlight any potential problems, and simply get to know each other. If you’re not the one who your new recruit will be reporting to, then be sure to impress upon their manager the importance of having these catch-ups — it’s all too easy for new starters’ problems to go both unnoticed and unreported, sometimes leading to them suddenly handing in their notice.

Send them some company merch

It’s hard to feel a sense of belonging to a company if you’ve never actually set foot on the premises. One way to get around this is for managers to send a welcome pack to their home address on or just before their first day at work, preferably containing some sort of branded merchandise.

Company t-shirts, mugs, pens; it doesn’t really matter what it is, so long as it’s something that only an employee at your company could ever get!

Throw in a hand-written card and your new starter is sure to feel welcome and have a great first day.

Celebrate their arrival

Finally, remember to mark your new starter’s arrival somehow — company-wide — to make them feel truly welcome and ensure that people know to look out for them.

Depending on the size of your company, this could be a simple email or announcement on Slack, or even some kind of after-work event like an online pub quiz.

The way you celebrate their arrival doesn’t matter so much as the fact that you take the time to do it, and that everyone knows who they are, the wonderful things they’ll be doing at your company, and the fact that you’re glad to have them on board!

Wrap-up

Even if your team is able to return to the workplace safely and plan to work from home a lot less, there’s a good chance that we as a country will be moving in and out of some degree of lockdown for months, if not years, to come.

It’s therefore vital that managers know how to keep their teams tight and business ticking over whether their employees are working from home or gathered in the same office, and when it comes to new hires, that all begins with onboarding.

Doing the groundwork is just as important as showing your new starter the ropes on their first day. But onboarding doesn’t end when their first work-related task begins; a successful onboarding lasts right through their probationary period, and requires input not just from you, but your whole team.

Good luck, and happy onboarding!