Hiring in a crisis: Onboarding remote workers
Published: Tuesday, September 8th, 2020
There’s nothing like the first day nerves of a new job, pondering over what to wear, overthinking your start time and “I wonder do the team eat together or separately?”. 2020 has eliminated all those worries because it’s now all about onboarding remote workers from their home.
We caught up with Sinead our Digital Marketing Manager who started with Panviva in July from home, Ben our CIO and Belinda our Team Lead CAC who have both been interviewing and onboarding new starters remotely.
"I think you might be on mute!” - Interviewing in 2020
This year has seen the rise in the number of people who will have applied, interviewed and started a job without meeting anyone face-to-face. At Panviva, our team has interviewed several potential and successful candidates virtually during the global pandemic.
Ben believes that people are used to the remote aspect now, “but it can still be a little unusual when it comes to an interview situation, where people are traditionally thinking about first impressions, the facade of presenting well and projecting the right image - and suddenly you're in their homes!”. This goes both ways too, as Ben noticed how well one particular candidate was dressed and realised, he was still in his “tattered t-shirt and hoodie!”.
Belinda felt that some candidates were more at ease, “face to face seems to always bring out the most nerves in people but in my personal experience, I found candidates seemed more relaxed and the interview process was easy.” She did note how there were some drawbacks to remote interviewing though. Most interviews started on time but “other interviews started later because the candidate couldn’t get Teams to co-operate on their device.”
However, there have been some clear benefits to interviewing virtually, in particular; time and resource savings and calendar flexibility. Both agreed that video interviews are going to be the way forward with Ben saying that “I've never been a big fan of phone interviews, as you cannot gain the full immersion of body language, but the video calls have at least been a middle ground during the current times. The additional benefit is that video calling removes the need for the interviewee to travel, so there's more available time and flexibility in aligning calendars.”
Sinead did her two interviews with Panviva via a Microsoft Teams video call and has started her new role working from home. “It’s quite surreal eating my bowl of Weetabix at the kitchen table and then starting my first day ten minutes later from the same place. Usually “first days” consist of running out the door trying to catch a tram - hoping you’ve calculated your commute correctly so that you’re not late.” She notes that there are some benefits from starting remotely,” The first day jitters are definitely more at ease as you have time to yourself in between “meeting people”. Meeting people being a Teams video call.”
Collaboration, Communication and Connection – more important than ever before
“Initially, like everything that has been brought about with Covid-19, it was confusing and a bit of a struggle.” Whether it’s your 1st day or 500th, the lack of interaction and absence of in person conversation is starting to take its toll on everyone. Sinead expressed that “the hardest part is the inability to build genuine relationships with people. You miss out on casual conversations that would normally happen in the coffee room or getting to know someone over a bite to eat at lunch. When onboarding remotely, you often only meet the professional side of your colleagues and not the personal one.”
From a business and leadership perspective, missing those human experiences is evident for Ben also; “As at today, there are a number of new team members that we have not met in person and that's the thing we miss the most. We are a very "in-person" culture and even just the ability to connect in passing, see who is working on what and with whom, let alone taking a walk and ideating together, goes a very long way in terms of relationships and bonding. So, to do that all remotely is a big change, particularly when you're trying to account for the new employee experience.”
Belinda explains how onboarding remote workers “as managers we need to find new ways to excite and engage our teams and I can imagine as a new starter, they were feeling quite isolated at the start. They have to build relationships with total strangers without ever meeting them face to face.”
Establishing collaborative communication tools is crucial for new starters to settle and connect with colleagues; “things are definitely made easier with apps like Teams, WebEx and Zoom where you can have a more casual chat compared to email threads – I’ve sent so many emoji’s and gifs to try and convey some sort of personality”, Sinead.
What do you miss from the office?
Going forward, the workplace will change indefinitely, some will opt to stay working from home, others will long to get back to their shared office space and some will favour the flexibility of both.
While hosting social Fridays online with the team has helped boost morale, most of the team are looking forward to returning to the office. While Belinda feels like onboarding remotely hasn't necessarily been hugely difficult, it will be nice to return to the office to make experiences better - “just having incidental meetings with new starters has been harder as we’re not in the same physical place. Getting paperwork sorted and providing computers and equipment to new staff meant we were asking them to travel outside their home in a global pandemic.”
Although never having stepped into Panviva HQ, Sinead says that she is looking forward to returning to office life; “I miss the ability to go over to someone's desk and ask them a question there and then. When working from home, you’ve got to wait for an answer online when you would usually get it instantly. It's hard to bridge that gap in communication especially when you’re a newbie. Normally in the first couple of weeks you’re asking lots of questions, learning company policies and values and understanding how the brand works.”
As Sinead explains, the crucial part of starting a job is learning and picking up how the business operates from colleagues during casual conversations and discussing policies over impromptu coffee chats. However, with everyone now working remotely, those conversations are virtual. “If anything, 2020 has accelerated the need to have adequate and efficient communication tools to share information easily and quickly. I’m lucky in Panviva that was set up well before I started, making the transition for onboarding remote workers a lot smoother.”
What does the future of onboarding look like?
Reflecting on the changes this year has brought about, the future and evolution of onboarding new starters is sure to look somewhat different. From a new starter perspective, Sinead says, “I think going forward, we’re all going to have to adapt to a more remote/online approach to certain aspects of life. I don’t think we’re at the “death of the handshake” era because personal interactions are so important – especially at interview stages. However, I think (and hope) that people and businesses will be more conscious of personal space, flexibility between work and home life and the importance of clear communication strategies for effective workplace morale – whether that be in person or online”.
Similarly, from a hiring and leadership perspective, Belinda thinks “as the world changes and reacts to a new world post COVID, video interviews and remote on-boarding will become the norm’. Digital transformation has been forced onto companies, otherwise they would not be able to survive in a COVID world. I’m excited to see what new technologies will come out that will change the worlds way of hiring and on-boarding new staff.”
Ben feels that “we already had a lot of flexibility when it came to working arrangements and the technology to facilitate it, so we were able to make a quick shift to WFH just prior to the lock-downs taking place. So given we are now essentially six months in and still going with WFH, it has well and truly become the new way of working. Even when lock-downs lift (and let's put the emphasis on when!), we're expecting the new norm will be quite hybrid. However when it comes to onboarding, I think it's still important to have the in-person contact, however we will have more flexibility when it comes to getting up and running and connecting from wherever in the world you are!”.
New starters need to feel like they have the same necessary knowledge when starting from home as they would in an office. While not everyone will be onboarding remote workers or even hiring during a global pandemic, Covid-19 has paved the way for change. It has advanced the need to evolve overall communication processes so that employees are connected digitally, can collaborate efficiently and share knowledge and company information at the touch of a button.