The bad news: Coronavirus continues to impact us in ways we never imagined. The good news: Companies are still hiring, giving us hope for the future — something we’re happy to report on and share with you. Because the circumstances of onboarding new employees have to change to accommodate the current climate, employers need insights on how to put plans into action so that the virtual onboarding process is more seamless.

We reached out to a few hiring leaders who shared ways they’re leveraging today’s challenges to create opportunities for tomorrow.

Communication is key
“The biggest challenge when it comes to onboarding new employees remotely is communication,” explains Jennifer Fisher, ForceBrands’ Division Director on the West Coast. “First, you want to make sure you are setting clear and concise expectations each day and setting new hires up for long-term success with your company. Even more importantly, you want to make sure that they are feeling welcomed into your team’s culture. Onboarding remotely can be awkward for your new employee if it’s not done right. You don’t want them to feel like they are on an island.”

Fisher offers several suggestions on how to handle the situation to alleviate stress for both employers and new employees. “It’s helpful if direct managers set up 15-minute touchpoints each morning to lay out the objectives of each day and to answer any questions,” she says. “These 15 minutes of uninterrupted time with your new employee will go a long way in setting them up for success. You can also make sure there is an additional point person to answer questions as you’re probably busy yourself — think of this as a first line of defense for you.”

Another resource for new employees to lean on during the onboarding process is long-standing employees who can help guide new hires and welcome them into the fold. “Encourage your new team member to be proactive in reaching out to other members of the team during this time as well. Set up virtual coffee meetings and lunches to get to know each other,” Fisher says. “Use this time to pick their brains on what makes someone successful at that particular company. By the time we are back in the swing of things, and everyone is back at the office, your new team member will really feel like part of the team vs. meeting everyone for the first time. Again, over-communication during this time is incredibly important.”

Jessica Tully, ForceBrands’ Client Strategist in beauty, health, and wellness agrees that having a dedicated manager to guide the new hire, and setting up a daily check-in call in the morning, will help make sure they have a plan for the day and feel supported. She also concurs that urging the new hire to reach out to fellow team members to set up a quick hangout or video chat (so they can meet the team) goes a long way. “Keeping an open-door policy for questions or concerns during this process is important too as candidates may have more questions than usual. Coordinate a virtual happy hour or team meeting to introduce the new member to other members of the company and create a sense of community.” Most importantly, Tully concludes, don’t forget to guide the new hire with tasks or projects to get started on.

Knowledge is power
“We created a new hire user guide that has almost everything a new hire needs to know all in one spot. The user guide is a virtual resource with live links to resources on our intranet site,” explains Kayla Campbell, Senior Director, Performance & Learning, Pernod Ricard North America. “It tells the story of Pernod Ricard and also helps new hires get set up with FAQ, information regarding their IT equipment, and an overview on the company strategy, leadership model, and core values.”

Campbell reveals that the company has one point of contact on the L&D team, but also positions the new hire’s manager as the central person with whom they should stay in contact with. “In Canada, we send all new hires a welcome bottle of one of our products as an introduction to brand knowledge and as way to make them feel a part of the family,” she adds. “We encourage them to share the product with their family and friends and toast to their upcoming first day.”

Through Pernod Ricard North America’s learning management system, Campbell says the company makes available more than 8,000 courses offered by LinkedIn Learning, which gives new hires a place to learn job skills and leadership behaviors. “We also have elearnings we’ve created in-house that explain our leadership model, our goal-setting approach, and even detailed information about our brands,” she notes. “Through another online learning portal, BarSmarts, new hires have the opportunity to take part in 20+ hours of training that walks them through industry knowledge and category information about our products (ie. the difference between Irish whiskey and Scotch).”

Typically, Campbell says the company runs a three-day, in-person orientation in New York City; but given the current environment, they are now shifting to an online experience that will include guest speakers from the business, a virtual happy hour, and informative sessions from each function. “We want to create a community for our new hires so they can experience conviviality (coming together), which is what Pernod Ricard is all about,” she says. “We highly encourage all employees (new hire or otherwise!) to be on video for each meeting or training as this dramatically improves communication and engagement.”

The company also created a “conviviality @ home” site where employees can post pictures of their lives — their cat walking across their computer, a funny meme they have seen, or their new work-from-home work station. “Soon we are moving to live streaming our employees offering yoga classes, stand-up comedy, and cooking classes,” she adds. “We even have a page called ‘Quarantine with Kids’ where employees share ways they are keeping their kids busy and learning during this time. This makes new hires feel welcomed and a part of things when they join.”

For all employees, including new hires, Campbell says Pernod Ricard North America also launched a virtual training calendar, which included live virtual sessions that employees could sign up for at a time that worked for them. “We also provided resources on stress management, mindfulness, and agility.”

In terms of what to avoid for onboarding remotely — some valuable intel for all organizations right now — Campbell also provided the following insights. “Don’t put people on conference calls that are more than an hour (two max!),” she says. “They can’t possibly stay focused for that amount of time. Be on video! We have a rule on our team that every 4 slides require an interaction from your participants. Asking folks to respond to a poll in the chat function, or if you have the capability, to raise a hand or join a breakout virtual room goes a very long way to getting higher engagement,” she explains. “It’s best to over-communicate. There is so much flying at employees right now that you have to strike the right balance between getting your information out there, while also not being overwhelming.” Campbell adds that the new hire guide and virtual calendar allowed the company to centralize their communication and resources all in one spot, which was very effective.

“Also, try to keep things light. Joining a new organization can be scary, so try to have fun on programs like MS Teams or Slack, or set-up a virtual coffee or lunch with peers,” she concludes. “Being open and authentic is one of our values, so encourage those who are helping with the onboarding to acknowledge that things are unusual, but to keep focused on work and balancing life along the way.” Asking managers to regularly check-in, Campbell insists, is the most important thing overall.

Have a game plan
It goes without saying that onboarding is one of the most important aspects of the employee experience. First impressions count and an employee’s onboarding experience matters. Thus, it’s imperative that employers get it right and invest in an appropriate plan of action once the offer letter is signed.

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