Although many companies had access to the technology well before 2020, it took a global pandemic to make remote work the norm across industries for the first time. Now that the genie is out of the bottle, it’s time to start looking at some of the lessons we learned not as temporary measures we’ll come back from eventually — but as permanent fixtures in the future of work.
There are many benefits to a distributed workforce, however it doesn’t come without a list of challenges. Bringing on new employees likely sits at the top of that list, as companies grapple with how to successfully onboard new hires without a physical place to do it.
Proper onboarding is incredibly important when it comes to improving a sense of belonging, which can lead to long-term employee retention. In fact, a 2017 study from CareerBuilder noted that almost one in 10 employees leave their companies due to poor onboarding experiences, and nearly 70 percent of employees stay at their organization for more than three years if they have a great onboarding experience.
Without traditional get-togethers and casual chatter around an office, it can be easy for new hires to feel isolated and distant from a team with pre-existing relationships from before the pandemic. Here are three steps you can take to make sure that your new hires feel supported and connected.
Design an Impactful Onboarding Process
Too often, onboarding consists of a brief meet-and-greet with the team, a fly-by online training session on tools and systems, scheduling one-on-ones with a manager and... that’s it. That model may have been effective in an in-person work environment where colleagues can play a more substantial role in the process. However, for remote employees, getting a sense of company culture and gaining proficiency in their new roles may take much longer if it isn’t done in a more engaging and impactful way.
Extending the onboarding process beyond a new hire’s first few days to instead comprise their first few months can help new team members feel valued and cared for by management. Intentional, long-term, goal-oriented onboarding communicates to employees that you care about their development and that the company is invested in their career development. Those connections can be hard to communicate remotely, where it’s much easier to feel distanced from your employer. Prioritizing effective, ongoing onboarding is a simple way to get that message across credibly.
What this process looks like depends on the role and on the company, but no matter the environment, it should consist of regular touchpoints and ongoing, structured feedback designed to empower new hires and make them feel confident that they understand their role, responsibilities and career trajectory.
Prioritize Company Culture
Regardless of your organization, company culture starts at the top, but is almost always executed by your team. The personalities and relationships developed between the people who work together every day are the most important elements that make up a healthy company culture, and those relationships are traditionally built in person. With more widespread and distributed workforces, we are now seeing more isolation and lack of familiarity with new hires, which means that prioritizing new ways to integrate new remote workers is even more important in order to set both them and the team up for long-term success.
How this is done most genuinely depends on your specific team dynamic and your company’s culture, but it’s important that you give new hires the opportunity to interact casually with their coworkers. Whether that’s through informal happy hours, company events that can be done remotely, icebreaker events, creative training and culture-building methods or a combination of the above, it should be a priority to help new hires develop relationships to feel like they’re fully a part of the team.
There can be a tendency to leave these types of activities out of an onboarding process and hope they arise organically. But work can easily get busy, and if team camaraderie and company culture isn’t treated like an equally important part of the onboarding process, then both your team and your new hires will also treat it as a lower priority. Some companies may want to consider creating an employee experience manager role to own culture building and employee connection — ensuring this element doesn’t fall through the cracks.
Explore Immersive Learning
Traditional onboarding programs that include slide shows, classroom sessions, and online training have been shown to be time-intensive and ineffective. And with remote employees, traditional learning methods that rely on physical modalities may no longer be possible.
More companies are turning to virtual reality instead. VR can combine the interactivity of in-person classes and the convenience and accessibility of online training methods for a fast, repeatable, data-driven learning experience for employees. The use of immersive methods can pay huge dividends, with companies showing huge increases in knowledge retention. For example, Sprouts Farmers Markets showed an increase in retention of 16x after implementing immersive learning through VR.
Using VR technology as part of the onboarding process can also help create more engaging experiences for new employees. VR provides a “wow” factor for many people who have never used the technology before, and it can help showcase a company’s innovativeness and add excitement to an otherwise staid and static training process.
VR training alone is not a panacea for some of the challenges with employee training, and the design of the learning program often matters as much as the technology itself. However, when it’s used alongside other learning methods, VR’s immersive experience can serve as an effective tool to help companies create a better impression on new hires from the very beginning.
Investing in Your Company’s Future Today
Ultimately, a successful onboarding process effectively and efficiently transmits the job knowledge that a new employee needs to succeed, while also integrating them into the company’s culture and making them feel engaged with the organization. An effective onboarding process can make a huge difference in engagement and job performance, which can often result in up to a 50 percent increase in productivity.
It becomes more difficult to do this effectively without the benefit of in-person interaction, but by investing in strong planning and strategy — as well as tools like VR-based immersive learning — you can make sure that your new team members soon feel as much a part of the team as if they were sitting right next to you in the office.