How to Onboard a New Employee in a Socially Distant World

It’s one thing to maintain company culture and employee engagement when everyone’s working from home, but it’s quite another to grow that culture by adding teammates that nobody’s met before.
Quinten Dol
August 31, 2020
Updated: November 10, 2020
Quinten Dol
August 31, 2020
Updated: November 10, 2020

The first few days at a new job are always a whirlwind of introductions, tech outfitting, training and tentative first assignments. Sure, it can be awkward, but a smooth and efficient onboarding process brings new hires up to speed and integrates them into a company’s culture in relatively little time. 

Tech companies have continued to hire new employees throughout the pandemic, a process that has completely changed under social distancing guidelines. It’s one thing to maintain company culture and employee engagement when everyone’s working from home, but it’s quite another to grow that culture by adding teammates that nobody’s met before. 

We spoke to HR leaders, other department heads and newly hired employees at U.S.-based app developers, clean energy companies and more to learn how companies across the tech industry are coming up with new methods — or digitized versions of their tried-and-true processes — to fulfill their hiring goals and grow their teams. 

 

dun and bradstreet hr
Dun & Bradstreet

Roslynn Williams, Chief People Officer, Dun & Bradstreet

What are the biggest challenges you’ve encountered when onboarding new employees during this work-from-home era, and how have you addressed them?

One of our core values at Dun & Bradstreet is that we are relentlessly curious and embrace the changes in the world around us. COVID-19 presented us an opportunity to explore ways to engage, learn and grow. 

Onboarding new hires in a completely remote way challenges us to bridge the digital with the personal. We strive for our first day new-hire experience to make our new Dun & Bradstreet family members feel that we see their specialness and the impact they will have on the company. We challenged ourselves to find ways to place a personal touch and build camaraderie with team members in our new methods of onboarding.

We have a concierge program for our new team members to ensure they are set up for success. This includes a comprehensive welcome package that includes technology equipment delivered to their homes prior to their start date. A tech expert virtually meets with each hire one-on-one the morning of their first day. Once the new hire is technically connected, they join a group Microsoft Teams meeting where they are encouraged to turn on their video cameras to get to know their new teammates. At the meeting, we encourage all employees to bring their whole selves to work — that means feeling comfortable introducing family members and pets and having an open dialogue about what it’s like to start a new job during a pandemic. We ensure that senior leaders welcome the new hires as part of their first day work experience. We have also incorporated an interactive gamification of our company and history through Kahoot sessions.

 

“We work with our hiring managers to create a ‘defining moment’ that is uniquely geared to the individual.”

 

How has your HR team equipped managers to effectively integrate new hires into team and company culture?

Despite the new working cadence, the care and support we extend to each new hire remains our north star. We believe that the team member’s first days can serve as a launching pad for a long-term career at our company. To build a meaningful experience, we work with our hiring managers to create a ‘defining moment’ that is uniquely geared to the individual through channels like video welcome messages, e-cards, virtual welcome parties and more. Through our DnBuddy program, we pair new hires with a teammate to guide them, particularly during their first few months at the company. The goal is to create a personalized experience that connects a new hire to their team from the start.

Even leaders in the organization have tailored virtual ‘roadshows’ with other senior leaders and peers across the business. Our goal is to provide each leader with a personalized and role-specific learning plan to accelerate their understanding of the business, connect with key stakeholders and build a strong internal network to help each other be successful. We understand that while we are physically far apart, there is much that can be done to create a sense of camaraderie, collaboration and connection through shared mission and purpose.

 

aimee george leary booz allen hamilton
Booz Allen Hamilton

Aimee George Leary, Talent Strategy Officer at Booz Allen Hamilton

What are the biggest challenges you’ve encountered when onboarding new employees during this work-from-home era, and how have you addressed them? 

As new employees now spend their first days, weeks and even months working from home it has become critically important to provide the appropriate tools, technology and company-wide resources to help them reach productivity quickly and have a successful and positive teleworking experience. Using a widely deployed digital toolkit, Booz Allen Hamilton developed a tech empowerment workshop built around those resources to enable new hires to perform remote work. In developing this training, we created a blended learning solution to provide new hires with a synchronous learning experience, and an asynchronous portion they can access on their own time as they move through their introduction to the firm.

Of course, technical resources aren’t the only potential barrier new hires are facing. Joining any company in a mostly telework environment creates additional challenges in building personal relationships with colleagues and feeling connected to the organization’s purpose, values and culture. With the shift to a remote experience, we began a series of fireside chats and listening sessions to share updates and gather input from our employees on the remote experience. We complemented our current tools with additional collaborative spaces like Microsoft Teams, MURAL and MS Whiteboard. Teams have also instilled regular virtual meet-ups and touch-bases and embraced video meetings to nurture personal connections and morale.  

 

“A vast majority of employees see one-on-one conversations with their direct manager as the single most important aspect of their onboarding process.”

 

How has your HR team equipped managers to effectively integrate new hires into team and company culture?  

Research indicates that a vast majority of employees see one-on-one conversations with their direct manager as the single most important aspect of their onboarding process. Booz Allen strongly encourages our people leaders to set up frequent online check-ins with new hires to help resolve problems, track performance and provide emotional support. We developed an onboarding checklist and resource guide to help facilitate these discussions. In addition to guides and training, we use a multifaceted approach, with human resources regularly connecting with new hires and people leaders, job leaders supporting daily work direction, and career managers supporting longer-term career growth, integration at the firm and wellness. We’ve also deployed information sessions for our people leaders to understand onboarding requirements, review roles and responsibilities and be equipped with the right information to get their new hire’s journey off to a great start.

 

 

miguel lipuma enel
Enel

Miguel Li Puma, Head of People and Organization North America at Enel North America

What are the biggest challenges you’ve encountered when onboarding new employees during this work-from-home era, and how have you addressed them?

Throughout the pandemic, clean energy company Enel North America has been in a unique position, as we’ve had the opportunity to make many business decisions based off what worked and what didn’t work for our parent company in Italy, which had to adjust to the impacts of COVID-19 before North America. Enel has a diverse geographic footprint, so remote work is not a new concept for us. While onboarding new employees remotely required a shift in our existing onboarding program, Enel was prepared to do so based on our advanced digitalization and international employee base. 

Our digitalization journey launched in 2015 and profoundly changed the way we use technology to onboard our employees, manage our asset base, interact with customers — and the way our employees work. Thanks to a 100 percent cloud-based IT infrastructure and extensive use of cloud-based IT solutions, most of our asset base is already digitized. All of of our generation assets are remotely monitored and our renewable fleet is almost entirely remotely managed, so we were prepared for the shift to a remotely managed workforce. Meanwhile, customer operations and interaction channels are fully digital. Apps, mobile/web interactions, virtual assistants and chatbots can provide information, activate new contracts, modify existing ones and execute payments remotely, making the work-from-home process seamless.

 

“We did a series of simulations, tests and verifications on our infrastructure to ensure there would be no issues with the transition.”

 

How has your HR team equipped managers to effectively integrate new hires into team and company culture?

Our experience with digital transformation allowed us to smoothly transition employees to a remote setting. We did a series of simulations, tests and verifications on our infrastructure to ensure there would be no issues with the transition. Throughout the entire pandemic, we have continued to hire across North America — with 75 open positions in the spring and over 100 more openings throughout 2020 — so we have been constantly refining our onboarding process and ensuring that new hires are fully integrated into the team and company culture. We set up weekly calls between new hires and management — including several days of company introduction with presentations from every department — to ensure managers and new hires have an immersive, fully comprehensive and engaging onboarding experience. This includes face time with executives to guide them through such a unique process. 

To prep our management and HR teams for a new working environment, our global COVID-19 taskforce defined a set of specific actions to be activated based on different scenarios, assuming they align with the mandates set by local governments. First, we organized our workstreams to minimize the number of people present in our offices, power plants and construction sites by reorganizing job routines leveraging smart working and digital tools. To ensure safe and effective asset management, we optimized our power plant operation schemes and rescheduled maintenance activities whenever technically possible, guaranteeing business continuity to the countries’ electrical systems while reducing the number of people needed on site premises. We also implemented preventive measures to protect people working in power plant operation and construction sites from contagion. And finally, we provide flexibility for all employees, with early closings for Summer Fridays and new programs to help them adjust to a new working environment, including quiet hours to minimize the volume of meetings.

 

Sunitha Velpula, Director of Quality Engineering at Cloudera

What are the biggest challenges you’ve encountered when onboarding new employees during this work-from-home era, and how have you addressed them?

The biggest challenge is the human connection to the new hire, as they are now a new person in the Cloudera family. New hires no longer have the ability to do a quick stop at a colleague’s desk for a quick question, which has raised a few challenges.

 

“In our eyes, no question is a silly question.”

 

A few things we are doing to address them include encouraging managers to do more frequent one-on-ones or casual checkpoints with their teams and direct reports, and assigning a mentor to every new employee. We really encourage new employees to ask as many questions as they want because, in our eyes, no question is a silly question.

 

“New Normal” Alert:Read More Remote Recruiting Stories Here

 

Stephen Davis, SVP, Cybersecurity at 2U

You recently started work at 2U. What was it like to be onboarded remotely?

2U did an amazing job working ensuring the recruitment process was easy and seamless. HR’s communications with me — especially via email — were always expedient and sophistically detailed, and I use those terms very specifically. During a rigorous interview process, excellent communication and timely information are key to making the experience productive and enjoyable for candidates, especially when every stage is conducted remotely.

 

“Small gestures make a huge difference to someone getting the lay of the land for the first time remotely.”

 

What I appreciate most about my experience at 2U is that every employee always has their camera on during meetings. Interacting ‘face to face’ has allowed me to recreate the watercooler conversations that often come naturally within an office setting — but are missing when everyone is working remotely. This has helped me develop a strong rapport and sense of trust with both my recruiters and colleagues. This is really a testament to how hard the company works to embody and practice a positive ethos and workplace culture.

In every meeting I join, I have been spotlighted and people virtually chat or clap to welcome me. Small gestures like this make a huge difference to someone getting the lay of the land for the first time remotely. They ultimately help establish the relationships that build the bridges that get the work done.

Great Companies Need Great People. That's Where We Come In.

Recruit With Us