During the pandemic, one of my clients told me her husband was starting a new job. He hadn’t heard from anyone by the Friday before his start date. He was getting uneasy. Where should he go — virtually — on his first day of work? That kind of uncertainty does not make anyone feel excited about joining the company. New hires need to feel that they have a home, that somebody knows they exist even before they start.
I work with a consumer app company in Chicago that moved to remote work at the beginning of the pandemic, and it was not an easy transition. At the same time, since the company was now remote they could search for executives outside of their geography. After a lot of digging, they found the new VP of Product they had been looking for in San Francisco. Finally!
But sometimes in the startup world everything goes wrong. The CEO was in the middle of fundraising, the Head of People was focused on hiring in other areas of the company, so nobody took full responsibility for onboarding the new executive, Wei.
New hires need to feel that they have a home, that somebody knows they exist even before they start.
The company just didn’t have a process in place for getting equipment to Wei so he used his personal computer for about a week and couldn’t get on the company intranet.
Because the company was remote Wei had a lot of trouble figuring out who was who and who he should meet. The CEO and Head of People answered questions when asked, but they didn’t sit down with him to give him a comprehensive overview.
3 Keys to a Successful Remote Onboarding Process
- Have a plan to embrace a new hire before they start.
- Let them know what’s going to happen when.
- Call on day one.
Wei, for his part, didn’t recognize that he should proactively meet with all his employees and so he met haphazardly with some and not others. He criticized much of the work they had already done and didn’t share any kind of road map for how he would run the department or his plan for the product.
Worst of all, he committed the mortal new-guy sin of saying, “At my last company we did it this way,” about 100 times in the first two weeks. Sooner than that his team decided they hated him and put up Slack channels to discuss his blunders in detail.
When the CEO announced that the company was parting ways with Wei after two months, the Slack channel populated with celebration gifs and champagne emojis.
In retrospect it’s sort of obvious what went wrong (and Wei was probably a bad hire). But I want to share the cautionary tale with you because this was and is a terrific company! This kind of thing can happen when someone in your company is not on top of the onboarding process, especially when it’s remote.
3 Keys to a Great Remote Onboarding Experience
1. Have a Plan to Embrace a New Hire Before They Start
If there are a few weeks between hiring and actually starting, make sure you welcome them. People should start to feel that they are part of the company even before day one. Call (preferably) or email them that you’re excited they’re coming and you’re looking forward to making them part of the company world. Ask them for her operating manual and give them yours. An operating manual, especially one keyed to remote work, can save everyone a rocky start.
2. Let Them Know What’s Going to Happen When
Let them know soon after they are hired what they can expect over the weeks until day one. Tell them when their computer is coming. People like to have structure. Set up a schedule for the first day and schedule things for the first week so they know there’s a structure and that the rest of the company is aware of them. I’m a big fan of sending physical objects. Send them swag from the company. So send them a hoodie, preferably with their name on it. Or send a pie or bagels or cupcakes.
Then say that Sally from HR will call to give the new hire a walk-through of the company systems, such as Asana, Slack, etc. “She’ll set you up with a username and password. We’ll send you supplies in a care package. Anything else you can expense like this.” Have Jim, your IT person, set up their computer so that they can log in and feel like they are part of the ecosystem. You’ll give them some pointers about who to talk to and what to talk about.
3. Call on Day One
Normally you would take them out to lunch, but since you’re remote, send them a lunch voucher or ask someone to have a virtual lunch with them. For the end of the week, have someone send them a pie, or they can have a virtual pizza lunch at their local time.
Even after that start, the social aspect of onboarding is complicated with remote work. People feel they’re missing out on the chemistry, they have trouble bonding. You can’t walk her around to the offices of the leadership team, but you can have them be in touch with her one way or another.
The foundation of successful onboarding is focus and constant communication.
Find ways to have a personal conversation, and bond like you would if you were having dinner together. Find online social experiences – a virtual lunch, a team meeting of some sort, show pictures, share songs. You can’t do those social meetings that you might do in the office, but you can have a virtual cocktail party, and on Friday send her a pie or whatever she likes (because you’ve already found out what she likes because you asked her in an earlier call).
The foundation of successful onboarding is focus and constant communication – you with the new hire, other people with the new hire, the new hire with all of you. Remember that your job as the manager is to hire the right people and — equally importantly — to set them up for success. By ensuring they have a strong onboarding plan and way to connect into the company, you help give them the right structure to create quick wins so they can have a strong start and a good chance of success.
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This excerpt is from From Start-Up to Grown-Up by Alisa Cohn ©2021 and is reproduced and adapted with permission from Kogan Page Ltd.