Part 2: Transforming New Hire Orientation to a Virtual Model

By: John Todd, Managing Director, GattiHR

Earlier this Spring, we facilitated a webinar discussion with HR leaders from Rapid7, Mimecast and Bottom Line about their plans to transform their employee onboarding program from an in-person to a virtual model. All 3 companies have been fortunate to see a steady demand for their products and services and have continued to recruit and onboard new employees during the pandemic crisis. It has been a little over a month since our initial conversation, so we decided to follow-up with our panel of experts to see how their virtual onboarding plans have adapted during these changing times.

All 3 organizations have been successful in the launch of their virtual onboarding programs. Each has made adjustments to their plans, learned valuable lessons and made incremental improvements since our last conversation.

Engage with Your New Hires Early and Often

New employees (especially those starting in a virtual environment) need more frequent, consistent communication and direct support than those who arrive to a physical office on day 1. Pre-boarding communications are important to Matt Liptak, Director of Talent Acquisition NA at Mimecast. You only get one chance to make a positive first impression. Matt makes a point to schedule check-ins, starting immediately after the offer letter has been accepted to ensure a smooth transition from recruiting to onboarding. Touch points include confirmation that the new employee received their IT equipment and that they understand how to set it up and login for the first time. At Rapid7, Maureen Spalluto, Senior Manager, People Development Team ensures that the new hire’s manager schedules a quick check-in with their new team on day 1 to kick off the onboarding process on a high note. They suggest keeping communications simple and frequent to maintain a high-touch onboarding experience.

Break Up Online Learning Sessions into Digestible Chunks

When scheduling training segments into your onboarding program, Lori Neuner, Chief Talent Officer at Bottom Line, suggests keeping modern adult learning theory in mind. Adults may find it difficult to sit in front of a laptop for 8 hours for multiple, consecutive days. When developing online training segments to learn certain skills, the company culture, or your company’s products or services, Lori recommends breaking the sessions into smaller learning chunks and providing sufficient breaks to allow the employee time to process information effectively. She also recommends incorporating activities which require employees to network with others in the company or onboarding class and inserting fun, gamified learning experiences throughout the day. At Rapid7, they schedule online training sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays to allow people the ability to absorb the information and develop questions for further conversation. Wednesdays are reserved for all staff Town Hall meetings, led by the executive leadership team.  Other companies schedule 2-4-hour training blocks throughout their onboarding programs to encourage learning and maintain a high level of engagement.

Small Gestures Can Make for a Memorable Employee Experience

It’s the little things in life that count, right? Mimecast understands this and has added some innovative, yet simple, programming to ensure employees are staying fit, healthy, and focused. “We understand that the current situation brings a host of internal and external stressors to their employees. We are expanding our virtual programming to include wellness segments for employees and their families. Wellness Wednesdays include activities like Yoga and cooking classes while a new Kids Corner offers online activities for children including educational programs, fun games, projects, and helpful ideas for parents on how to balance family and work time. Employees are also encouraged to lead training and sharing sessions of their own. We are fortunate to have a Learning and Development team managing this effort,” Matt says. Matt has other innovative ideas up his sleeve that we will discuss on the upcoming webinar.

Maureen adds, “We send Kindle gift cards with our leadership team’s book recommendations! It is tied to our continuous learning core value but also a welcome gesture!”

Lessons Learned and Tips from the Experts

Lori at Bottom Line, a national not-for-profit organization, has a small, yet resourceful HR department who manages the talent acquisition process centrally. They hire in cohorts of 35-40 employees annually (in July) to prepare for the beginning of the academic year. New hires would usually travel from across the US to their Boston HQ for a kick-off week of introductory training and team building sessions. In the COVID world, onboarding for these employees will need to shift to a virtual event spanning over multiple days. Being a small department, the team is engaging external training consultants to help think through redesigning (for the ideal virtual experience) and delivering the best virtual training. She continues to use Zoom to facilitate team-building and other onboarding activities and specific Slack channels to encourage employee communications and networking. “There is always room for improvement.” Lori is always experimenting with new techniques to encourage employees to increase interaction and engagement. She is thankful to have a fully engaged executive leadership team who are visible and communicate with employees often.

Matt notes that the current crisis has provided the opportunity for leadership teams at many companies to view the concept of a remote or hybrid workforce from a different lens: “In the future, we may see more companies reviewing their job requirements through a different lens.” Hiring managers may start asking whether specific roles can be done remotely as well as on-premise. Roles that are crucial to the business or hard to fill in certain geographies might now be filled by remote workers in areas with a lower cost of living or where qualified candidate pools are plentiful. We have learned that adapting our onboarding process, once thought a daunting feat, is possible.

Our panellists survey their employees and new hires regularly to measure the onboarding program’s success and the employee’s level of engagement. Early results have been overwhelmingly positive. Constructive comments are used to make tweaks to the program in each new iteration.

Maureen leaves us with a final thought. “You must be open to making missteps as you get started, open in communication to your employees and leadership teams and open to make course corrections along the way. There are multiple best practices and ways of implementing to match your unique culture.”