Transforming New Hire Orientation to a Virtual Model

By: John Todd, Managing Director, GattiHR

Best Practices for Onboarding Employees in a Pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way in which we work, moving from an office-based environment to a remote/virtual model. Managers and Human Resources professionals are being asked to quickly adapt their management styles to accommodate for this shift. Our team at GattiHR spoke with HR leaders from 3 companies in the pharmaceuticals, non-profit and technology industries to learn how they are transforming their high touch, in-person onboarding processes to fully online models, while maintaining a high level of employee engagement.

This may seem like a daunting task to many HR professionals who are feeling overwhelmed by the pandemic crisis, but it does not need to be. Starting with the basics, keeping it simple, focusing on consistent communications and celebrating your culture will ensure that your onboarding program is a success. Following some basic guidelines can ensure that your new employees receive the information and training they need and feel that they are part of your culture.

Start with the basics, and keep it simple.

Like many HR departments, Lori Neuner, Chief Talent Officer at Bottom Line, a national non-profit organization headquartered in Boston that helps first-generation students from low-income backgrounds get into college, graduate and go far in life, had a limited budget for new HR initiatives and a small HR team to support them. She had to make do with IT applications they already had in place. Lori balanced the need to maintain a high touch program that celebrated their mission and culture with the need to spin up the program quickly. She decided for a phased approach that kept their existing onboarding agenda and updated the schedule to include the use of live conferencing software (Zoom meetings) for speaker presentations. A communications plan and schedule for employee and manager messaging/check-ins was distributed to the team and onboarding templates, guides and process documents were made available online. Cornerstone LMS provides new employees access to compulsory and compliance training courses and their HRIS provides access to employee HR, benefits and payroll paperwork. HR hosts the onboarding program and coordinates the speaker’s presentations. Lori and her team will review the program in future weeks and look for ways to improve the process and infuse additional cultural pieces into the process.

Consistent messaging is key.

Maureen Spalluto, Senior Manager, People Development Team at Rapid7, a Boston based technology company and leading provider of security analytics and automation solutions, faced a unique challenge. Rapid7 is celebrated for their culture and unique collaborative though physical office environment. She and her onboarding team were tasked to transform the company’s onboarding processes at the same time many of the employees were working remote for the first time ever. For those who are not familiar with their office layout and culture, Rapid7 has an open office that encourages cross-team collaboration and innovation. Their culture encourages face to face interactions and has been extremely successful in building employee engagement. Like Lori above, Maureen and her team kept the same agenda and schedule and utilized Zoom to enable new employees and speakers to participate.

Maureen spoke about the need for maintaining consistent and transparent communication from all leaders throughout the program. Her team recognized the need to provide “calm” messaging during the COVID-19 crisis and multiple avenues for employees to ask questions freely throughout the process. At Rapid7, the executive team is very engaged in supporting the company culture. The CEO and Chief People Officer commonly check in with employees to see how they are doing. To encourage communication, they use Slack channels tailored to manager and employee needs, hold virtual People Strategy and employee events, and encourage employees to take a virtual walk or coffee break with employees from different departments to learn more about the organization.

Promoting culture and the office environment.

Matthew Liptak, Director Talent Acquisition at Mimecast, a growing global technology organization whose mission is to make business email and data safer for thousands of customers with millions of employees worldwide, feels it’s extremely important that virtual interviewing and onboarding processes are seamless and replicate the in-person process as closely as possible to ensure adoption of the process by the organization and increased engagement of candidates. Mimecast partnered with their marketing team to produce a 360-degree virtual office tour (it is an impressive new office!) and promote their culture on social media outlets. These videos and pictures are included as part of the orientation program. Knowing that many employees will be returning to the office when the COVID-19 crisis subsides, it’s important to showcase the benefits of their collaborative office culture, in office events and amenities. Matthew also infuses their mission and values into the onboarding program through speaker presentations and Mimecast University, learning management and career development system.

Plan a follow-up meeting.

Planning a follow-up meeting to enable new hires to learn about other departments and communicate openly managers is recommended. In some cases, HR may incorporate this session in a multi-day orientation at the new hire start date. Either way, it is good practice to plan a follow-up to reinforce your culture and values and provide employees an additional avenue to ask questions.

Lessons learned and best practices.

Stay organized. Successful HR leaders assembled cross functional teams and secured executive team buy-in for their orientation plans before executing them. They developed detailed orientation program plans that  included roles and responsibilities, detailed orientation schedules and templates for manager to employee communications. Where possible, they pre-scheduled tasks with automated reminders for team members, presenters and new hires and attached templates and guides for each task as appropriate. The HR orientation leader oversees following up with each presenter and manager to ensure tasks are completed in order and on time.

Train managers and presenters. It is important to educate managers and leaders in the new orientation process and provide training on managing remote teams. It’s important for managers to feel comfortable communicating to the new employees and setting clear expectations and goals.  At Rapid7, they have developed a Slack channel for managers to share best practices and collaborate.

New hire equipment and Welcome Kits.  HR must communicate future hiring plans to their IT partners so that they can acquire, build and send the appropriate equipment to new employee prior to their start date. FedEx accounts and supplies are established to enable shipping from the employee’s home. A dedicated IT and HR support line is communicated for any new hire support needs. HR at Mimecast and Rapid7 send HR Welcome Kits to each new hire that includes company swag like logo clothing, pens and desktop items.

Make it work.

Regardless of your budget, there are many applications available to transform your new hire orientation program to a virtual format. Start small by using a video conferencing platform like Zoom or Ring Central to allow speakers to present live from their home offices and then re-evaluate in future iterations. Stay organized, develop a schedule and agenda, provide templates and training to your stakeholders and follow-up with constant and consistent messaging to your new hires and managers.