How to onboard employees remotely
Julian Eccles is an experienced Communications and Corporate Affairs Director who has led these functions at Sky, Ofcom and The FA as well as international companies Millicom and Travelport. He has also been a government Special Adviser and started his PR career at Hill & Knowlton.
Whilst most of us regard the household onboarding of essential goods as our number one priority at the moment, many communicators are now grappling with the challenge of onboarding new colleagues remotely now that the government's Covid-19 isolation guidance urging homeworking is in full effect.
What is the best way to do this?
I have very happily recruited and onboarded team members in every continent having only met them through a screen. Doing this with a colleague in Bogota or Singapore should be the same as for one in Bolton or Swindon. Wherever they are, new teammates deserve a first-class induction process like anyone else.
Setting the tone in the first week is critical. As in other walks of life, first impressions matter both for the new recruit and the employer. Creating a warm, welcoming and professional environment for the employee is vital and lays the foundations for a successful career with the organisation.
The onboarding checklist should be no different to the one you would deploy if you were doing it directly at your own offices. As professional communicators, a lot of this will be common sense, but it helps to spend a moment to think about it. So here are a few practical and behavioural tips:
Videoconferencing (VC) is key. Make sure your IT team has sent a new colleague a laptop configured to your corporate network with full login instructions. Ensure your choice of VC or collaboration tool (e.g. Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom, Skype) is preinstalled and communicated to your new recruit. These tools are far more efficient than old-style audio calls and offer the vital screen-sharing that allows co-operation on presentations and the like. Clients and colleagues expect us as comms experts to be among the first to use such tech and promote their use in their own organisations as much as with external stakeholders.
A new job can be daunting at the best of times - whether virtually or in the office. Just as you would greet your new hire in Reception at 9am to devote some time for a coffee, show them to their workspace etc. - do the same for them virtually. Surprise them with a Deliveroo coffee and a breakfast toastie sent to their address just as your 9am VC meeting starts. Make sure they have already received any "Welcome Pack" materials which might include the company hoodie, notebook, mug and product samples etc. These human touches, which are part of any PR skillset, will get their attention before you dive into the work schedule.
Prepare in advance a full week's schedule of meetings and activities for your newbie just as you would if they were located alongside you. That means making sure the usual corporate inductions (e.g. HR, payroll, security, compliance) should all be fully accessible via VC. Give them a team buddy with whom they can check-in with any concerns and share an onscreen lunch in the first few days. After an hour with the comms leader on current strategy and plans, a full written schedule, replicated in their online calendar, should include confirmed one-to-one VC meetings with other team members and those with whom they will work most closely. This would include time for training on any software such as the media database and monitoring and measurement tools. If you can, send the schedule in advance.
The schedule also should also include time for the inevitable reading and viewing materials kept on a shared drive or online tool for each client, business line, region and function. Make sure the new arrival is on circulation lists of client or company media monitoring, and gets familiar with guidance on templates, house style, reporting, logins and content for social media channels and an initial draft set of objectives against which to measure their performance later.
As well as your own regular catchups, routine team meetings during induction should be conducted over VC too. If chairing such meetings make sure remote workers are fully and visibly involved in all proceedings.
Keeping it professional
How many times have we heard of friends calling in via a phone bridge remotely whilst still in their PJs or under the duvet? It's so tempting. Insisting connection through VC obliges colleagues from the start to at least appear professional and set a workplace mood.
We are lucky to have such brilliant technology help us with this. As Covid-19 restrictions force millions more to work remotely - many for the first time - they and their colleagues will recognise that this mode of working is at least as efficient as being in the office. Let's make the most of it now and beat the disruption of the virus by working smartly with virtual working.