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The Alternative Board Blog

7 Ways For Onboarding New Employees During the Pandemic

Jan. 7, 2021 | Posted by The Alternative Board

Employee recruitment, training, and orientation are critical to the success of any organization. A well-thought-out and executed onboarding plan helps set new employees up for success. 

However, the current pandemic has made the hiring process more challenging than ever. With social distancing and other exceptional circumstances, as well as the fear of the coronavirus looming large, recruitment and training have become even more difficult. 

As you begin the onboarding process during the pandemic, make sure you equip new hires with the right technology and provide them with effective communication tools. All new hires should also have access to the resources and people they need to get their work done. 

Here are 7 ways to successfully onboard new employees during COVID-19:

1. Create commonality and connection with your team.

According to Gallup, having a friend at work is a crucial factor in workplace happiness and productivity. Whether your workplace is fully or partially remote or in an office environment, it is important to onboard new team members and help facilitate work friendships.

One way is to provide a list of questions that a new team member could ask their work colleagues during their first few days. Schedule 15-30 minute one-on-one, getting to know you meetings with team members from each department, especially employees they will work with frequently.

Provide a similar list of questions to existing employees.

These questions could be: "Where did you go to school?" "Who is your favorite sports team?" "Do you have any pets?" "What is your favorite vacation place?" “Have you traveled outside the country?" "If you could eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?" etc. 

Asking these ice-breaker-type questions helps new team members find commonality and builds rapport, which is essential to building a great workplace culture.

Jodie Shaw, CMO at TAB

2. Delegate the onboarding process to the leadership team. 

One of my members has recently brought on several new employees and has begun to increase her delegation to her leadership team. In their recent leadership team meetings, and based on their SWOT analysis, they want to improve employee development and make the leadership team stronger. The leaders decided to hold employee orientation/training sessions via MS Teams. They also broke down the content into consumable components. Each leader took on the development and delivery of some of the various parts. The leaders also had to follow up to ensure that all the teachings were being implemented. This is not only good during the pandemic, but a good employee onboarding practice in general.

Bob Dodge, Partner at TAB Denver West

3. Help the team to get to know each other.

Have each team member state where they are from and what they like about working at your organization. The first question will help them get to know each other better, and the second one will help reiterate positive statements about the company.

Jim Morris, President at TAB Tennessee Valley Region

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4. Maintain the human touch in a virtual environment.

Social distancing and virtual meetings are a reality during the pandemic. Social interaction is critical to making a new employee feel welcome and "at home" with the company, coworkers, etc. 

The water cooler is one of the most important social interactions for a new employee. These interactions are spontaneous, informal, current, friendly, and often personal. These interactions also help new employees feel they are seen and valued as people, not just a resource or tool of the company.

In the absence of any physical interaction, how can we best use virtual meetings like Zoom to mimic the human touch? 

You can organize a "Zoom Welcome Party" for the new employee to meet the group for the first time. You may schedule the key coworkers to Zoom with the new employee, one-on-one. This can be accomplished using the "Breakout Rooms" feature or by merely scheduling short time slots for each coworker to rotate in and out of Zoom with the new employee.

To mimic the water cooler, this is done without an agenda, topic, suggested questions, etc. Keep it natural and allow each coworker to be spontaneous. This is an excellent way for coworkers to get to know each other and bond quickly. Following the initial interactions, you can plan additional water cooler time before and/or after each business Zoom meeting the new employee attends. 

Joe Palmer, Owner at TAB North Texas

5. Create a re-boarding plan to get everyone back to the office seamlessly.

The COVID-19 outbreak has forced many companies to alter how and where their teams work. Maybe they opened up their physical offices or stores, or they modified their work schedules to remote work, or “back-to-office" work, or a hybrid approach using an A / B cohort system. 

In the first quarter of 2021, as the government distributes the vaccine, and as the virus starts to find herd immunity, there will be a back-to-office movement. Of course, this will include the appropriate and necessary precautions with regards to sanitizing, social distancing, and wearing masks. 

The idea is to get your teams back to a comfortable and motivated workplace. 

When it comes to productivity, you want your team to be as productive as possible, as quickly as possible. It is hard to assume that months out of the office will support a seamless return. Through re-boarding, you can review your modifications to the physical office and the new protocols that you have added to the work processes. You must, once again, set the expectations for them and the team. Do not expect anyone to pick up where they left off as that would be expecting too much. 

During a re-boarding, you can update all employees with a post-pandemic office's new practices and policies. You may have new protocols concerning the cohorts you may institute, including the use of video conferencing and/or an emergency plan of action should there be a need. Now is the time to review those changes, set expectations, and listen to their concerns. React and revise as needed. 

When it comes to motivation, re-boarding is the time to ensure that everyone feels emotionally settled. This process should allow you to address your team's concerns. 

A well-thought-out plan should be comprehensive to cover most situations.  However, it should also allow you to pivot as needed. This flexibility will provide assurance to your team that their concerns will be addressed.  

This is the time to be empathetic —to ask what is needed to help people so they can perform at their best. A new environment can raise anxiety. Therefore, preparing your employees for their return to the office, and listening to them becomes critical.

Communication takes on a new meaning during this process. It is essential to involve TAB Boards and executive coaches when discussing and working on your plan. From what we know (and hope) today, 2021 brings us back to a world without a pandemic and with new tools from which our business can gain efficiencies and increase profit. Taking care of your team with comprehensive re-boarding is the foundation for this to happen. 

In addition to TAB peer advisory boards, our toolbox includes “Re-boarding — the Engagement Report.” If you need help creating and executing a re-boarding plan, contact me today. 

Larry Reines, Owner at TAB Northern Valley

6. Use more frequent pre-scheduled update meetings.

I generally find that too much emphasis is placed on learning by osmosis and "management by walking around" when onboarding new employees in the physical environment. I recommend 30, 60, and 90-day check-in meetings, especially during the pandemic. At these meetings, I encourage a two-way dialogue to do a temperature check and find out how the new employees feel they are doing, how the manager feels the new employees are doing, and what help the new hires need to bridge any gaps. 

In the virtual world, where casual interaction is much more difficult, I would recommend that the frequency of these meetings increase to weekly, at least for the first month or two. As mentioned above, it needs to be a two-way conversation, so the frequency should be agreed upon by both parties. It may also be worthwhile to pre-schedule meetings with colleagues to replace some of the osmotic learning. In this case, a colleague could use a platform like Loom, to record how they undertake a task. Then, the new employee would have a chance to review the recording in advance of the meeting and ask their colleague questions about the areas of the task they don't understand.

Doug Kerr, Owner at TAB Etobicoke/Mississauga 

7. Condense the onboarding best practices into a 30, 60, and 90-day plan.

Throughout this blog, you will read about many different concepts, ideas, and actions. At TAB – Charleston, Lowcountry & Savannah, we have a list of 20 items that precede the most important and all-inclusive step we preach for all situations but most specifically during the challenging COVID-19 times.

This action distills all the best practices of your onboarding process into a 30, 60, and 90-day plan. It combines everything into an attractively packaged kit for both the new employee and the business owner to reference and execute. 

In the 30-day portion of the plan, we include the basic elements of the job description, skill requirements, etc., and check them off upon demonstration. 

Then we do the same for the 60-day and 90-day portions of the plan in the areas of skill, understanding, intuition, and other more complex pieces of the job description. These are demonstrated towards the latter part of the 90-day plan. 

Allow time for the incumbent to understand your particular processes, layout, management, and culture.

When an applicant is asking for $X per hour, we have had success by offering a starting rate for the first 30 days of the plan, and upon the 30-day review and successful demonstration of the skills and completion of the tasks, you can adjust the hourly rate. 

This gives the business owner three opportunities to review performance and adjust the rate over the first 90 days.

We have also found that you might need to adjust your plan's layout specifically after the first try. This is because you might be overly rigid or excessively lenient, so regard the plan as a living process and adjust as you see fit, based on your experience.

You will realize that it's a quick way to weed out poor performers, and you will recognize when you have hired a star employee. With this process in place, you will speed up the onboarding process and have a more productive employee sooner.

Peter Brougham-Cook, Owner at TAB Low Country

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Written by The Alternative Board

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