6 Things About Virtual Onboarding That Worry New Hires

By Karen J. Bannan June 4, 2020

The first days working at a new job can be overwhelming—particularly during a pandemic. Even those organizations with typically strong onboarding processes may be struggling now as they transition from in-person to virtual programs, making it more difficult for employees to settle in and get started. HR professionals may wonder if they're giving new employees everything they need or if their processes and education are robust enough.

Here are six things your new hires may be thinking about and what you can do to allay their fears.

1. Will I have the tools and equipment I need to get started right away?

A typical first day finds new employees filling out paperwork and heading over to meet with the IT department, where they get the necessary equipment to do their job. Once they've geared up, it's off to their work area to get started. A remote new hire may be worried about having the right tools on hand from day one or be nervous about learning new programs or technology remotely, potential problems that can be mitigated with a little forethought.

Sultan Meghji, co-founder and CEO at Neocova, a financial technology firm headquartered in St. Louis, says his company has automated equipment requisitions so that everything arrives on time.

"The minute we put a new hire into payroll, IT gets an e-mail that triggers a laptop shipment," he said. "In March, we were doing it all manually. Someone from IT had company laptops sitting in his home. Now, our technology hardware provider is drop-shipping for us so that employee gets it before their first day."

Weronika Pajdak, head of people for Mighty.com, a New York City-based software firm, says her company sends new workers a document that lists everything they need to understand about their new job and the technology they'll be using.

Other companies use self-paced tutorials and video training modules.

2. I'm afraid my new co-workers won't accept me.

Work culture and relationships are based on trust. Trust is built over time with repeated positive interactions. However, when the only interactions are on Zoom calls or via e-mail or Slack, that trust can be more difficult to attain. Employees who are unable to break the ice and establish emotional connections through personal contact may struggle to develop a sense of belonging to their team. This, in turn, may adversely impact their initial productivity as well as their decision to stay with the company long term.

Washington, D.C.-based conglomerate Siemens USA onboarded 500 new employees between March 1 and May 30. While not every new hire is working virtually, those who are get a buddy to help them acclimate to their new role. "A new-hire buddy is typically very job-specific," said Diane Circo, vice president of U.S. talent acquisition at Siemens. "You want to match the new hire with a buddy within their team, within their department, in their immediate group, because those people really understand the culture. They understand the job that this person is being hired into and can help them with some of those specific aspects as well."

Another tool Siemens uses is a video bio. Everyone on the team sends a short video to the new hire introducing themselves and sharing something about themselves. "Those videos go out to the new hires before they even start," Circo said.

Pajdak said her company created virtual lunches where people can eat together and chat via videoconference. "I tend to encourage our new hires to join that so that they can have a casual hello to the whole team and seed interaction," she said.

3. I worry that I won't meet my employer's expectations completely—or fast enough.

Employees need realistic, measurable goals when they get started, and a way to keep track of what they're charged with. The onus for this falls squarely on the shoulders of managers, said Igor Efremov, head of recruitment at Itransition, a Denver-based software development company.

"In the context of a remote-working environment, setting employees' expectations becomes especially crucial, as it helps put the new talent on the right track," he said. "Thus, the manager and the new hire should schedule a one-on-one online meeting early on to establish clear job-role responsibilities, set short-term and long-term goals, and outline specific performance metrics and milestones. Apart from the common expectations, remote work also requires clear guidelines detailing the frequency, means and scope of the employee's work status reports."

4. Will I be stuck on Zoom calls all day long?

Onboarding is a process that can take weeks if not months. Debbie Gunning, head of talent at financial firm Human Interest, said her company used to fly every employee—even those who would work remotely—to its San Francisco headquarters for a week of onboarding. It had to reimagine that process when everything went remote.

"You can't put people in daylong sessions and have them be captive audiences and still [have them] walk away with the information that they need to get," Gunning said. So, the company's people and culture executive broke up the onboarding sessions into shorter, "more digestible" segments. The process also has fun built in, with ice breakers, study breaks and Q&A sessions so the new hires don't feel overwhelmed or stuck online.

5. Will I get support if I have a problem or need help?

A new job means new experiences and things to learn. Sometimes problems come up, and even those employees who work autonomously have issues they need to discuss during the first weeks and months after starting a new position. In the past, they could walk over to a colleague's desk or ask their supervisor for advice. Now, that support must be virtual.

Neocova, which increased its company size by 20 percent during the pandemic, set up an anonymous Slack channel where all employees can post feedback and questions, Meghji said. He also instituted what he calls office hours. "Anyone can join me on a Zoom call and chat with me about any concerns they might have. If they want privacy, I can lock the meeting."

It's also important for managers and HR to have frequent check-ins with new hires to see how things are going, Circo said. "A couple of our hiring managers have instituted a reminder on their calendar to check in with the new hire at the end of every day for 10 minutes on video for the first week or two weeks."

6. What will happen when we all go back to work?

A recent Gallup poll found that more than half of U.S. workers surveyed say they'd like to continue working from home once the crisis is over. Given all of the unknowns about the virus, some new hires may be understandably nervous about what will happen when people head back to the workplace. They may have young children, at-risk parents or significant others at home. Or they may have pre-existing conditions that put them in high-risk categories.

HR managers should have an explicit conversation with each new employee after he or she is brought on board, said Jeff Hyman, an adjunct professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management in Chicago and the CEO of Recruit Rockstars. "Employees need to understand: Are they going back? When? Maybe they have kids and camp was cancelled. Maybe their spouse is sick. All the things that were off-limits in the interview portion are now something you should tackle," he said. "Find out what constraints they have and figure out how you can support those new employees."

Karen J. Bannan is a freelance writer based in New York.



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