Return to Work for New Hires

By Lin Grensing-Pophal September 8, 2021
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man returning to work

​As the COVID-19 delta variant raises new virus concerns, some employers are moving forward with plans to bring employees back to the worksite, while others are putting those decisions on hold. Many organizations are using some form of hybrid design for the foreseeable future—if not forever.

One group of workers that deserves special consideration: those who were hired during the pandemic and have never been physically present at the worksite, nor engaged face-to-face with their colleagues or managers.

A Unique Experience for Remote Hires

Tecla Palli-Sandler is chief human resources officer at Capgemini North America. "For people who have specifically joined our company during the pandemic, there is a unique transition that we recognize," she said.

Campus hires have been Capgemini's primary focus, and the company recognizes that these recent graduates are likely starting the first job of their professional careers. "The last 16 months have been a roller coaster for our campus hires, so we have been intentional in ensuring the engagement with this group was tactical and targeted," Palli-Sandler said.

Katie Lee is a 2020 graduate who was hired last year by a fintech company in San Francisco but has worked remotely from New York City, where she went to college, during the pandemic. "I've never stepped foot in my company office, and I don't know if I ever will," she said. But, she added, her company is making up for the lack of in-person connections by holding offsite events, which she's appreciated. "We just recently held a one-day, expense-free offsite in Chicago, which all employees were invited to, both old and new." It was, she said, "definitely the most fun I've ever had 'at work.' "

Lee said she's also appreciated the connections she's made while interacting remotely with co-workers. "We meet each other's pets and kids, and tag along on each other's adventures. One of my co-workers took a meeting from a hiking trail and we stopped halfway through so he could show us the family of deer passing by. In another Zoom meeting, I watched the sun rise in Hong Kong behind my manager," she said.

Having those kinds of meaningful interactions—albeit remotely—can make it easier to connect when formerly remote workers finally meet their colleagues face-to-face.

Paving the Way for Return

Capgemini leaders also introduced "Team Rituals"—things like virtual coffee chats, happy hours and cooking with leaders that are designed to keep employees engaged.

It's also important to recognize the wide range of experiences, emotions and preferences that employees are likely to have as they contemplate their return to the physical workspace.

Companies need to understand that employees have different levels of comfort about returning to the workplace, Palli-Sandler said.

"As Capgemini has maneuvered reopening its offices, our top priority has been to increase assurance for employees in areas where the unknown has been the norm," she said. "Providing a safe, optional space to work, have meetings and host events in the office was carefully thought through to ensure employees have the choice to return when they are ready and feel comfortable."

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Return to Work

Best-Practice Recommendations

Understanding the different perspectives and experiences of employees who were onsite prior to the pandemic, and those who were hired remotely during the pandemic and have never been onsite, can help organizations meet the needs of both groups.

Wendi Fairchild is senior executive recruiter at LandrumHR, an HR outsourcing provider in Pensacola, Fla. "Employees hired prior to 2020 will enjoy catching up and seeing each other in person," she said. "They'll go to lunch or happy hour and share stories and pictures from the past year. Relationships have already been established." Employees who have only worked remotely will have a decidedly different experience. Fairchild recommended that companies consider a variety of approaches to help ease the transition from out-of-sight to onsite for employees hired remotely during the pandemic.

Assign a mentor. Have someone in the department there to welcome the employees on their first day at the worksite, Fairchild recommended. There's "nothing better than a friendly face to greet you," she said. Show the new employees to their workspace and introduce them to colleagues, even if they've already met online.  

Give a tour of the office. "Remember, these employees don't know where to find the bathroom, watercooler, breakroom, IT department, et cetera," Fairchild pointed out.

Start out with a morning meeting. As remote employees enter the workplace for the first time, plan to greet them over coffee and doughnuts. Use the first few minutes for co-workers to visit socially. Or, Fairchild suggested, have a department lunch either catered or arranged as an outing. After being cooped up for the past year, workers will likely enjoy the opportunity for an off-campus get together.

Be available. "Leaders and fellow colleagues should make a conscious effort to ensure these employees have everything they need at their workspace and address any concerns they may have," Fairchild said.

Put safety first. "While the pandemic seems to be moving behind us, the coronavirus is still out there and employees need to feel secure in their workplace," Fairchild said. "Make sure the building and work environment are safe and sanitized. Provide hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes [and] masks and offer social distancing options for in-person meetings."

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.

[Want to learn more? Join us at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2021, taking place Sept. 9-12 in Las Vegas and virtually.]

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