Successfully integrating a new employee into a business is a vital part of ensuring that they will become a happy, productive member of the team. COVID-19 has brought huge changes to the process of onboarding new employees. 

We spoke to tech leaders across Europe to understand how they have handled remote onboarding, and what they think of the challenges it brings. 

Onboarding Through a Screen 

Teaching new employees about expectations, culture, skills, and knowledge they will need to work at a company is a critical task during the early days of their employment. It sets the tone for the entire employer/employee relationship and can have a huge impact on how well the employee will perform. 

When these early days need to happen through a computer screen thanks to social distance and home working requirements, it can be difficult to set the right tone and ensure that new employees are comfortable and confident. 

Why is this so important? Well, good onboarding leads to a direct decrease in staff turnover – and high staff turnover harms your profits. The first impressions gained from the onboarding process can make or break the success of the partnership. Of course, creating great first impressions can be more difficult when the standard onboarding process has to be turned on its head – thanks to a lack of face-to-face contact. 

Here are some of the insights and advice that tech leaders from across Europe shared with us. 

“It’s About Finding that Natural Way of interacting with People Who You Have No Natural Touchpoints within Your Workday.” 

Karolina Wicksén Jackson-Ward, Head of Product for Webforum, understands the unique challenges of remote working.  

“We’ve talked with the team a lot about techniques to separate work time from leisure time. How can we make sure that they get time to relax as well? Then for other people, how do you ensure that they’re actually there?” 

Karolina knows that the most difficult part of onboarding remotely can be social interaction. Although it is now easier than ever to onboard remotely thanks to advances in technology, social cues and methods of communication remain a challenge. 

“You miss out on the social lubricant, like getting to know how the person speaks. What are their mannerisms? How do I best approach sensitive subject with a person? All of those things are things that come naturally, if you’re in day-to-day contact with someone. And if you’re not, then the person who’s in charge of onboarding has to make sure that they create opportunities for that to happen. 

Webforum get around this issue by ensuring that new starters have face-to-face time with every member of the team – not just those that the employee will be working with directly. They also schedule time where the team can meet and talk about things other than work, helping to build trust and rapport throughout the team. 

Karolina has two main tips for a successful remote onboarding. Firstly, make room for as many social interactions as possible. Secondly, make sure there is a forum for new starters to ask questions easily. 

“With a new person, you need to make sure when they’re remote that they’re not sitting there with questions that they don’t know who to ask. For the first few weeks, even if you already have daily stand ups, make sure you have a daily one to one with your new employees to make sure that they know what the next step is, and especially that they’re not sitting there with questions or problems that you can easily solve for them. 

Webforum’s onboarding process is agile, drip-feeding knowledge and allowing new staff to build on skills to ensure that they retain as much as possible. This is no different in a remote environment. 

“Try to Convert your Existing Physical Experience into A Digital One.”  

Akhilesh Chadha, an experienced product and engineering leader has experienced virtual onboarding himself. The process was a positive one.  

“There is a very conscious onboarding process where you get to meet different parts of the organisation, which allows you to build a relationship with them.”  

Having worked for multinational companies. Akhilesh has seen firsthand that many relationships are developed remotely anyway. Akhilesh believes that, in the future, a hybrid method of working split between home and the office will be much more common. For this reason, remote onboarding structures should be robust, because global working structures are going to continue long after the pandemic.  

“I believe that the future is going to be hybrid. Multinationals already have a tendency to be remote first, because they have people spread across the world. They always have to work around that.”  

The key to a successful remote onboarding process? Akhilesh’s tip is to ensure that you try to make sure that any of those physical experiences that take place during a usual onboarding also occur during a remote one.  

“Don’t miss out on a meet the team or things like that. Try to convert your existing physical experiences into integrated ones.”  

The use of available tools is also incredibly important. Technology is developing all of the time, and it has certainly made remote working and onboarding an easier prospect.  

“There are tonnes of tools out there. Those tools are really, really good. Have a look at all the possibilities which COVID has thrown out at you.” 

“It’s More Important Than Ever to Have a Mentor.” 

Carl Otto von Rosen, Head of Product at Graviz Labs points out that it is very easy to overlook the company culture if remote onboarding isn’t prepared properly. 

“Why is the company there? And what’s the company’s mission and purpose and so on? You can’t really grasp the company culture if it’s a poor online onboarding.” 

Linked to the company culture is the idea of the company’s higher purpose, which can be missed if onboarding is just focused on the work of an individual. This could lead to incidences where teams struggle to cross collaborate effectively. 

One way of ensuring that diverse teams can work well together is through meetings during the onboarding process. 

You have to meet that mid layer, like project managers to have the big picture. It’s quite common that marketing and tech have projects together. When the projects that lie in between those functions occur, it’s important to have a working relationship. You’re not only working at the same company. 

For Carl Otto, the most important tip for a successful remote onboarding experience is making sure that a mentor is available who can support the new starter in understanding the company ethos and culture, as well as providing valuable encouragement. 

“I think it’s more important than ever to have a mentor to accompany someone in the ins and outs of the company and what the culture is, and to say, ‘you have this problem, you should talk to this person’. It’s hard to know where to look when you start a company. It’s easier to ask a dumb question in person than in an email, so you need to have a mentor that you can feel stupid to. 

“Presence Creates Bonds.” 

Maria Izzo, CPO at Doconomy, is used to working with distributed teams. Her experience with onboarding has always been a fluid one, with both physical and remote elements. 

“I can’t think of onboarding in just one of the two channels, either physical or remote. To me, it’s comprehensive. So personally, speaking about my own experience, I don’t see that there’s much difference between being onboarded online, or being onboarded in a physical environment.” 

Successful onboarding comes from a sense of belonging, opportunities to bond and socialise with colleagues. Working collaboratively with colleagues is easiest when you understand one another’s nuances, including sense of humour. In face-to-face environments, these come across easily through body language, but it can be more difficult remotely, leading to misunderstanding. 

Maria places a heavy focus on building relationships throughout her remote onboarding processes.  

“As long as you createopportunities for your team – or teams – to meet up,just relax together and have a good time, then you don’t need to put too much focus on the work time, you need to focus on bonding time. Be they remote, or in person, they have to happen and on a regular basis .” 

It is these social events that have been limited during a year of social distancing, and it is these that Maria believes are extremely important for remote teams.  

As we move towards a more hybrid way of working, with some people working in the office and some people working from home, it is vital to ensure that everyone continues to feel part of the team – including those who are going through remote onboarding processes. This means staying organised and enabling those who are not in the office to still attend meetings virtually, and making sure that information is communicated effectively to both people who are physically present, as well asremote. 

“Make sure that people don’t feel abandoned, and that they can always reach out to you. Make time for people before process, always. Process is importantit’s not what makes the world go round. Relationships are what make the world go round.” 

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