Talent   //   July 25, 2022

Employers still grappling with remote onboarding

Starting a new job used to mean office tours, awkward introductions by a colleague’s cubicle and trying to take a decent ID photo.

But remote work has changed the nature of onboarding, that welcoming and orientation process that sets an employee up for success at their new company. It’s especially true since many employers eliminated geographic requirements to hire the best talent regardless of location. That’s why more than two years into the remote work and hybrid phenomenon, onboarding remains a challenge.

Part of the struggle with remote onboarding is teaching new hires where they fit into the organization, how to use their computer systems and meet co-workers across functions. But the most difficult aspect is figuring out how to remotely share an employer’s ethos.

“The truth is, we lose something when we are not proximate to our colleagues,” said David Bator, managing director of the Achievers Workforce Institute, which focuses on research, community and advising HR executives.

That’s likely why some companies are mandating new hires report to the office for their first few weeks. Since not every employee or company can do that, they’ve had to experiment and get creative.

Jobber, a Canadian-based job tracking and customer management platform for home service businesses, revamped Welcome Mat, its 10-day new hire onboarding program for the new remote reality. While Jobber’s offices have recently re-opened for those who chose to come in, its onboarding program is entirely remote because it hired so many non-local employees the last two years.

The heart of its onboarding program has always been immersing employees in company culture. To do that, new hires don’t do anything directly related to their roles during the 10 days of onboarding. Each employee, regardless of role, shadowed the sales team for a day and visited the customer support center to listen to those professionals interact with customers. Since going remote, new hires listen to recordings of those calls.

“Delays or mishaps are common, and reflective of a company’s lack of adaptability to the future of work.”
Oscar Mattsson, CEO and founder of allwhere.

“We do that so new hires get that customer empathy piece that we believe is so important,” Sara Cooper, Jobber’s chief people officer, told Worklife. “Our values are not things that are written on walls. They are very heavily weaved into everything that we do. So it was really important to us that people understand that our mission is to help the people in small businesses be successful.” 

Once a quarter Jobber puts out a call for employees willing to have a coffee with a new hire — now virtual — to ensure they meet people outside their immediate team. At their three-month anniversary, all new hires have a virtual meeting with a member of the executive team to check in and have an ask-me-anything session.

Leaders have learned that asking employees for feedback on everything from returning to work to rating the onboarding experience, is best practice.

“New hires are the prime people to tap for ways to adjust an onboarding program,” Jill Noonan, the team lead for learning and development at the CRM platform HubSpot, told WorkLife. “Continually asking for honest feedback and incorporating suggestions into new iterations of onboarding materials ensures employees’ concerns are heard and their needs met.”

Some things are clear cut. One of the first ways to get it right is with pre-boarding — making sure a new employee has everything they need ahead of their first day of work including technology and equipment. Oscar Mattsson, CEO and founder of allwhere, a company that curates the right equipment, products, services, and experiences including onboarding, at scale for employers, said nearly half of knowledge workers still do not have the tools they need to do their job. 

“Delays or mishaps are common, and reflective of a company’s lack of adaptability to the future of work,” Mattsson, told WorkLife. “Effective onboarding includes setting clear expectations about the role, responsibilities and how their team will work together. If communicated and equipped properly, new hires will be ready to engage and be productive — and will be more likely to stay with their company later on.”

3 Questions with David Bator, managing director of the Achievers Workforce Institute, which focuses on research, community and advises HR executives

From your macro view of the world of work, what trends are you seeing?

For the last two quarters, career progression and work-life balance top the list as the number one and two reasons why employees leave an organization and interestingly, why they stay. For the first time in two quarters, flexibility tops the list. In our most recent research, 85% of the employees we spoke to globally said that not having flexibility is the number one reason why they would change their job.

What are you hearing from the many chief human resource officers you speak to?

Two key themes are loud and clear. Resilience. How do we create conditions at work so that leaders, frontline managers, and individual contributors are poised to do the best work of their lives whether the sailing is smooth or whether it’s stormy? Belonging is the other theme. Belonging is the tie that binds the employee experience together, regardless of whether you’re a new hire, long-tenured, an online worker or an offline worker. Organizations who invest in employees feeling welcomed, feeling known, included, connected and supported.

How is Achievers approaching return-to-office and keeping employees connected?

Our employees choose where they do their work. We have a complement of employees that are in the office every day, some come in a couple days a week, and others that are fully remote. In the midst of the pandemic, we opened a brand new headquarters, which many of our employees did not get to see. We’ve been trying to get people into the new office with “Try it Tuesdays,” where we have things like ping pong challenges or bespoke lemonade competitions or exploring our rooftop patio.

By the numbers

  • The average length of meetings fell from 81 minutes in Q4 2021 to 66.5 minutes in Q1 2022, according to Otter.ai, which analyzed aggregated meeting data patterns from hundreds of thousands of Otter users from January-April.

[Source of data: Otter.ai]

*waiting to get a link to the study, if they have it since this came in an email exchange with their comms contact.

  • Given the option to work remotely, 87% of employees take it.

[Source of data: McKinsey & Company’s June remote work study]

Quote of the week

“The surprising key to unlocking IT skills is not to focus on finding candidates with IT skills. An English major who is hard working and curious could make a better software developer than someone with antiquated IT skills."
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, ManpowerGroup's chief talent scientist

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What we’re reading

  • How early career work friends inform not just your professional life, but your personal one. [NYT]
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