Inducting new team members (from a safe distance)

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The current global pandemic and lockdown rules enforced by the UK government have created unique challenges for businesses everywhere.  One of the challenges we have had to overcome during this period is the onboarding of new staff into the business whilst we all work from home.
In the last 10 days, we have had four new starters in two different departments.  Below are the steps we took, and what we learned in the process:

Onboarding starts before their first day.

This is always true. But right now, it’s critical.

On a normal day, we have weekly email exchanges with our pending joiners. We send them some light reading, but also key documents that help them visualise the team they are about to join. In a literal sense, I include a page with a photo of everybody and a staff hierarchy, so they understand the structure of the teams and the faces of their new colleagues. As a person who worries a lot myself, I try to remove as many questions as I can before they start, so they feel grounded the first time they step foot in our office and become a part of the team.

Right now, our starters can’t even step foot in our office, and they definitely can’t visit people at their desks, so being able to imagine the face of the person they’re on the phone to is more important than ever. We’re social animals, so we may as well do what we can to lean into that.

I wanted to increase the contact we have with pending hires during this crisis, so we have been speaking to them over the phone each week as well as the usual email communication. Rightly so, there were anxieties on their end. I am thankful to be working for a business that is smart and careful with budgeting and working amongst a management team that has strong values – coupled together, we are able to focus on how to reassure our workforce that we are stable, and remain committed to our job offers.

That situation is not the same for others, and on one call I was directly asked: “will I be last in, first out?”. Some of them were wondering if they should be asking their manager to accept a retraction of their resignation. Chatting to all four of them, asking them how they are coping, sharing my own struggles, and talking them through our business values and strategies for continued growth settled their concerns, and I am happy to say that all four have joined us.

Don’t forget the practical stuff.

When you supply the office, you can control everything about the environment. You can make sure staff are warm enough, have a kitchen stocked with basics, have a good DSE set up with a comfy chair, multiple screens, and powerful PCs. When you’re asking staff to work from home, we have learned that there are so many logistical questions that need answering:

  • Who do they live with?
  • Do they have a separate space to work in?
  • Do they have a good internet connection?
  • Do they have a safe working environment?

When you’ve gotten to know your team, you start to have an idea of the answers to those questions anyway because you’ve heard them chat about their evening plans with their roommate, or they’ve told you about all their spare bedrooms, or you’ve seen the lag they experience when playing XBOX together after work. They’re personal details, but information people start to share as they get to know you. When the person is brand new to the team, we had to ask them these personal questions to understand how we can help them as a business. It’s not just about if they have a desk and if the screen they use is at eye level anymore, it’s about if the atmosphere of the household they live in is healthy for productivity and their mental health. You want them to do their best work, they want to show you they can do it and this has become part of that conversation now.

After all that, you’ve then got to find out how to acquire a laptop, headset, and monitors when they’re in short supply, and then work out arranging couriers to deliver the kit they need. At least there will be somebody home to sign for the delivery…

Take meetings online.

I’m pleased to say the core process of how we induct people onto our team was already in place, documented, and plays well into the remote induction process. We recognise that, especially as an IT business, many of our staff can work on any helpdesk in any company, and the differentiator is our team, values, and the meaning we can give to their work. Our focus has long been to help people get settled into our way of doing things and enjoying it… which is so much more important right now.

So ahead of time, we build them a calendar. When I was an apprentice, I found my biggest challenge switching from school to work was the lack of a timetable. For me at least, the structure is reassuring. I like being able to give our new team members a calendar that details who will talk to them, about what, and when. It shows we want them to have a good introduction to us, and that we have thought about how best to make that happen. Hopefully, the starters can relax and go with the flow of the week we have planned for them. That calendar includes a workshop with every single department in the business, to understand who they can lean on, and how we all come together as individual teams into one big team.

On a normal day, our starters come to the office, and are greeted by the person in HR who ran their interview process. They’re introduced to the members of the team who are going to show them around on their first day, get an office tour and shake the hand of every single member of the team. Obviously, that isn’t happening right now. We recreated what we could by scheduling for somebody to call them at their start time, to help them login and “turn up to the virtual office”. They then handover to our internal trainer via video conference, a new face for the starter, and then are left to it while the initial welcome presentation is delivered.

The thought process behind every step was “what would we normally do?” followed by “how best can we recreate that feeling?”. 

To summarise… 

These are odd and even troubling times for us all. When you mix it in with the anxieties of starting a new job, it could go wrong if you don’t adapt and look after your newest team members.

So far, I am happy to say our new starters are going through their inductions and will hopefully be productive and fully integrated members of our team soon.

My two biggest lessons are around communication and logistics of deliveries.

You must prepare more in advance and organise hardware deliveries early. With deliveries being a need for many who are self-isolating or at-risk, and many of us turning to online retailers to replace the shops, there is high demand and the options can be slow and pricey.

It’s also disorientating and confusing for the starters trying to join a company without ever visiting them. Video meetings are not as good as face to face, but video meetings are a far better option than phone calls. I really hope we can induct our next new colleagues in person, but if not, I’ve gained the learning for how to make it as seamless as possible.

By Yasmine Gray, HR Advisor


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