Opinion

3 Service Design-inspired principles crucial to delivering world-class remote employee onboarding

By October 12, 2020 October 13th, 2020 No Comments

The sudden transition to remote working has left many Employee Experience, Talent, HR and Internal Communications teams with an urgent need to overhaul their onboarding processes.

At ExperienceLab, we’re no exception – and we’ve been tackling it through a combination of research insights and first-hand feedback from new staff.

Using our expertise in Service Design, we’ve identified three key principles which inform our new and evolving remote onboarding process. We’ve shared them below. Is your team incorporating them?

 

Lead with your company culture and values

Starting a new role remotely most likely involves sitting down alone in front of a computer, waiting for instructions or a call. This looks very different than arriving at an office filled with people. Most notably, a remote first day offers no physical clues as to a company’s culture – and no chance interactions with other staff to help spell them out either.

This lack of informal knowledge transfer has been a challenge for our clients who are adapting to new remote work environments, and was a noticeable aspect of our lockdown hires’ experience as well. Making up for this lack of material culture cues means that implementing a robust virtual orientation programme for new team members is essential.

In lieu of implicit communications through live interactions, company culture and values should be communicated explicitly and intentionally to new team members, through video tutorials, briefings, and welcome packs, but also through purposeful informal communications. 

Some of the businesses we’ve observed who are delivering effective remote onboarding are using similar tactics to reinforce team culture, such as organised events like ‘Lunch Roulette’ (a kind of staff speed-dating where team members are randomly paired to have lunch virtually together). 

Here at ExperienceLab, we welcome our new team members by asking them to join our daily virtual morning tea break. On a new team member’s first day, the whole team makes an effort to join and greet them, even if they’re busy. We also provide our newbies with a welcome pack explaining what to expect during their first week, including a page full of Post-Its from the team with personal welcome messages.

 

Structure your new team member’s experience, from before their first day to the end of their first week

A comprehensive, structured plan is key to ensuring a good onboarding experience for new remote hires. This plan includes three important phases: what needs to be done before the new team member arrives, what happens in their first week, and what happens in the weeks after their start.

The process of making a new team member feel welcome should start well before their first day. The companies we’ve observed who are most successful with remote onboarding ensure direct managers reach out to their new reports before day one, with warm words of congratulation – and ensure they’ve primed the rest of the immediate team to do the same once the new team member arrives. 

During a new team member’s first week, go ahead and structure each day in their calendar for them. Fill their first days with the types of activities that help communicate your company’s culture: meet and greets with the team, one-to-one chats, team meetings, training activities and briefing seminars. Placing these events in their calendar at the start of the week will ensure that they know what to expect and will ease the uncertainty they’re bound to experience in that critical entry period.

After your new team member’s first week, gather feedback about their onboarding process. 

Here at EL, we use surveys internally as well as externally. We recommend taking the learnings from each survey and building them into the onboarding structure for future hires. Remember, particularly in these changing times, onboarding is an iterative process which can and should be regularly updated to meet your team’s and company’s changing needs.

 

Communicate, communicate, communicate

From the experience of our team – and based on the companies we’ve observed and worked with – there is no such thing as overcommunication between remote team members. Importantly, there’s no accidental communication in a remote environment, so keeping connected requires intention and effort. 

Our research shows that an informal in-office communication to ‘just shout if you have any questions’ is usually an insufficiently robust method of communicating with remote hires robust communication strategy with remote hires. Instead,  ensure that your team and managers reach out proactively during your new team member’s first days at the company. Remember that when placed in a new environment, many people are conscious about bothering others who might be busy – a feeling which is only amplified by remote communications channels. More likely than not, your new team member will be to be relieved when other more established team members reach out to them. 

Research also showed that the frequency of one-to-one check-ins with managers and onboarding ‘buddies’ is key. In our previous office context, weekly meetings sufficed, but we have found that in a remote context, it is critical to organise daily one-to-ones with managers and buddies.

To be as effective as possible, give new team members the opportunity for passive learning as well as direct communication. Trello boards, internal LinkedIn or Slack groups and channels, Google Drive folders with videos on the company culture, processes and current projects will help to fill any gaps in the active communication, and help to ensure that a new person is always learning during that crucial first week.

 

By ensuring that your new team member has a full first week of meetings with managers and plenty of touchpoints with the team – plus an explicit, intentional introduction to your company culture and values – you can work to proactively build the integrative, interpersonal experience that remote work conditions too often lack. And by doing so, you’ll set your new team member up for success.

Our research leads us to believe that placing these three principles at the heart of an onboarding process will help ensure that new team members feel welcomed, secured and supported – and as a corollary, that the business employing them enjoys high productivity, strong morale and good retention.

That’s why they’re at the core of the new, highly structured, communication-focused, culture and values based onboarding processes we’re now building for ourselves, and for our clients.

Next step: 3 quick wins (and 1 extra idea) for improving your remote onboarding

  1. Make a shortlist of the key company cultural values you want to express to new employees
  2. Review the initial meetings a new employee has as they’re onboarded at your company. Ask whether it communicates the values.
  3. Consider whether those initial meetings constitute sufficient touchpoints with the new employee, over a long enough period. Ask whether they are being communicated with enough.
  4. Speak to us at ExperienceLab about how we can help – we’re currently assisting a number of businesses research and design new processes for staff homeworking and onboarding. Talk to us about how we could support you here.