11 things to consider when onboarding new recruits during lockdown

man taking a phone call at home

When we went into our very first lockdown it was a mad scramble for many businesses to get themselves set up for remote working.

What we have learned from this is that we need to ensure we are able, at any given time, to continue with business no matter where people are located. This includes recruiting and onboarding new staff.

A good induction experience helps the new employee integrate into the company by learning about the company’s culture and all the processes and procedures within the organisation. Most importantly it helps a new employee feel valued and respected. So, how do you achieve this when onboarding remotely?

Whether you have just gone into lockdown and have someone onboarding immediately, or you need to recruit and onboard quickly as an essential business, it’s necessary that you have an effective onboarding process in place.

Here are 11 actions for consideration.

1. Changing a contracted start date

Some of our clients have people scheduled to start new permanent employment in the next few weeks so it is not unusual to be asked ‘Can you delay an agreed start date?’ This is what we know.

A. In the situation where there’s already a signed employment agreement in place, best practice would be to prepare a ‘variation to employment agreement’ letter and ask the new start employee to agree to the change in writing.

B. In the situation where there’s already a signed employment agreement in place and a ‘variation to employment agreement’ is not agreed, you would need to start the new employee on the date agreed, regardless of the lockdown.

Business.govt.nz resource: Variation to Employment Agreement template

2. What are your options when a new hire can’t operate in lockdown?

What ‘starting’ looks like will depend on the work the new employee is required to do. If they can work from home, then the starting point is when they are given work on their start date at which point, they start getting paid. If their role does not allow them to work from home the individual circumstances will need to be assessed and we recommend you seek professional advice in these circumstances.

3. Make sure your documents are digital

Asking a new employee to print documents, complete and sign them by hand, then scan and email them back is not only time consuming but sometimes impossible. Many people do not have a printer/scanner at home. There are many tools available that make PDFs editable and others that provide digital signatures. Using these alternatives will speed up the signing of forms and contracts and improve the onboarding experience.

4. Review the employee induction experience

Onboarding new hires is time consuming for any manager. It requires step-by-step instructions across a broad range of topics and is often overwhelming for the employee who will have a lot to remember. Trying to translate an in-person induction to an online process using video, emails, and phone calls is complicated for all parties. Prioritising information and delivering it in easily digestible chunks is essential.

An induction programme can cover many different policies, procedures, and protocols across the business. Preparation and planning are critical regardless of when and how you onboard.

Because induction programmes are not a one size fits all we’ve created an Induction Checklist covering many subjects you can include in your own programme. The checklist will help you determine not only what is important and what should be included for remote onboarding, but what you can consider for a fully inclusive onboarding experience no matter the environment you are operating under.

5. Provide a communication framework

As individuals we like to communicate in different ways however, it isn’t about how the message is delivered but about matching the right channel with the right context. When onboarding a new employee provide some guidance on your preferred communication framework. Something that you and other colleagues all agree on. For example:

a. Phone calls – for detailed conversations or answering questions, when emails go back and forth too many times, and a quick resolution can be found if someone just picked up the phone

b. Email – for brief communications including information, instructions, or any initial questions

c. Video – team meetings, collaboration, feedback, planning, or alternatively individual meetings

d. Group messaging – general announcements, informal messages, socialising

6. Set specific goals and expectations

When onboarding onsite you may not get to discussing specific KPIs or milestones until a couple of weeks in, usually following a full induction programme. Under lockdown you might need to set some intermediary goals as well. Have a schedule of activity or a task calendar prepared that defines some of the short-term expectations. This can include regular meetings with you, (the manager), team meetings (with agenda), and individual meetings with colleagues, stakeholders, customers, or vendors. It should also include any immediate deliverables the new employee must action.

7. Introduce the entire team

Within the first week, preferably the first couple of days, set up a team video call to introduce the new hire to their colleagues or team members. It’s a good time to have everyone briefly introduce themselves, give an overview of their roles and under what circumstances the new hire is likely to engage with them.  Perhaps do this meeting as a ‘welcome morning tea’ format, or however you would typically welcome someone into the business and keep this initial introduction informal and welcoming.

8. Set up a buddy system

Setting up a buddy system is a fantastic way to help integrate a new person into your team.  It can help to save the manager some time in their own busy schedules and will also help build internal relationships. Part of your remote onboarding could be to partner up the new hire with an established employee. The established employee can provide vital support during the remote onboarding but also when everyone gets back to the office. A ‘buddy’ can help to connect the employee with the right people during those first few weeks with the business.

9. Create a social occasion

Unfortunately, lockdown does mean no social drinks at the local wine bar. We certainly don’t mean that the new hire needs to be predisposed to drinking. Absolutely not! There are many virtual games; bingo, quizzes, and Pictionary are a few that come to mind, that can be coordinated between teams or individuals. Social events are always a good icebreaker, and a great way to meet new members to the team in a casual environment.

10. Make sure the technology is up to the task

Onboarding during lockdown can work, until the technology doesn’t. There are several things to consider when onboarding remotely, we mention a number in this article. The conversation regarding technology can be broad depending on the size of your business. For small or medium businesses there are a handful of things to consider.  Rather than add to the length of this article we’ve prepared a short cheat sheet for you to view.

11. Encourage questions

It’s easy to anticipate the most common questions and you may already have an FAQ document prepared for new starts.  Remember that remote working doesn’t allow for shoulder tapping, or watercooler conversations so the key is to create an environment where the new employee is comfortable reaching out to anyone when they have questions to ask. As mentioned earlier, the first few days, and weeks, can be overwhelming. As individuals we often feel we have a honeymoon period when we feel comfortable asking whatever we want, then at some point we think the honeymoon is over and feel stupid for doing so. The consequences being we either don’t learn or we make mistakes. You want your new employee to maintain their curiosity without fear. They’ll learn faster, integrate more quickly, and be productive sooner.

We recognise that some of the activities in this article could take you a while to create and implement. So where do you start? First, determine what is important, start with bite size chunks, delegate when viable, leverage technology, simplify where possible, and communicate often.

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*Disclaimer: The contents of this article do not constitute legal advice, are not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should seek legal advice or other professional advice in relation to any topics mentioned in this article or concerns you or your organisation may have.

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