How to Onboard, Remotely
Set Your Orientation Objectives
Now that we’re trying to keep calm and carry on, many teams are back to hiring employees and facing the question of how to integrate a new team member when everyone is working remotely.
On the plus side, you don’t have to worry about the security badge not being ready on time.
On the downside, there’s no opportunity to decorate the newbie’s cubicle or do the meet-and-greet walkabout (now that I think about it, that might be another upside).
One way or another, we’re going to need to find creative ways to onboard new team members during work from home.
Set Your Orientation Objectives
Everything I’m going to say in this section holds whether you’re onboarding a new team member during a global pandemic or just on a typical Monday in June. Below, I’ll get into how to modify this given a remote work environment.
First, start by articulating the goals of the orientation process. Define that by stipulating what you want the new person to know, to think, to feel, and to do at the end of the orientation period (whether that’s in 2 weeks or 2 months).
Next, break the objectives down into the know, think, feel, and do for each week. Based on your objectives for the week, plan the activities that will help the new recruit end the week with the desired information, perception, emotion, and action.
As an example, let’s imagine the onboarding requirements for a professional services firm that I’m working with at the moment. They are still acquiring small firms, bringing in new graduates, and attracting mid-career professionals. Let’s take one specific case, a new hire named Nancy who is a management consultant with five years’ experience.
At the end of the orientation period, their know, think, feel, do for Nancy might include:
We need Nancy to know:
- How to use the firm’s proprietary project software;
- how to navigate core processes such as timesheets and account management; and
- what the key issues and context are for each of the clients Nancy has been assigned to.
We want Nancy to think:
- This firm has the tools I need to be successful;
- there are people I can call if I need help; and
- I can add value for my clients.
We hope Nancy will feel:
- I was so smart to join this firm, I feel confident;
- I feel welcome and valued by my colleagues;
- I feel invested in the success of my clients.
We want Nancy to do the following:
- Work on a project independently with only weekly touch points with the team leader;
- work collaboratively with other team members; and
- escalate any issues or concerns quickly.
Build an Orientation Plan
Now that you know the end game, break that down into what you will prioritize each week.
The first week you might start with:
To reinforce the firm’s client-centric culture, we’ll allocate most of the learning in the first week to information on the clients and ongoing projects. We’ll sprinkle in some of the firm’s methods and tools and hold off on the administrative burden until week 2.
To contribute to the overall sense that this firm will be a good place to grow and develop, the first week’s activities will focus on creating the perception that we have the most interesting and challenging projects.
To bolster Nancy’s sense of confidence, we’ll focus on asking questions about her experiences and ideas to make her feel that she has credibility in our eyes. (Note how much different this is than most onboarding programs that make new recruits feel overwhelmed and that they have so much to learn, rather than so much to offer!)
To get her adding value quickly, we’ll share a client file and ask for her suggestions on other approaches we might take to the project.
Now that you’ve done the basics of preparing for an effective onboarding, now you need to figure out how to do all those things in a remote environment. It’s not going to be that hard now that you’re clear on what you have to accomplish. Just be 90% deliberate and 10% creative.
Know: Nancy’s not going to be sitting next to the file drawer or be sitting in a meeting room covered in documents from the account.
You need to replace that, online. Start with setting up a meeting with the ACME account project manager, Farouk. Have him screen share to do an overview of the ACME files on the shared drive to help Nancy learn how to navigate and to enable her to browse the files on her own.
Ask Farouk to pull out the three big proposals you’ve done for ACME in the last two years and their associated final reports. Make sure Farouk and Nancy have twice daily touch points during week one.
Think: Connect Nancy with Alliyah — her creativity and enthusiasm are contagious. Ask Alliyah to share the new data visualization approach she’s been working on and to get Nancy’s feedback and ideas for how to apply the tools. Consider formalizing the relationship so that Alliyah is Nancy’s orientation partner.
Share with them both that the expectation is that they’ll check in with each other two or three times a week and that Alliyah should be the first point of contact for Nancy if she has any generic questions about the firm. Give Alliyah a budget of $100 to buy a few fun home office welcome gifts online and have them shipped to Nancy.
Feel: You want Nancy to feel like the team is excited to have her join. That’s not going to be obvious while she’s spending eight hours a day alone in her home office. Call two of your managers and two of your consultants and share your goal of having Nancy add value as quickly as possible.
Ask them to each schedule a call with her and to be prepared with a couple of questions about her experiences and perspectives. Remind them of the importance of making Nancy feel valued and how that might be more challenging than normal while everyone is working from home.
Do: End the first week with a quick online huddle of the client team. Start with asking Nancy to share her impressions overall and her thoughts about the ACME file. Encourage her to share some ideas and ask the team how you might incorporate those into the project. Document your action plans for week two.
Finish the huddle with some downtime where you share stories to get to know one another better (e.g., everyone shares their favorite consulting project so far).
I suspect that one of the reasons managers are nervous about doing a good job of orientation during Covid is because they’ve never done a good job of orientation in normal times.
In an office environment, doing a shoddy job of onboarding didn’t matter quite as much because the casual collisions sufficed. Now, without the break room or the conversations after the Monday meeting to rely on, you’re going to have to be more thoughtful about onboarding during work from home.
Be deliberate about what you want your new team member to know, to think, to feel, and to do and you’ll have a head start on a great orientation process.
Best-selling author of three books, including The Good Fight and You First and a frequent media guest for her experience in leadership, teams, and productivity. Strategy and executive team advisor. PhD in Organizational Psychology