The effects of the pandemic and shift to remote work have upended how many educational institutions onboard new positions. From addressing logistical paperwork challenges, acclimating new employees who may have only met their manager virtually, to conducting 30, 60, and 90 day check-ins via Zoom, HR directors have had to vastly shift their approach to how new hires embark their first days and months.
But what about the impact on the employee themselves? Starting a new job can be intimidating in the best of circumstances -- what of going through new hire orientation from home, getting a feel for your boss’ idiosyncrasies on a conference call, or being introduced to your new colleagues without the benefit of face-to-face interaction? Below are some of the biggest challenges facing employees who are onboarded remotely and some tips on how HR leaders can address them.
Obviously, remote employees need critical equipment such as a computer, power cables, a headset, email access, and so forth to accomplish basic tasks. But there are other roadblocks like getting access to databases, shared drives, software, and even internal employee directories that can cause distress for new employees. These may be tools that are typically provided gradually during the first few weeks of employment when onboarding is done at the office. But for a remote worker who doesn’t have the benefit of being a thumb-twiddling physical reminder to his or her manager that they don’t have everything they need, it’s easy to feel insecure and overlooked in the early days of employment.
To avoid a frustrating first week that can quickly lead to discontent, make sure that HR, IT, and the department the employee belongs to work together well in advance of the new hire’s start date to identify everything the employee will need, and create a checklist to make their start as seamless as possible. Make sure there’s both a process for requesting whatever additional tools are necessary to perform the role and that the process is conveyed on day one. Whereas you may have approached onboarding new employees in the office more casually because you could keep them occupied with reading school literature, taking campus tours, and making introductions, that luxury doesn’t exist in a virtual workplace.
Lack of connection to the institution
It can be hard to feel connected to your new campus home if you aren’t able to visit it in person. Walking the grounds, seeing faculty, and watching students shuffle between classes can help establish a feeling of purpose and belonging. When bringing on new employees remotely, you can’t rely on the campus experience to energize them. Employees that work from home need an even stronger a sense of the institution’s overall principles and goals, or they may feel alienated from how their role fits into the greater context of the organization. Include a virtual campus tour, educational videos about the institution as a whole, and encourage them to spend time on the school’s website. Additionally, make sure you understand how their particular department’s goals and objectives support the mission of the organization and take time to convey it in those first few days to help them feel invested in their new position.
Alienation from colleagues
According to Gartner, 74% of new hires considered peers to be their most helpful source of support during onboarding. In a remote work environment, relationships between peers are harder to foster and can take longer to develop because they don’t happen as organically. For that reason, make sure your institution's hiring managers are going the extra mile to roll out the welcome mat to new hires. Suggest that each existing member of the department set up time in the first week for an informal video chat with the new hire. Topics to cover include what they do in the organization, how long they’ve been there, any tips for navigating the first couple of months, and how they spend their time outside of work. The goal is for colleagues to get to know each other on a more personal level that opens up lines of communication for the new hire with someone besides their manager or HR. It’s also a good idea to schedule a non-work activity, such as a virtual happy hour or lunch, to promote a social environment where new hires feel welcome and comfortable.
Confusion about expectations
The first 90 days of a new job can be overwhelming and create a sense of anxiety, particularly if employees aren’t sure of the full scope of their role, what the key performance indicators are, how they will be measured, or how to prioritize a simple list of to-dos. For this reason, the manager is the single most important person in a new hire’s experience, and that’s even more true in a remote environment. The challenge? When you’re not in the office, you can’t read the room or your manager’s mood, or pick the best time to approach them. Without the benefit of working with them, you may have no idea what their style of communication is. Therefore, it is imperative that managers over communicate during the first 90 days of onboarding a new team member. As an HR leader, you can help by enforcing that managers set up weekly one-on-one meetings in the first several weeks up to the three month mark to ensure that there is clarity about a new hire’s role and responsibilities, and that there are adequate opportunities to express concerns or ask questions. There should also be very clear feedback provided and chances for new employees to regularly demonstrate improvement on any actionable feedback.