The Covid-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the way the world thinks about work. Some companies have shifted to a hybrid model, while others have committed to going 100% remote. As a result, HR Leaders across the board have been tasked with the challenge of onboarding employees in a hybrid or remote environment

Regardless of what your new working model looks like, it’s important that your new hires feel like they belong from Day One. An effective onboarding process should ensure that new hires have all the tools and resources needed for success as well as a strong sense of community, no matter where they are. 

As the first step in your new employee’s journey, onboarding requires significant collaboration between HR teams and managers. Our Resources for Humans (RfH) community members hosted a virtual huddle to share some of their best practices for effectively onboarding hybrid and fully remote employees. Here are some of the session’s key takeaways:

1. Foster a sense of belonging. 

HR teams know that a good employee experience starts at the hiring stage. Once a candidate has signed an offer, it’s your company’s chance to make them feel welcome right off the bat.

“Before a new employee even starts, I think one of the things we place emphasis on is making a connection with the employee after their offer letter is signed,” shared Emily Doyle, People Operations Coordinator at Seesaw Learning, “So even before their first day, [we let] them know we're excited to welcome them as a crucial part of our team.”

“We started this thing called DesignMap subscription boxes,” said Adrienne Martinez, Operations Manager at DesignMap,We send them out to new hires. It's a curated box of goodies. It can be swag, it can be stuff related to your company culture — people have been really enjoying that.”

Once new hires have officially started, HR teams should use the onboarding process as an opportunity to set the tone for things like company culture, core workplace values, and more. Our members shared tips for making the onboarding process playful and giving their new hires a chance to share their personality. Things like round-robin-style sessions with leadership or in-house onboarding podcasts were just a few of the creative employee onboarding ideas that members suggested trying.

“I sent out a survey called Getting To Know You. It's a bunch of questions on things like, what's your favorite color? I felt like a kindergarten teacher doing this, but people really loved it. Sometimes as HR people, we're the soft landing…we're the warm.” says Martinez. 

And, if you’re looking to revamp your onboarding process, be sure to ask yourselves if the current one is actually inclusive. Don’t start off on the wrong foot by making onboarding even harder for new employees with any special needs. If you plan to share your onboarding presentations over Zoom, RfH members recommend prioritizing accessibility by including closed captioning and making the slides available for later review. 

“All of our training sessions are either fully hybrid or hybrid-friendly so that there's no pressure to be really anywhere except for available.

“The more that you can make the person feel like they're already a part of the team (because they are) the better,” says Amber Jones, Chief of Staff at a top 20 telecom organization. “Do that as soon as possible, and you will definitely see feedback on how the onboarding experience makes or breaks how a person navigates through the rest of their time at the company.”

2. Create opportunities for people to get to know one another.

In-person lunches and chance office encounters may be less common these days, but there are plenty of ways HR teams can facilitate opportunities for onboarding employees to get to know their new colleagues.

For fully remote teams, these efforts can look like more curated opportunities to get folks across the company (vertically and horizontally) chatting, such as onboarding buddy systems or scheduled conversations with leadership. 

“One thing that I think works really well and that everyone seems to enjoy is the buddy system,” shared Doyle, “Every new hire gets assigned someone [and] that kind of helps with that hand-holding for the first few weeks and really getting people situated.”

Grace Diaz, HR Generalist at Splash, added, “Now that we’re fully remote, new hires don't get a lot of visibility with our executive leadership teams. So we started instituting quarterly connections where new hires meet with every executive for 30 minutes. The whole idea is to get some face time with them to get more insight into who they are as a person, their background, what they're working on, and what their vision is for the business.”

Slack serves as another effective tool to familiarize new teammates. Members shared tips like using integrated tools (such as Donut) to facilitate 1:1 connections, or creating a new Slack channel specifically for new hire cohorts. These cohort channels allow employees to be social with others in their onboarding group, regardless of their teams, and provides a safe space for new people to ask questions.

3. Stay organized with tools and standardization.

Onboarding is a big undertaking, and with so many moving parts it can be easy for things to fall by the wayside. Taking a step back to review and standardize your onboarding practices can reduce leg work needed down the road as you continue to grow.

One RfH member suggested asking yourself questions like “How can I make this process agile? How can I make it so that somebody else can run it if I am elsewhere, or how can I create a foundation that works well consistently? I think that's a really fine line to walk, because I'm thinking a lot about making the process personable and exciting and tailored to the individual, but also not just run based on my own manual labor.”

If you’re not sure where to start, take stock from those who partake in the onboarding process to build a roadmap. “My approach was to do interviews with the hiring managers as well as the engineering managers, HR, recruiting, and everybody who touches the onboarding process in order to map what everybody's responsibilities are and bridge any gaps. It’s a lot like a process mapping exercise in which the user is your new hire.” says Julia Berchem, People Partner at Stride Consulting.

HR Leaders already know that the onboarding process requires you to manage multiple tasks simultaneously. Our community stressed optimizing the tools available to you to help stay organized and using whatever works best for your organization. Tools that came up in conversation included Lattice, BambooHR, Asana, Enboarder, Trello, Monday.com, and Salesforce, to name a few. If you have a small budget, don’t underestimate the power of a simple Excel spreadsheet to manage your checklists!

Kim Krupski, People Operations Generalist at Singularity University shared, “We're using Asana [so] we have that full visibility of what the onboarding process looks like, including pre-boarding, orientation, and follow-up by managers. I'm hoping that this will lend transparency, not only throughout the organization, but also set the footprint for anyone who will come after us in the People Operations team.” 

In addition to standardizing the process of onboarding and automating where you can, multiple members emphasized the importance of offering a centralized location for all necessary information to live. Not only does this create a cohesive experience for employees, it ensures that no information is missed.

“Just having a place where people can continuously go back and refer to is great,” says Jones, “It also cuts down on a lot of the questions that you all might get via email or in Slack.”

4. Follow up and maintain regular check-ins.

Once the formal onboarding process is complete,don’t forget to set aside time to check in with your new hires. A personal check-in or a new-hire onboarding survey after they’ve finished can offer an opportunity to get feedback on the employee’s experience while it’s still fresh in their mind. This feedback can be instrumental in helping your HR team identify where your onboarding programs can be improved.

“I always think the sooner you can get the feedback, the better,” advised Jones, “Pulse check how the team is feeling every week, make sure that they're feeling good, that they're not feeling overworked, and that their needs are getting met from a business and professional perspective.”

Even if you think that your organization already does an excellent job of onboarding people, the fresh perspective of a new hire can help you further refine your program and make sure you’re giving a quality experience to each and every employee.

5. Allow room for flexibility.

Onboarding is an ever-changing process, and that requires flexibility! Each department within your organization may have different needs, so accommodating changing priorities with a flexible schedule can lead to a more efficient process. 

“When it came to actually managing the onboarding schedule with the teams themself, every team is going to do things a little bit differently,” Jones says, “Engineering [may have] a totally different way of onboarding a hire versus somebody who might be in marketing."

When managing remote and hybrid onboarding processes, that flexibility should extend to your new hires as well. “All of our training sessions are either fully hybrid or hybrid-friendly so that there's no pressure to be really anywhere except for available,” shared one member.

And as your company grows and scales, HR Leaders have the opportunity to get creative and fine-tune the process with each onboarding cycle to best serve their employees needs. One of the great benefits to optimizing your onboarding process for remote and hybrid work is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

 “Onboarding is constantly evolving. You're never going to get it to a place where you won't keep iterating,” says Helen Kruskamp, Head of People at Vannevar Labs.

––

Those are just some of the insights shared during this community virtual huddle. If you haven’t already, join the over 14,000 HR leaders that make up our Slack community for more best practices.