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Remote onboarding: Plan of approach for the strategic HR department

Despite Covid-19 measures, recruitment and selection procedures continue in many organisations. Where some organisations decide to postpone the start date of their new recruits, more progressive organisations choose to implement a remote onboarding programme. This gives HR departments an outstanding opportunity to make an essential contribution to business continuity.

Here are some useful tips that will help you set up a remote onboarding programme.

Phase 1: Collect existing knowledge

Setting up a remote onboarding programme is time consuming in an already busy period, but it also offers you, as an HR department, an opportunity to demonstrate your strategic qualities. You set up a framework that can be used as a blueprint, now and in the future. In order to make use of the knowledge that is already available, you check within the organisation whether there are employees who have worked from home at previous employers, and at foreign branches whether they have already onboarded people remotely. If this is not the case, you will soon be able to share your plan of action internationally.

Phase 2: Prior to the first working day

After the applicant has accepted your offer, a lot of paperwork needs to be done, and most applicants do not have a scanner at home. Fortunately, there are several digital solutions for completing and signing documents online, such as DocuSign and DocHub.

The next step is to ensure that the new employee has all the necessary working material. Together with the line manager and the IT department, verify which software is required - don't forget to thoroughly test the programmes for video interviews. Make sure everything can be used on the first working day: either on a physical laptop, or by installing programmes remotely on the employee's personal laptop. Send a package with the necessary hardware, a user manual, and brochures that the employee can look into in advance. Take this opportunity to give your new employee a warm welcome by adding some nice gadgets to the package. Especially items that can be used while working (think of a pen, coffee mug, laptop cover and water bottle) will help the new employee feel like a real member of staff - even if he's never made a move in the office before.

Make sure that all relevant departments are aware of the new employee, and that video appointments are scheduled with key stakeholders in the first week. Ask everyone to turn on the camera during these conversations, so that the video call looks as much like a face-to-face conversation as possible.

Help the line manager set up a schedule for the first work week. Which training courses can the new employee join in other departments? The line manager will appreciate it if you can create some free space in his schedule, as it is quite intensive to onboard someone remotely, while at the same time remaining productive yourself.

You can also help the line manager collect and aggregate information. For example, in Google Docs, create a file with links to frequently used documents, an contact overview, frequently asked questions and an organisation chart. Starting a new job at this time is extra exciting, so a friendly gesture today makes an even bigger impact. Send an email or text message to the new hire one day prior to their first day to wish them good luck and let them know that you are ready to help them. Maybe you can add an article on a topic that was covered in the job interviews, or record a personal video message.

Phase 3: The first working week

If all goes well, your thorough preparation has ensured that the new employee will be able to get to know all important stakeholders in the first week, have the most important information at their fingertips and feel welcome. Schedule a video interview at the end of the first day to see how the day went and whether the information and tools are indeed adequate. You can ask for a workplace video to make sure the workplace is ergonomically sound.

Onboarded remotely, it is even more important for the new employee to have a clear overview of what is expected of them. Advise the line manager to discuss the following:

  • Working hours: within what timeframe should these be carried out, and what are the freedoms and restrictions?
  • Reachability: which channels should the employee be logged in or reachable on, and within what timeframe do people expect a response?
  • Evaluation: based on the job description, draw up a plan in which the employee can see when he should be able to do what, and how to measure whether the result has been achieved.

Phase 4: Evaluation and adjustment

Now that the first week is over, it's time to find out how the new employee experienced onboarding. Questions to ask:

  • To what extent did we live up to your expectations with regard to the position and the company culture?
  • What do we do well, and what could be better?
  • What do you need from us right now and in the coming weeks?
  • Are there things you've seen at previous employers that would work well here?

Phase 5: After the first week

In the first half of the month, together with the line manager, look for a 30/60/90-plan. The first three months are the most important predictor for the long-term success of a new employee. By putting down clear agreements about the expectations for this period, you considerably increase the chances of a successful recruitment.      

Finally, after two to three weeks, conduct a performance interview to ensure that the new employee is satisfied. In the second interview, it is also important to offer the employee as much security as possible. In this uncertain period, the end of the probation period is extra exciting, so try to take away any concerns as soon as possible. Ask the line manager to make the new employee's successes clearly visible to the organisation; as it gives a signal to the employee that he is doing well.

Continue to monitor your online onboarding programme and make adjustments based on the feedback you receive from the new employee and his manager. Don't forget to give visibility to the remote onboarding programme within your organisation, so everyone knows that new employees can start without any problems.  

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