I recently blogged with tips for virtual interviews, something that has become a must during COVID-19 and may yet offer welcome flexibility to candidates and hiring charities as a ‘new normal’. However, organisations that have continued hiring recently will also have faced a bigger challenge, in terms onboarding and inducting a new member of staff to their team entirely remotely. This has meant people experiencing the next step in their career merely by opening a laptop at home, without the first day office tour and meet-and-greet with new colleagues we’re all used to.

Versing a new hire in the ways of an organisation, getting to know them as a trusted team member and building relationships is a process that can require a lot of thought and planning at the best of times, but a virtual start can make the experience all the more disorienting for both sides. This has put some organisations off hiring altogether, with a resulting impact on capacity.

Top tips for virtual onboarding

From speaking to people who have gone through this, there a few key things to be aware of:

  • Engage and plan before they start – in advance of their start date, make sure technology is ironed out (e.g. deliver their work laptop and get them onto the right systems so they can hit the ground running). Also be sure to communicate to the person that their upcoming role is still secure, as the uncertainty in the charity sector right now can create real anxiety for job-changers even after accepting a recent offer. Some big private sector firms have even taken to sending welcome gifts as part of their culture around virtual onboarding
  • Be aware of the new hire’s homeworking situation – while this has been a factor for all staff as we have shifted to mass homeworking, you’ll have even less sense of a new employee’s homelife and how this affects their working patterns. Do they live alone, with family or flatmates, or have any other needs?
  • You will need greater structure than usual – induction is never really a one-day process, but when virtually onboarding you may want to schedule at least an entire week of planned activity, for example. A new team member and those they closely manage or report to may want to put in regular catchups right away, on a timetable that works for them (e.g. this may be an hour block every week, or several times a week) – HR should be actively involved in encouraging this
  • Formalise other conversations which you wouldn’t normally – you may need to arrange Zoom time with team members they won’t be crossing paths with as frequently, as these relationships will be entirely absent otherwise, or set up tutorials about smaller processes that you wouldn’t usually devote an entire meeting to
  • Maintain an open culture – we’re not used to an environment where you can’t ‘tap someone on the shoulder’ and ask if they’ve got a minute for a small query or problem, so make an effort to communicate to new hires who they can speak to and how
  • Don’t under or over-manage – establishing trust and communication is key. If you are a new manager remotely overseeing people who have been in their jobs for longer, they can also be your guide in an organisation you don’t yet know all the ins and outs of (this can be particularly valuable in crisis situations)
  • Virtual onboarding is harder still for new roles – if the actual job function is new or reworked (a real possibility as many charities embark on restructures at the moment), you will need to be cognisant that the yardstick to measure ‘normal’ performance will be even less clear. Think about where the new post fits into your organisation chart when planning activity and conversations they need
  • Remember the social side – make more of a conscious effort to engage in ‘small talk’ with them, rather than jumping straight to business. Many organisations have taken to virtual coffee sessions, fun activities or team drinks during lockdown to make up for the lack of those ‘water cooler moments’ even in existing teams, but these are all the more crucial to help remote starters feel included
  • Trustee induction needs special thought – Janet Thorne of Reach Volunteering has written a useful post on virtually inducting trustees in particular, noting that charities can take advantage of the increased number of people currently looking to volunteer and the flexibility remote meetings can offer them, but also that you will need to provide more information about the organisation and what to expect, especially for those who haven’t been a charity trustee before

Can we help?

If you are thinking about starting a new recruitment process or are wondering how the market is looking, we would be happy to share our recent experience with you. Contact me at bernice@ep-uk.org.

Bernice Rook is director of Director of Membership & Recruitment at Eastside Primetimers

Eastside Primetimers

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