In-person interactions have given way to remote work in many corporations around the world. Managers are picking and choosing the best of Zoom, Webex or other applications to see them through the “new normal.”
This is particularly true as companies take on new people who work from home at the outset, perhaps never setting foot in their place of business.
The temptation is to rely heavily on artificial intelligence and algorithms to sort candidates and make unbiased selections. However, machines are baked in with the same biases as their programmers. The technical term is garbage in, garbage out.
Enter John Baldino, president and founder of Humareso. His human resources firm helps organizations manage their talent and better onboard new hires into the culture. He talked with Meghan M. Biro, analyst, brand strategist, podcaster and TalentCulture chief executive officer, about strategies to onboard new hires even when everyone’s home.
Baldino scoffs at the notion that remote hiring is an insurmountable obstacle. He stresses communication as a key component of any culture, but especially important for remote workplaces.
“We all have to get more comfortable with the technology and being remote,” Biro said. “It’s a steep learning curve, and we’re still on it.”
Organizations are catching up to technology while retaining the human touch in hiring. The bright shiny object of efficiency blinds those in charge to nuances that make people welcome additions to the diversity and spirit of the workforce.
“Often, communication is not planned; it is assumed,” Baldino said. “Without a direction for communication, onboarding is the first roadblock new hires hit. Organizations have to be deliberately communicating throughout the hiring process and onboarding.
“A sense of humanity is the first clue as to what culture in an organization is like,” he said. “Mess that up on Day 1, and it’s a hard climb up.”
Take time to learn
Resist substituting words on paper for the living people before your eyes.
“Find out about the new hires,” Baldino said. “Their resume can’t be what everyone takes their cues from.”
Biro sees an opportunity to break free from tried and tired means to show new people the ropes.
“Onboarding has to be about more than filling out forms and getting acclimated to responsibilities,” she said.
“It’s a huge issue,” she said. “We don’t onboard to promote a sense of community and inclusion. We onboard to get people ready to work. We don’t welcome enough. So, employees don’t connect to the new culture. They become less engaged.”
Her solution is to make information technology compatible with personal engagement.
“Everything has to be switched to digital, from IT setup to meet-and-greets to policies to company introduction,” Biro said. “That means more components, more communication.”
One strategy would be to bring recruiters and hiring managers together with corporate leaders to form a coherent vision of what the company wants to achieve. Create a picture of ideal future hires, knowing that no one is ideal. Shoot for the best match.
“Have systems that are ready to go,” Baldino said. “We bring people in to offer expertise and experience success through its application. Make work viable and relevant.
“Plan video chats with leaders, colleagues and management—just like a healthy in-person orientation plan would normally include,” he said. “Put yourself in the new hire’s perspective. What should that person be seeing, feeling and experiencing?”
Truthful from the beginning
Promises must be kept. Many times, new hires are told there would be training, but there isn’t any.
“If you don’t train, be honest,” Baldino said. “If it’s sink or swim, be honest. If it’s survival of the fittest, be honest. Make the work experience authentic. It’s not for all, but will be for some.
“Ask people to share, not with the expectation that all problems can be solved, but to hear from them,” he said. “They may have the problem and the solution. Ask.”
Baldino said companies could create an onboarding mentoring program.
“The new hire can follow the footsteps of others,” he said. “Know what to avoid and what to do.”
Piling work on people in their first week is detrimental. Casual meetings to get acquainted give way instead to a race from the start.
“Overworking someone in Week 1 is silly,” Baldino said. “It’s important that people find their groove. Give a little space. Like bumpers in a bowling alley, give them a wide lane with boundaries.”
Relationships suffer before they can begin.
“Recognize that you’re bringing people into a work culture to start with,” Biro said. “That sounds obvious, but it’s not. We need to onboard with a stronger sense of relationships and belonging. Schedule time for people to get to know each other.
“Being able to look at the blind spots helps,” she said. “Remote work has thrown everything into disarray, but do you know how your employees feel about things? If not, you won’t know that they’re conveying their frustration to the new hire.”
The basics of orientation apply—new normal or not.
“Present the culture: the purpose, behaviors, meaningful stories,” Biro said. “Add time to the process so a new hire can absorb everything and have a chance to ask questions. This is crucial. Adaptability requires time and space to acclimate to a new norm.”
Go beyond square filling
Leaders should be involved with onboarding from the outset, letting all involved know their thinking. Everyone—especially leaders—should be open-minded and willing to exchange ideas so all players ultimately work from the same page.
“Present onboarding holistically—as an experience instead of as separate components or a list to be checked off,” Biro said. “Build in additional resources and support, like a digital buddy to help new hires get acclimated with the technology and the platforms. This is one area where more is more, because everyone has different comfort levels.
“Onboarding needs to be presented with empathy,” she said. “New hires may work at home while their kids are in remote school, or may be overwhelmed with the pressure of joining a new company from a distance. Create room for people to be real.”
Everyone throughout an organization should participate in orientation.
“Too often leaders think onboarding is merely an HR thing,” Baldino said. “Not so.
“Ask leaders how they think someone would get the best understanding of company values and mission,” he said. “Act upon—within reason—those suggestions. It’ll help leaders feel as though they own part of the process.”
All of it comes back to a communication strategy and its execution.
“Resources are so important,” Baldino said. “They should be offered at the onset, not as an afterthought.
“We’re supposed to bring people in to move the organization forward,” he said. “We have to allow change as a result.”
Part of the problem is poor long-term memory.
“For some leaders, it’s been decades since they’ve worn the new hire’s shoes,” Baldino said. “They’re afraid to see how disconnected they are. Offer them grace as they try to get them back on, but don’t let them avoid doing it.
“Create a space for employees to share,” he said. “It’s not their fault there is a worldwide crisis. Don’t take your frustration out on them.”