Daisy Holmes

June 22, 2020

Posted by Network HR

The future of on-boarding  - is virtual adaptation here to stay?


It’s odd but don’t you weirdly miss the buzz of your office? Sitting, walking, talking amongst your peers and embracing a communal environment of professional camaraderie. I never really thought I would this much and yet here I am, sat at home, craving my old 9 to 5.


I’m not going to be the first or last to write about ‘the new normal’, and how the old ways of doing things are and will be no more. However, luckily it’s human nature to want to adapt and survive through change, and when it comes to HR as a business division, it’s great to hear that this very much the case.


So let’s talk about on-boarding – whether you are a HR professional yourself, or an employee who has experienced this process, it is painfully clear how important this stage of the employee lifecycle really is. The first ‘good morning’ when a new starter steps into reception, or the good luck card on their desk, the classroom induction, the meet & greets, the first social event – much like your first day at school or the first date you had with your partner, these get you hooked and keep you engaged to continue your journey successfully.


So when a business is faced with welcoming a new employee into their community during a pandemic, what can they do when the core human touch-points they heavily rely on have disappeared? I was fortunate enough to have multiple HR & Talent professionals on hand to talk me though their recent experiences as an employer faced with the tasks of virtual on-boarding:


Is the hire critical?


Before on-boarding has even taken place, this particular question has been posed more than usual, with HR being asked to delve deeper into new hires & only consider on-boarding critical staff during lockdown months. Delayed start dates have been agreed to ensure a slightly more ‘normal’ induction, September and beyond, with prior-employer’s offering furlough in the interim.


So my new starter is crucial to the business – what now?


This is not the first, and it won’t be the last time I say this – technology is king here. Offer letters, contracts and vetting need to all be done online. Automation systems & third party screening will be your saviour when it comes to getting documents filed, and shipshape for lockdown start dates. Both sides need to play ball here however, with clear instructions at your end as well as full & speedy compliance from your new employee to submit their key data. Simple questions about their home working environment and technology need to be asked (and never assumed) – setting up Wi-Fi, sending out laptops and undertaking basic tutorials have all fallen to many of my HR connections to ensure on-boarding happens efficiently and successfully.


IT heroes


I told you I would be mentioning technology again! Every single connection I spoke to couldn’t praise their IT function highly enough – whether they were already a 5 star service, or were finally getting the systems they needed due to lockdown, ensuring you have the very best IT infrastructure your business can afford, is truly paramount to a smooth virtual process.  This includes WFH equipment, internet connectivity and online portals & hubs. Make sure these are readily available for any new starter, so they can experience your office setup (albeit from home) as quickly as possible.


First day...from home


Apart from a small percentage of critical on-site hires across Pharmaceuticals, Care & Transport sectors, the general consensus among my connections was to conduct new starter inductions completely virtually. ‘Getting setup with IT’ is a familiar first day; therefore it’s no surprise that the unanimous feedback was positive from employers about moving this to a virtual procedure. If your training isn’t accessible online, then now is the time for change – digital learning was shaping the future of L&D and will continue to do so even more in the post-Corona workplace. My connections highlighted some excellent resources and training suppliers, citing that investing in user-friendly, appealing platforms played a huge part in keeping both their new starters and existing employees educated & engaged.


My network also highlighted the importance of a new starter having access to an online ‘crib sheet’, ensuring that they knew what was expected of them in the coming weeks i.e. realistic KPIs or task milestones.


Virtual face time


So the boxes have been ticked – your new starter is logged in, laptop ready, online induction training completed – so how do you fill the void of those all important desk chats & stakeholder meetings? How do you keep your new starter engaged & informed?


Particularly in white collar environments, I found that HR had passed a large element of accountability across to the manager in question, and rightfully so. Keeping a new starter engaged from the off is no mean feat, but having clear, honest & open lines of communication available are key. These virtual touch-points are, and will be, the new coffee catch ups and knowing that your new boss is readily ‘virtually’ available is one of the most important factors to a successful induction. Skype, MS Teams, Facetime, WhatsApp, even a good old fashion phone call – all bridge the virtual gap for a new starter during lockdown. These platforms were also popular for booking in & conducting stakeholder meetings – giving new starters the chance to have rare 1-2-1 time with key decision makers & board members, with most of my connections hoping these were going to become the ‘new normal’ as they reduced travel costs & also the chance of delayed introductions.


Zoom buddies


But what about those ‘water-cooler moments’ or cafeteria chats? I also took note that many businesses were offering a buddy system, ensuring that new starters had the option to engage in virtual 1-2-1s with both a departmental peer and/or a friendly face from the wider business. It was great to hear that HR had cottoned onto the fact that the down-time during your first few months in a new role was just as important as scheduled work meetings, and had created a wide range of initiatives, from virtual coffee breaks to online quizzes, competitions, and team drinks. There was also emphasis placed on social media, with a heighten awareness of events such as PRIDE and Mental Health Awareness week, ensuring new starters were aware of these sites & how they could get involved.


Zoom has been a key player in offering a free platform to undertake such events and has offered new starters a virtual insight into their colleagues’ personalities & characters, plus has temporarily substituted those eagerly awaited end of the month drinks or lunch trips out of the office (that so help shape those first crucial months at a new company). Even though it was unanimous from my network that these face to face interactions will never been replaced, these virtual events had provided some comfort, & helped increase positive employee wellbeing, of both new and current employees during lockdown.




It was a key part of any successful team before Covid-19, and even more so, having a collaborative mindset will play a huge part in ensuring your new starter is virtually on-boarded successfully.  Whether it will be lesson planning in the education sector, project planning for a third sector tender or signing off regulatory training for a pharmaceutical business, ensuring your new starter has access to a suitable library of online documents as well as to the right systems, means they then have all the tools in place to succeed. Working from home was an alien concept for many at the start of 2020; however, my network has been overwhelmed with positive experiences from their workforce – “I get more done”, “I have more face-time with my boss” “I’ve spoken to colleagues I’ve never met before” “I’ve been able to access more data” “I’ve been able to complete more online learning courses” – which hopefully will shape a similar positive experience for their new employees too.


So is the future virtual?


Yes and no – HR has shown that as a back office function it’s had to learn, change and grow during the pandemic – and for the most part, my network feels a lot of these changes are here to stay. Completing paperwork online including virtual validations of RTW documents and accepting e-signatures were becoming the norm regardless, plus having a smooth technology offering were a key part of any future business plan. So it’s not rocket science that the cogs are now even more in motion, and these IT-heavy elements are here to stay. But what about the social elements of the on-boarding process?


Firstly we can’t forget there is a big divide between white collar – who can readily adapt to a WFH environment – and then blue collar workers, who have been called to the front line, including a small amount of new starters. For the latter, training on the job has become a PPE minefield, with on the job social-distance training the new normal. Ensuring sites are suitable for this new way of working will feature heavily in any new front line workers’ induction and will create a new way of socialising, albeit from 2 metres away.


There are some positives though - key senior figures seem to have more time, with many of my HR connections stating that virtual diary management has been a breeze compared with pre-Corona ‘face to face’ times – “my new starter actually got a video call from the CEO!” – and secondly, the wider business has been more readily available to support, guide & assist via a virtual platform, than they ever would have been able to during the old office 9 to 5. New starters have had a chance to virtually get to know their managers and peers on a much broader level, and it is this level of interaction & empathy that my network hopes will remain a key part of any on-boarding process moving forward.


You’ll never replace human contact when it comes to fitting in as “the new guy”, but the new normal of engaging virtually with more of your workforce surely has to stay? I for one can’t wait until I’m back in the office with my work family, but until then, I look forward to more video call “how are yous” and welcoming any new starters into the fold virtually.