Successfully onboarding a remote team means paying attention to work styles, office culture, and “silly” questions.
Along with the myriad of changes that impacted the workforce last year, the way we hire was certainly a pivotal one. While some teams unavoidably downsized, others - like those in the tech industry - increased their workforce. According to a report from DICE, tech roles associated with cybersecurity, and system and network security grew by up to 20%. To meet the demands of a fast-changing team, it’s vital that team newcomers experience a smooth onboarding process - particularly when the entire experience is virtual. When new hires are met at the door with an effective virtual onboarding process, it helps them to better understand their role, which in turn increases their productivity and performance.
This is also a way for companies to invest in their employees from the earliest stage of introduction. The goal after all is not just to fill an office with people, but to employ people who see the big picture and share a unified goal.
As the Head of Talent and Community at Virtasant, my goal is to continuously learn and perfect onboarding and hiring processes that are effective and reliable so that we can avoid becoming a revolving door for the wrong fit. We are a remote company with no brick-and-mortar office, so we heavily rely on collaboration, communication, and accountability - all things which are central to successful remote work. Doing this means taking a very structured approach to virtual onboarding.
Every team or business has its own set of metrics that matter the most. These metrics should include things like team retention, employee happiness as well as performance-related metrics. Before diving into onboarding, think about the ways in which you will measure the success of your hiring and onboarding practices. How will the new employee’s acclamation be measured and used as insights for future hiring sprees?
The flip side of measuring success is that the process also reveals failures. To discuss failure in a way that matters, an organization has to foster a tolerant culture that encourages employees to own their work, experiment, and discuss results.
Including your entire team (or as many key people as you can) in the recruiting and onboarding process can be a critical step in both interviewing and acclimating new hires. One big mistake that can happen, especially when responding to an urgent need, is rushing new hires past their team and then expecting everyone to work well together.
My rule of thumb is to include at least two people in the interviewing process who would be peers to the candidate. Someone who can mirror and empathize with their concerns or perspective, and who can relate to the companies approach from a role-specific level. This also helps reduce stress during interviews, when people tend to stiffen in order to impress leadership. The purpose of the interview process is to measure qualities that cannot be reported on a resume or LinkedIn page.
Mentorship has been proven to be a hugely beneficial way to smooth out the orientation process. This is helpful for in-person teams, but it is especially important for virtual and remote teams. In a remote work environment, it can be very easy to get lost in the work without the tangible markers that usually ground us. Set up a few meetings with key people in the company who can speak to goals and expectations as well as culture.
Mentorship is also essential for growing and maintaining diversity. Our company is spread across 130 continents, so we can pair new hires and mentors who share similar geographical locations, educational or cultural backgrounds, or who seem to have similar approaches to their work.
It’s unrealistic to assume that the workflow of your team won’t be interrupted as you onboard new employees. Work may slow while leadership brings new people up to speed, or as mentors step away from their core function to lend onboarding support. To manage this overspill and avoid tension between team members, plan to temporarily redistribute the workload of anyone directly impacted by the team change.
Be specific and clear and make sure that the core team feels supported in the work change before the new hire joins. Part of the cost of hiring is in the time and resources it takes, so your virtual onboarding strategy should include the occurrence of extended deadlines or additional tools to bridge the short-term gap.
From the time a potential new hire enters the interview stage, you have an opportunity to learn. The questions and concerns that arise throughout the entire virtual onboarding process give insight into how your tactics (or your business as a whole) can improve. Record every question that gets asked, then answer it and add it to your team knowledge base. If you’re fielding the same “silly” questions each time a new hire joins your team, this is a red flag indicating that something about your process is unclear.
Your knowledge base should be part of the new hire package, and should continuously evolve with each new hire. The result of this small but important step is that you get back some of the time you invest in the virtual onboarding process, and as a learning resource, you start to address the all-important overall goal - organizational agility.
A virtual onboarding approach that keeps innovation as its principal ally opens up new horizons, which helps employees remain engaged with the company and happy to be a part of its developmental journey. Evolving teams need to carve out their path ahead of everyone else, designating their own methods of success and work culture so that there is a shared sense of happiness. And happy teams are productive teams.