Future of Work Insights

All aboard: successful onboarding strategies

6 minute read time

Onboarding new recruits has been a challenge during the pandemic. Here are some guiding principles to help businesses manage the process more effectively.

As 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic ushered in unprecedented changes around the world, the impact of the crisis on our working practices was profound.

Much of the conversation has focused on the economic damage, but the pandemic has been life altering for the workforce.

Indeed many of the discussions focused on the benefits of remote and flexible working. But while established team members may have welcomed working from home, what has been the effect on those onboarding into a virtual workspace?

Geraldine Butler-Wright is the chief people and culture officer (CPO) at Healthily, the artificial intelligence self-care app that launched in 2015 and has just secured $30m (£23m) investment to expand the platform. She says recruitment hasn’t stopped during the pandemic.

“The key is going back to basics,” she says, adding that effective, clear communication is a must, alongside managing timelines and steps in the process. “It’s a challenging time, especially with so many on the lookout for new opportunities. Providing a speedy and meaningful candidate experience has never been more important.”

Making time for new recruits

For Butler-Wright, the ethos surrounding onboarding new recruits should be consistent, no matter what the age or experience of the candidate.

“I’d argue that nurturing talent and helping new recruits feel a part of our company from the get-go isn’t exclusive to being younger. Ultimately, it’s about being a good human and making time for people. Asking how someone is doing and actually listening to their answer. It’s about ensuring that people are clear on what we are doing as a business, how our goals are relevant to what they do and being transparent.”

“Do not be tempted to take advantage of a large candidate pool and offer lower salaries. Think long term, know the ‘usual’ market rate and compensate fairly”

Geraldine Butler-Wright, chief people and culture officer, Healthily

Healthily has adopted a strategy designed to keep all team members united while working remotely. This includes the recording of the leadership team meeting and ‘water-cooler moments’, where senior management open up times in their calendars for remote informal meetings.

Butler-Wright explains there is a holistic approach to welcoming new ‘Healthilies’.

“Each new starter undertakes an onboarding programme where they meet team members from each department to help them orientate about how we do things around here. There are fortnightly ‘pizza meetings’ to welcome new starters, and we strongly encourage teams to take time in their schedule to actually have some fun together and get to know each other,” she says. This could be “playing a computer game with the team over a lunch break or having a virtual brew (alcoholic or not) at the close of the week”.

A structured approach

Business coach Roger Dentoni says there are some positive changes to come out of remote working, but all companies need to ensure there is a structured approach to onboarding in this climate. “Being physically present is how you learn a company’s vision and culture. It is also how you learn the culture of your particular industry,” he says. “It’s also important from the perspective of a company, as having your new recruits predominately working remotely could be like employing a contractor for specific tasks, as opposed to investing in someone that will carry the values and vision of your company.”

“New starters are missing out on mentoring. They will not learn from the diversity of a team. They will not get to choose from a pool of role models that the traditional office has. They will miss out on those experiences you can only get by being physically present and looking at your peers in action.”

Investing in onboarding and training new starters is something all companies should be considering, Dentoni adds.

“If the business model is in growth and requires new recruits, this should happen. However, companies need to explore via research, consulting, trial and error, how they can train and develop new recruits and have real-life team interactions. This is a new territory so the right formula may need some time to appear. The ability to adapt to this could be what gives a company the edge over its competitors. The search may have high rewards for individual companies and the whole workforce, even post-Covid.”

A flexible approach

James Hone is the CEO and founder of Bluefin Resources in Australia, where coronavirus has had a significant impact on recruitment, too. Hone’s company is onboarding new team members via video conferences, and has only hired experienced professionals during the pandemic. Looking to the future, he says a balance needs to be achieved between flexibility to work from home and uniting a workforce in an office environment.

“I think it will change lots of companies’ views on working from home and how you can still be productive. There is no doubt that continuous working from home will affect culture and belonging. These two things, in my opinion, are very important to an employee’s well-being. There are so many positives of working in an office too, so I think moving forward, post-Covid, most companies will adopt a more balanced view on flexibility and working from home.”

First-hand experience

David is an intern at a business development company that specialises in IT. He wants to remain anonymous in sharing his experiences of starting an internship during lockdown.

“As a new starter, the remote training given was very task-focused and it was very good for learning and delivering the job. However, I think it took longer because of the adaptation to new methodologies, problems of technology and connection, longer times to receive support and feedback.

“It’s hard to establish solid work relationships, harder to understand the dynamics and the politics in the company… and it’s also harder to build a sense of belonging of the culture of the company. Even if productivity is high, commitment and motivation can progressively get worse, especially if the company doesn’t have a constant and structured way of connecting and checking on employees.”

Making the first day work

At Healthily, Geraldine Butler-Wright was herself recruited as CPO during lockdown.

“Because I had the opportunity to meet many people in the interview process, my first day in many ways didn’t feel like my first day. For me, this was perfect. I had a super-smooth onboarding, where there was a briefing/orientation on day one to familiarise me with ‘how things are done around here’. My diary was also populated with calendar invites to connect again with colleagues and to be briefed by different departments on what they do. It was a great way of bringing together an understanding of how the company works and what makes it tick. The ‘pizza meetings’ (all hands meetings) were also a great way of getting to know company priorities and learn of the successes of its people.”

Having witnessed both sides of the onboarding process during the Covid-19 crisis, she has learnt a key takeaway when it comes to advising other recruiters: “Do not be tempted to take advantage of a large candidate pool and offer lower salaries. Think long term, know the ‘usual’ market rate and compensate fairly. Be respectful of people’s time. Let applicants and interviewees know as soon as possible the status of their application. Be a good human.”

By Louise Hulland