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Tips for Onboarding New Hires in the Post-Pandemic Workplace

By Dave Anderson - May 26, 2021

COVID-19 ushered in a new way of working. Employees proved they could remain productive while working from home, and have expressed they want workplace flexibility to continue in the future. 

Data collected by Perceptyx indicates employees prefer a hybrid workplace model—a policy that gives them the option to work in a physical workplace or at home. In our survey of more than 1,000 working Americans, two in three said they wanted to work remotely at least part of the time.

As with any large-scale change, organizations will need to rethink certain procedures to ensure employees are productive, engaged, and supported, regardless of where they work. One area organizations struggled to adjust during the pandemic was in onboarding new hires, exposing potential risks that will need attention to support the hybrid workplace model of the future.

Pandemic Onboarding Missed the Mark

Nearly half of employees who joined companies during the pandemic went through remote onboarding, more than 4x the percentage who onboarded remotely prior to the pandemic. However, regardless of location, new hires who started after March 2020 reported less favorable perceptions of the experience.

Our latest report, “Failure to Attach: The Crisis for Pandemic Hires” reveals that a disconnected onboarding experience led to the following perceptions among pandemic hires compared to those who onboarded pre-COVID:  

  • A less favorable experience with their team as well as difficulty staying connected
  • Less connection to the organization and its culture 
  • A lack of clarity about what to expect on their first day on the job

Despite the negative experiences, pandemic hires did report stronger relationships with their manager than those who joined before the pandemic. Out of the nearly 150,000 employees Perceptyx has surveyed about their onboarding experience since the pandemic began, there has been an increase in:

  • My manager clearly communicates performance expectations;
  • My manager gives me regular feedback on my performance; and
  • I receive sufficient feedback on my performance, relative to their counterparts onboarded before the pandemic.

New hires who have a deep connection with their team members, the organization, and the work they do typically report higher levels of engagement for the first year of employment. This “honeymoon” period is missing for those who onboarded during the pandemic, which puts them at risk for continued disengagement and turnover.

Solving Onboarding Challenges for Remote Hires

The results of our research indicate that the onboarding approaches used before COVID will not successfully translate to the new, largely hybrid workplace model. Organizations will need to make an extra effort to build relationships, highlight the culture, and provide clarity for employees who work outside the physical workplace. The following tips can help create an onboarding process that supports all employees, but especially those who remain mostly remote. 

Actively foster relationships with team members

New hires get a lot of face time with their manager which likely contributes to the strong relationships reported by those who onboarded during the pandemic. However, they often interact less with other teammates, causing them to feel disconnected from colleagues who forged relationships with each other in the physical workplace pre-COVID.  

Facilitate informal conversations between new hires and their teammates to compensate for the fact that a distributed workforce prevents connections from forming organically. Start with a team-wide “welcome meeting” on the employee’s first day where everyone virtually introduces themselves. From there, schedule regular 1-on-1s so that new hires get to know each team member and what they do.  

Pair the new hire with an onboarding liaison 

Every organization tries to provide new hires with all the information they need, but there are always going to be little questions that arise. Given that remote hires can’t quickly ask the person working alongside them, they’re left wondering who to reach out to, or if the question is even worth asking. 

Pair new hires with a long-tenured employee who is willing to provide clarity when needed. Let them know the liaison is available to answer any questions that come up (or that they can connect them with the person who has the answer). The new hire will get all the information they need without feeling like they’re bothering their manager or anyone else with something trivial.  

Give timely, frequent feedback

Starting a new job is an anxiety-inducing experience. New hires wonder if they’re meeting expectations and focusing their time and energy on the right tasks and projects. Working remotely only exacerbates that anxiety since the new hire’s manager isn’t there to give quick, off-the-cuff feedback.

Make sure managers are providing clarity and direction to new hires on a daily basis. They should be in constant communication through Slack and Zoom, discussing expectations, providing feedback, and giving recognition when work is successfully completed. Providing frequent feedback to all employees is always a good practice for managers to follow but it’s especially important when bringing on a new hire. 

Provide insight into the culture and operations

New hires who work in a physical setting learn about the culture and operations naturally over time. As they settle in, they see how people interact, communicate, and schedule their days and adapt to their new team dynamics. Culture and operations carried over for most organizations as they went remote,  but people who joined after COVID office closures were left in the dark about operational norms. 

Provide insight into how people work and collaborate. Share messaging and video conferencing etiquette, any dress codes for virtual meetings, and required work hours. (Are there standard work hours or is the employee free to set their own schedule?) Encourage team leaders to cover the nuances of how their team works, and how best to communicate, so new hires can quickly assimilate. 

Help new hires see the impact of their work

Doing work that makes a difference is one of the biggest drivers of engagement. Employees feel a sense of intrinsic motivation and fulfillment when they do work that adds value to their team and the organization—but it’s difficult for new hires to see the impact their work makes when they’re simply accomplishing role-specific tasks from home. 

Managers should provide context around why the new hire’s work will matter as they share expectations during onboarding. Brief the new hire on how the team is expected to contribute to organizational goals and how they’ll contribute to the team goals. They’ll have greater job clarity (“I have to work on…”) and higher engagement (“This task is important because…”) as they begin working.

It’s Time to Rethink Onboarding

Our research shows that there is an opportunity for organizations to boost engagement and prevent turnover by catering onboarding to remote new hires. Download the complete research report to learn more about the onboarding experience for pandemic hires and what the future holds for organizations that adopt the hybrid workplace model.

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