Remote Onboarding or the New Reality of an HR Manager

This is not a “new” reality that HR Managers and even operational managers are now dealing with.It’s more of a silent truth and practice that has insinuated itself into the way we work, look for work, and get hired these days. 

We’re sure you all remember your first day at your workplace. The hand-shakings and countless of nice-to-meet-you, the new faces, and names, your new office, the various coffee spaces, the watercooler, the hallways where brief meetings are happening…you get to know all these things and they gradually become part of your identity as an employee of the company. 

Now delete all these mundane facets of office life: the cubicle, the ever dusty carpet, the cheap coffee, and tasteless tea, the watercooler meeting space, and add a laptop screen, countless pdfs to read, some names on a Zoom call, and some tasks that you’re not sure how to deal with. 

And it is even more difficult if you’re the HR manager himself or one of the operational managers having to make sure that their new team members understand all the practices, get to know each other, and work effortlessly from their kitchen table God-knows-for-how long. 

Hiring New Talent and Remote Onboarding in Times of Pandemic

This could very well be a novel full of funny and disaster stories, best practices, a few happy endings here and there. While there is no one-size-fits-all kind of solutions on how to manage remote onboarding during these times, we have identified a few best practices. 

It should all start from a completely different mindset. Before, the office space was a cocoon of the organisational culture, a place many identified themselves with.  Things were easy from a “cultural” point of view. Now, there are only some collaboration tools. 

Once, team members were used to making sense of the world through those watercooler conversations and hallway spontaneous brainstormings, now, there’s the Zoom call.

Before the pandemic, there were some clear HR procedures for onboarding new team members. Most of them were rather stiff, but not to worry, because the work colleagues’ banter and chit-chat would cool that down. Now, there’s nothing to cool it down, just a laptop screen, a Zoom call, and tons of PDF pages to read.

So, the one rule with remote onboarding is simple: information should be useful, not confusing. 

There are two horizontals here, from a management point of view. There is the HR managers’ level, and then there are the operational guys who have to step in and take up the slack. 

It’s most probably an operational guy’s job to cover for this difficult integration system, to make the new employees feel like they belong to a place, an organisation, and not just the cold blue and black Zoom screen. 

The remote onboarding experience should be more about the individual and less about the standard procedure. Now, more than ever, we need to be friendly, and open because they’ll be no jokester colleague waiting down the corner to pick up the new guy and show him the ropes around the office. 

IBM made a “strange” move in 2009 when it sent 40% of their workforce home to work from wherever they wanted and they brought them back in the office in 2017. They probably weren’t prepared to transfer the organisational culture from analog to digital that quickly.  

Nevertheless, when faced with a no-return situation, companies have been able to found the silver lining of the remote work. Apple CEO Tim Cook said in an interview, during the first phase of the pandemic that "there are some things that actually work really well virtually", and Apple would not "return to the way we were".

How Do You Nurture the Organisational Culture Without the Office

The office is just an “artifact”, as MIT professor emeritus Edgar Schein would call the in-house football tables or brainstorming rooms. They’re just vehicles that drive interactions, and fuel a certain kind of culture, but they’re not the organisational culture, they’re just means to an end. 

Deep cultural beliefs and practices should not change if you take the office out of them. If they change, then it means they were not there in the first place. 

The everyday work is now done remotely, and yes, some aspects of how a remote team does things have changed, but the core is still there. 

Operational managers need to acknowledge the most important aspects that made the organisational culture and strive to keep them intact. If managers cannot stop the deviation from the usual, desired practices, or if that culture does not arise from all the employees, then you’ve got a problem and remote onboarding is also problematic. 

How do you virtually onboard a person and show him/her the ropes, when there are no real “ropes” in your organisation? 

Remote work asks for modifications of your organisational culture, and the adding of some new practices and activities, such as Zoom yoga sessions or other interactive actions that the team members are involved in. 

his time of disruption should not be fatal from an organisational culture point of view. It should offer the opportunity to let employees acknowledge that there are some core ideals, stories, and commitments at the foundation of the company, that there are some ways of doing things that are central to the very identity of the company they’re part of, and that they are important to keep things going.

There Is Also a Backup Plan: Independent Contractors

An independent contractor is used to these disruptions. He/she doesn’t need a watercooler to brainstorm with colleagues, doesn’t function on office coffee, and doesn’t need the cubicle maze to find her/his way around the workflow. 

An independent contractor is a fast and agile worker, used to functioning in a dynamic environment, without much accommodation time, and who can deliver fast and efficient results. 

If you want to expand to an offshore location, open a new office, but are afraid of the whole onboarding process and organisational procedures of finding people and onboarding them, then this is the solution. You can always find people who can work on the go, deliver results, and help cement a long-standing team in the long run. 

Find out more about our approach and what an independent contractor does.