While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a spike in unemployment, organizations such as online retailers, shipping companies, and communications firms are experiencing the opposite problem. They need new employees, and they need them now.
Hiring surges are good, but the onboarding process can trip up even the best companies, especially if you and your team already are stretched thin during times of crisis. Too often, leaders promote ill-prepared employees or hire bad fits simply out of desperation. They then either throw employees into a ton of work and expect them to adapt magically, or they end up still doing all the work themselves. Both are no-win situations for everyone involved.
Despite these challenges, proper onboarding is critical to any company's long-term success. A strong onboarding process can lead to higher retention and productivity. The key is strategically building a staff that scales with your company's demand, a model my branding and marketing firm, TBGA, always tries to execute. It may seem like a chicken or the egg situation – which comes first, new hires or new clients? – but simultaneously prioritizing both pipelines is the optimal route for maximizing employees' contributions to a company's long-term value.
Onboarding is hard work, but it's a long-term investment
According to a Gallup poll, only 12% of employees think their companies excel at onboarding new hires. Perhaps this should not be a complete surprise; onboarding is an inexact and intensive process. You have to develop onboarding materials, and you often have to do it while operating at full bandwidth. Plus, you have to build rapport with new hires and acclimate them with the culture and the people who will help them succeed.
But the effort is well worth it. Although some studies say it can take eight months for a new hire to become fully productive, a thorough onboarding process that goes far beyond the basic paperwork and administrative information can decrease the amount of time necessary to get new hires up to speed. That acclimation period can take up to six weeks during times of crisis, though it depends on the employee, the company and how complicated the new role is. Entry-level jobs and experienced employees slipping into familiar roles usually need less time to adjust, while cross-functional roles require more time.
For example, my company recently onboarded two new employees at the same time. While that sounds like a difficult process (and is one), it is my preferred method because I would rather be stretched a little thin and thereby encourage new hires to contribute immediately. This "learn with work" approach comes with a pair of benefits: It allows me to assess how good people will be in their designated roles, and it keeps my team and me accountable for building the most comprehensive onboarding process possible.
I am responsible for the training process and making sure our new hires feel comfortable coming to me with any questions. I also work to introduce new employees to other members of the team, giving them context regarding who works on which projects and how they can best collaborate.
An added wrinkle to onboarding brought on by COVID-19: Most companies are integrating these new hires into a culture still adjusting to the concept of widespread remote work. Our team has always been remote, so this hasn't been an issue for us. We have carefully baked onboarding into our culture, which has been key to ensuring our new hires are properly trained and can quickly become valuable team contributors.
Your team culture includes how you work with one another, so whether your new hires are empowered to do their jobs well is absolutely a reflection of the larger company. In short, you need to own your onboarding process and make the short-term investment to ensure the long-term success of your new hires.
Take ownership of onboarding
Studies show that one-fifth of new hires resign within the first 45 days on the job. When conducting onboarding remotely, the pressure to get it right is even higher – you cannot lean on surface-level onboarding activities like a tour of the office.
The following tips will help you ace your onboarding.
1. Contextualize job duties using previous collateral, work or technology.
Take a look through your previous client presentations, work summaries and collateral. Chances are, these materials can provide a ton of valuable information for a new hire learning the ropes.
An important part of our onboarding process is having new employees read through presentations from our weekly status meetings with clients. These presentations include a list of what we are working on, and they give a clear picture of our deliverables and processes.
It is also essential that new hires get acquainted with the tools they will use before their first days on the job. Before your new hires start, work with your IT department to set up their email, software, Slack and any other tech tools. Make sure they have everything they need to hit the ground running on day one.
If they are going to handle social media, make sure they have the proper credentials. If they are going to be handling SEO, make sure they have the SEO logins. IT can step in and provide a step-by-step tutorial on how to get all these resources set up, or your company can develop an in-house technology onboarding document that you share with all new hires.
Onboarding documentation can offer a dive deep on SEO and social standards, answer any FAQs, house emergency passwords, and feature other miscellaneous information that is crucial to the job. In turn, new hires can begin applying the information they learn to real and simulated scenarios to get more comfortable in their roles.
Being proactive in any situation is never a bad thing. By pulling together pertinent information ahead of time, you can focus on the important stuff right away.
2. Find overlap in must-do tasks and training opportunities.
Regardless of whether your new hires are recent graduates or seasoned pros, do not be afraid to give them hands-on work. They can learn a lot about a client or your processes by completing some of your more straightforward tasks, such as shadowing a meeting and taking notes or completing some portions of client onboarding.
In addition to familiarizing new hires with company norms, this approach will also free up other team members to handle more complex work. It offers a way to allow new employees to gain a solid understanding of your company while also being immediately useful.
For instance, we recently had one of our new hires redact client and employee perception interviews. It was easy work for her to complete, but reading these interviews also gave her a better understanding of the brands we are building for our clients and enabled her to help us get work out the door. In short, everyone benefits. We look at it this way: Just because a new employee has the right skills does not mean he or she knows how we operate – it's our responsibility to show them that.
We cannot just drop a task in someone's lap and expect them to deliver what we want. We have to provide specifics of the task, such as how it plays into the broader scope of the company, who is all involved in the project, and – most importantly – the why behind everything. Part of owning onboarding means taking an active role in being clear about the purpose of a task, and how it helps both the new hire and the company as a whole.
3. Be ready to troubleshoot.
New workplaces, naturally, come with mounds of questions and concerns. As qualified and experienced as a new hire might be, employees who are more seasoned and familiar with company processes are invaluable resources to help answer questions during the onboarding period. To own onboarding, leaders and longtime employees need to be available to troubleshoot and answer any questions that might cause confusion.
That availability can materialize in many ways. You can answer questions in real time, either in person or through a messaging platform. You can establish in-person or virtual office hours dedicated to answering any lingering questions new hires might have. For remote employees, a reliable videoconferencing tool like Zoom or Cisco Webex can help replicate that in-person experience. Scheduling individual check-ins with these new hires is a good way to ensure new hires feel heard and to keep managers and leaders accountable for answering any necessary questions.
We try to be open from the outset with our new hires about what the landscape is and what they will be asked to do in their roles. Because we move fast, questions and details might get lost in translation, which is why I make myself open and accountable to the entire onboarding process. I even let new hires know that they can get in touch with me through specific communication channels if they are not getting the attention they need. I welcome all questions they have about workload, workflow and whatever else they need during this transition.
Though a remote setup is nothing new for my company, organizations trying to adjust to working away from the office in the wake of COVID-19 have to take an all-hands-on-deck approach. That means being ready, willing, and able to answer any questions new hires might have to make their adjustment – and your company's workflow – stay smooth and uninterrupted.
Owning your onboarding process and deliberately planning a smart approach versus throwing your new hire into the job without any prep takes work. But it is a worthwhile investment that will help your new hire quickly get up to speed and feel like a valuable team member.
Whether things are chaotic because you are super busy or due to a global crisis like COVID-19, it is still possible, and more necessary than ever, to design a great onboarding experience.