Chances are that your company’s onboarding process went virtual due to COVID-19 restrictions. You might have shipped equipment to new hires’ homes instead of the office, replaced first-day team lunches with Zoom ones, and skipped the office tours.
And now, your company might be returning to in-person operations. After months of working from home, you and your team will have to start trekking back to the office. It’s going to be an adjustment for everyone—but especially those employees who started at your company remotely (or who started only a few weeks before your company went virtual). Suddenly, they’ll find themselves somewhere they’ve never set foot in before. And for the first time, they’ll be face-to-face with colleagues they’re used to talking to from behind their computer screens.
You and your colleagues in HR can re-onboard remote hires to help them adjust to their new reality instead of having them depend on the virtual onboarding they received when they began.
If you started your role in person, think back to your own onboarding experience. In those initial days on the job, you learned where everything was, met your colleagues face-to-face, and got a good grasp on the interpersonal dynamics at play.
When your remote hires started at the company, they had a much different experience than you did. While you and your colleagues likely went above and beyond to help these employees acclimate to their new environment, nothing can fully replace the in-person onboarding experience. As executive coach Rebecca Zucker wrote in the Harvard Business Review, re-onboarding employees who started remotely “will help create a continued positive employee experience and help further socialize them into the organization’s culture, given that this group of employees will likely not have met their fellow team members in person, nor likely have ever been to the organization’s physical offices.”
Zucker offers valuable tips in her article on how to re-onboard employees who started remotely. Her tips are to:
Enable remote hires to bond together (via lunches and other events)
Adopt a thoughtful approach to re-onboarding (such as by leaving company swag on employees’ desks on their first day in the office)
Give them a walkthrough of the office and all amenities
Keep managers in the loop and have them regularly check in with the remote hires
Put together a buddy system that connects remote hires with employees who’ve been at the company longer
Organize informal events (like picnics) that give remote hires and other employees the opportunity to get to know each other informally
In addition to Zucker’s excellent advice, we have some of our own. Here are three more ways you can re-onboard remote hires like the HR pro you already are.
When they worked from home, remote hires had a lot of control over shaping their work setups and days. For example, they could opt to work from a coffee shop on Wednesdays, or they could choose to start their days later so they could get their child to school and get a workout in. One of the reasons remote hires might feel hesitant about going to the office is that they think they’ll lose the comfort of how they’ve crafted their working experience. They might think you’re about to tell them when and how to work.
When you re-onboard your remote hires, ensure them that you want to help them re-create what’s been working for them. Giving your people as much flexibility as possible on their work setups and schedules will show everyone that the company cares about their experience (hello, employee engagement!).
Our sense of control is so important. Here’s how Pultizer Prize-winning reporter and author Charles Duhigg puts it in his book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business: “Simply giving employees a sense of agency—a feeling that they are in control, that they have genuine decision-making authority—can radically increase how much energy and focus they bring to their jobs.”
Another way to view this is through the lens of your previous experiences. Weren’t you happier at work when you could request, say, specific desk equipment or choose when you took your lunches? Your remote hires will likely feel the same.
Of course, we advocate giving remote hires flexibility within reason—if they’re used to working on their bed with their five dogs beside them, that’s (tragically for the dog lovers) not something that you’ll be able to accommodate at the office. But if they want a couch somewhere in the office, or prefer a standing desk instead of a traditional one, or want to start and leave an hour earlier than usual, that’s more doable.
Remote hires got started with remote processes and expectations. So, for example, they never had to wonder if it was ok to walk up to a manager who looked like they were in deep work mode; instead, they just sent them a Slack message.
A return to the office comes with an adjustment period for new processes, preferences, and expectations. Again, going back to the example above, some managers might not prefer Slack messages if in-person communication is an option. That’s why as part of re-onboarding remote hires, you and the HR team should sit down with managers and encourage them to talk with their remote hires about the best way to work with everyone while in the office.
Here are some examples of things managers could say to remote hires:
“Now that we’re back in the office, I prefer communicating face-to-face whenever possible. So feel free to come by my desk instead of sending me a Slack message if you need to clarify something about projects.”
“I know that when we were working remotely, last-minute Zoom meetings were typical. However, because we have to book conference rooms in advance at the office, we now have to plan meetings as far in advance as possible. Please keep this in mind!”
“When we were working remotely, you liked going on a short walk after lunch each day. Please don’t feel like you need to stop doing so because we’re back in the office! There’s a great park nearby that’s great for walking.”
As remote hires begin to interact with their managers and colleagues in person, they’ll learn more about these types of preferences along the way. First, however, it’s a good idea for managers to give them a baseline to minimize misunderstandings and frustrations. Circling back to the scenarios above, if managers don’t give remote hires that clarity, here’s what could happen:
The remote hire could send Slack messages to their manager, not knowing that the manager prefers face-to-face interaction when possible, resulting in the manager forming a negative impression of the employee.
Meetings don’t occur because the remote hire waits until the last minute to schedule them, and all the conference rooms are taken.
Thinking that taking walks after lunch is no longer permissible, the remote hire stops doing so and experiences a decline in productivity and happiness as a result.
One way to help remote hires (and your other employees) keep track of these updated processes, preferences, and expectations is to have each person add notes to their employee profile on your company org chart’s employee directory. That way, if a remote hire doesn’t know, say, what the communication preference of one of their colleagues is, they can simply click on their profile to find out.
Your pulse survey is your most important tool to gauge how these big changes are being received. When COVID first hit and we all went remote, you likely surveyed employees at various points on how things were going, offering them a chance to give you feedback so you could make any necessary changes.
Anonymously survey your remotely onboarded new hires and ask them what their #1 concern is about returning to the office. Then, gather them all and share what patterns you saw and your plans to make sure their concerns are addressed.
Giving everyone the space to express concerns, and see them addressed by you, is a huge driver of positive employee engagement. You’ll show your people that their work matters—and the company cares about each person on an individual level.
Make sure you take the seemingly small feedback seriously, too. For example, maybe someone doesn’t like their workstation setup and another person wants different snacks in the kitchen. Seems trivial, but we spend a lot of time at work and with our peers. Feeling comfortable and like you have what you need is part of what makes any company a great place to work.
As you make the return to the office, keep your remotely onboarded people top of mind. You can approach your re-onboarding as a critical piece of the successful return back to the office for your entire organization. Offer flexibility and choice whenever possible to keep engagement and productivity high. Focus on the needs of your people just the same as you would focus on the needs of your customers—happy and engaged employees will go above and beyond for your organization, and your culture will be better for it!
Pingboard can help you create a winning re-onboarding process for your remote hires. Sign up for a Pingboard account to help your remote hires and your more tenured employees feel productive and happy once they’re back in the office.
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