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The importance of adapting onboarding and training for remote workforces

Posted October 27, 2020
Training for remote

Nearly one-third of all new hires quit their jobs within the first six months - a staggering statistic that costs companies millions of dollars. That makes new-hire training and orientation programs a key investment area as research shows that employees who experience well-structured onboarding programs are more likely to stay with a company through this initial phase and beyond.

Providing meaningful development opportunities is another key component to retaining employees over the long-term. And, the recent surge in remote work has made them a critical component of employee engagement, with 67.5% of respondents saying the top motivator to engagement is through virtual workshops and continued learning opportunities, according to a 1,000-person survey done by Pollfish in June. The reality is that unfortunately, the vast majority (78%) say they aren’t being given the learning and development opportunities they crave during the pandemic.

The importance of onboarding during the pandemic

A personal, informative and well-branded onboarding has always been important, but in today’s ‘new normal’, the number of employees being hired and onboarded virtually without ever stepping foot inside a company’s physical workplace has drastically increased. Impersonal or poorly executed onboarding programs can result in new employees feeling isolated and without an adequate support structure at a time when they’re seeking a personal connection.

Successful onboarding programs should go beyond the HR team and include a cross-functional internal team that further supports getting new hires quickly situated with the equipment, access to networks and systems and information required for their role. Not having the tools to enable their success can be extremely frustrating for new employees and create a bad first impression about the company’s overall competence. Companies should also virtually welcome and orient new hires through both formal meetings and more social and casual meet-and-greets with fellow team members at all levels of the organization, and could also consider setting up one-on-one mentoring relationships.

Prior to the pandemic, many forward-thinking companies were already incorporating virtual components into their onboarding process, says Bradford Bell, director of the Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies at Cornell University. Bell points to Bristol Myers Squibb, which recently used a design thinking approach to revamp its new hire orientation. For instance, with many new hires eager for information before officially joining the company, the team at Bristol Myers Squibb developed virtual resources that incoming employees could access between their offer and start date. Bell says other companies have similarly developed online portals where new employees can access information and orientation materials.

But, incorporating technology into online training doesn’t just mean digitizing existing training materials; it also means improving upon them and ensuring they suit the new digital channels on which they’re being offered. “Employees want their training sessions to be engaging and user-friendly like the apps and technology they use in their everyday lives,” says Marilyn Tyfting, chief corporate officer at TELUS International. “That’s why it’s so important to provide learning and development opportunities that reflect how tech-savvy they are and that enable them to customize their course curriculum to progress at their own speed. Incorporating aspects of gamification can also be fun!”

Bell says that several companies have reported success with these types of virtual onboarding and training initiatives to date. But, given the never before seen circumstances stemming from the global pandemic that are driving many of these changes, companies will need to monitor and adapt their programs on an ongoing basis as they gain greater clarity into the longer-term effects of virtual vs. in-person employee onboarding, training, development, and performance management.

Given the advances in digitization and globalization, for smaller companies that may lack a formal onboarding program, one thing is clear: creating one that’s entirely virtual is likely the right approach. Additionally, the program they create must include elements of human touch with regular virtual check-ins from supervisors, fellow team members and even company leaders. Those one-on-one and smaller, more meaningful interactions can go a long way toward helping new team members settle in and feel welcome.

How to take onboarding and training programs virtual

New-hire training and orientation is the employee’s introduction to the company and its culture, connecting the company’s mission to their individual job. The pandemic makes that connection even more important, as even long-time employees are experiencing changes in their connection to their companies. “We are all newcomers now, as our jobs, non-work demands, and so much else is in flux,” says Robert Sutton, a Stanford University professor and co-founder of the Center for Work, Technology and Organization. “We all need to stop and think about and revise how we work, our norms and even who we work with to fit what we do now.”

The right technology can take training programs to the next level. And when combined with internal social networks, team members can more easily connect, collaborate and build teams. They can also facilitate virtual celebrations and employee recognition. These activities also foster a company’s overall culture, as does giving new hires an introduction and digital access to affinity groups, clubs and networking opportunities.

Getting new-hire onboarding and training right, especially in today’s almost exclusively remote work environments, means paying attention to both the big and small things, from tools and equipment to culture and relationship-building. It’s a lot of moving parts, but by formalizing, investing in and continuously improving their new hire virtual onboarding and training experiences, companies will be positioned to improve employee engagement and reduce attrition levels today and well into the future.

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