Some people who never set foot on-site are finally coming to work. Are you ready to re-onboard employees who started remotely?
Nearly everyone who’s worked remotely the past 18 months might need some introduction back to work. But people who were hired, onboarded and only worked remotely aren’t well adapted. In a TINYpulse survey, researchers found new hires didn’t connect with company values or engage with colleagues as well as those hired prior to the pandemic.
What’s more, about two-thirds of new employees admit training in-person is more enjoyable and successful than doing it remotely, a Paychex survey found.
Fortunately, most companies are taking the employee experience – from hiring and onboarding to long-term satisfaction and loyalty – seriously. Ninety-four percent of leaders in a Willis Towers Watson survey said they want to improve the employee experience. Only about half of the leaders cared that much about employee experience prior to the pandemic!
“As organizations look ahead to a post-pandemic era, their ability to move the needle on the employee experience will be critical,” said Suzanne McAndrew, global head of Talent Advisory, Data and Software at Willis Towers Watson.
Here are expert tips on re-onboarding employees who started remotely and getting everyone reintroduced to the changed workplace.
Recognize the dynamic change
Your people and culture have changed, so onboarding – or re-onboarding – needs to be updated to reflect that.
You aren’t just reuniting the gang. You and front-line managers will need to introduce and onboard a sophomore-kind of class to the group. They might know others via Zoom and email, but they probably don’t understand personal dynamics.
And those who you want to re-onboard might know the company history and the culture you’ve told them. But they don’t know the real culture – the one that employees experience.
Work with a diverse group of managers and employees to identify changes in your workplace and how you can address them in re-onboarding. You might even look at new workplace norms to adopt, visions to create and goals to initiate.
Let remote hires bond
Employees who started remotely are unique: They experienced onboarding mentally together, yet physically apart.
And they likely haven’t had much of a chance to connect over it.
So bring together all employees who where hired remotely – across departments and levels – for lunch, coffee, training, etc. Organize icebreakers or speed networking so they can start conversations and learn from each other.
Even better: Do something special for their first day on the jobsite. Take them to lunch, fill their space with company swag, or leave special welcome notes from the team at their workspace.
Give the culture tour again
You may have done some culture training during initial onboarding. But don’t think it stuck.
“It’s hard to start a brand-new job remotely. We learn how to navigate a workplace’s culture by watching other people and how they interact,” said Art Markman, University of Texas professor and author of Bring Your Brain to Work, in The Harvard Business Review. “Remote onboarding can be particularly difficult for people who are fairly new to the working world and transitioning from school to a job; they don’t get the opportunity to just see how work works.”
To show them how work works, try to:
- Remind them who to turn to for what. New employees probably turned to their direct boss and a teammate or two for most direction while working remotely. Now they can reach broader for help with IT, HR, Payroll, etc.
- Give them mentors. It’s easier to meet, chat and learn now they’re on-site. Consider mentorships that cross departments, functions and/or experience to improve overall collaboration and relationships. Less formally, buddy up new employees with veterans who can show them around and share insights that will make them more comfortable in their new digs.
- Create opportunities to connect. Build social interactions into the workplace. You don’t have to organize it all. Instead, give front-line managers resources, space and time to help teams reconnect.
Do the physical tour
When you re-onboard employees who started remotely, give them the lay of the land.
Remember, these new employees never – or barely – stepped foot on-site. And if they did, the place was probably deserted.
You likely shared new or different health and safety guidelines with them (and everyone, for that matter) before they’re back. Now, when they come on-site, you can help them see what the guidelines really mean.
Show common spaces and the expectations for how they’ll interact in those. Tell them about office norms that haven’t changed – such as expectations for courtesy, collegiality and teamwork.
Guide them through the informal office protocols, too – such as break room etiquette, office supplies use and communication processes. And remember even less formal info – such as best place to get coffee, lunch or a beer, who to turn to for “insider” info on the local scene, where to get a haircut or drop off dry cleaning, etc.
When you re-onboard employees, remember they’ve missed more than just the past 12-plus months with colleagues. They’ve missed the years other employees worked together. Had they been on-site, they likely would’ve heard more stories about those years. Hear the stories of glory and gory enough, and new employees sometimes feel they were there when it happened!
Encourage front-line managers to talk about successes, above-and-beyond efforts, goals reached and team triumphs. They don’t need to skim over the misses. They’ll just want to talk up the lessons learned from those.
And encourage employees to reach out to new hires and ask about their experiences. Then they can share stories that will help new hires feel more comfortable and able to connect in the workplace.
Keep up the connection
Employees who were hired remotely have been with you more than a year. But, they’re still newbies. You and their front-line managers want to continue to check in on how they’re adapting to the job and the workplace.
It’s particularly important because Gallup researchers found it takes close to a year for any employee to get fully “up to speed” in most jobs. That’s even if they start working on-site.
So schedule regular check-ins after you re-onboard employees and ask how they’re adapting to the work and the workplace.