Onboarding In A Virtual Workplace With A Coaching Culture Buddy

As many workplaces became virtual environments as a result of the forced closure of many offices in the wake of the Covid pandemic, one clear trend to emerge was the difficulty in making new hires feel like a part of the team. Across various surveys, employers and employees alike expressed dissatisfaction with the onboarding process during the pandemic.

While there are obvious procedural aspects of onboarding, such as getting people set up with the right technologies and platforms, giving them access to key systems, and providing introductions to key personnel in the organization, the key aspects of onboarding are the soft elements whereby you not only learn who to go to in order to get things done, but you learn how the organization operates, the culture it abides by, and the behavioral expectations it has.

For instance, a key part of the onboarding process is the establishment of the kind of key relationships that will underpin the success of that new hire in their role. While in a physical workplace, many organizations would rely on spontaneous and organic interactions to help people make those connections, many struggled to replicate that when onboarding was being done virtually.

Coaching your way to integration

A growing trend in the years prior to Covid was onboarding coaching, which specifically aims to help new hires through their first 100 days or so. The onboarding coach helps them to understand the working practices of the organization, to assimilate the culture, and identify the key formal and informal networks that will be key to their role.

These coaches can be tremendously important in helping people to settle effectively into the organization, thus helping not only to reduce the eight months that is common before a new hire is fully productive, but also reduce the 33% of new hires who quit within their first 90 days.

Let’s look at a few of these key roles in more detail. While most organizations have explicitly codified processes, the glue that tends to dictate how things function is often more subtle and unspoken. As such, new hires can only really absorb this information through osmosis by being around people who live and breathe the way things work. When onboarding is done virtually then it is often overly reliant on the explicit forms and processes and much less effective at highlighting these unspoken assumptions. The onboarding coach helps to remove the guesswork from the assumptions process and helps new hires to really know how things work.

The onboarding coach can also act as a kind of “culture buddy”. Even in the best organizations, the onboarding process can be a lot for new hires to take in, especially when they are trying so hard to figure out what it is they are required to do, let alone how they are supposed to do it. Having an onboarding coach to act as an impartial and friendly sounding board to fire questions off and learn from can be especially important in a virtual environment where you are often literally on your own trying to figure out how things operate.

Coaching remotely

Doing all of this remotely presents a number of unique challenges. The onboarding coach should have a thorough understanding of the organization, the culture that underpins it, and the expectations of both the new hire and the wider organization. They then need to thoroughly understand the new hire themselves, including their personality, the culture of the organization they came from, and their standard ways of working.

In terms of the coaching itself, while it might seem as though the whole world is on Zoom or Teams at the moment, it is important not to dictate the medium per se. While there may be merit in using some of the platforms the new hire will use in their day job, we also see Zoom fatigue become a lasting problem, so if people want time off the screen and do things over the phone or even via email, that should be an option too.

When you are holding one-to-one briefing calls with them, make sure you do so in an environment that will allow you to focus purely on the conversation at hand. It is remarkably easy to become distracted on video calls by our emails or other work interruptions, so try to ensure that the duration of your call is just the two of you.

If you are utilizing video, make sure you have good equipment. With the prevalence of video meetings during the pandemic, the more forward-thinking organizations were supporting staff with technical equipment, such as noise-cancelling headphones and a microphone. These can make all the difference to an effective briefing.

You should also try to make sure that you have an agenda for the meeting so that it does not wander aimlessly. It is important that you cover the key things that will underpin the integration of the new hire into the organization, and having an agenda helps to make sure you stay on track.

It is increasingly well understood that onboarding is crucial to successful recruitment and retention, and although a virtual or even hybrid environment can present challenges to effective onboarding, these should not be insurmountable ones. Hopefully, the tips above will help to get you off on the right foot.

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