Hiring Trends: 4 Tips to Onboard New Employees Remotely

By Seamus Roddy / 20 August 2020

6 in 10 companies have hired a new employee since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to our survey of 234 U.S employees. Businesses should have the ability to remotely welcome more than one employee at a time through a standardized, months-long onboarding process. Since onboarding is an introduction to a company’s culture, businesses should use onboarding to help employees develop healthy work habits.

Fletcher Wimbush didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.

Wimbush, chief executive of The Hire Talent, an executive search firm, thought that the COVID-19 pandemic would hurt his business. If companies weren’t hiring, they weren’t going to contract his services. Adding a new employee to his own team was far from consideration.

Instead, Wimbush instructed his recruiters to target accounting firms as new clients, believing that accounting services would remain a necessity during the pandemic.

His bet paid off. The Hire Talent rapidly added new accounting firms as clients, and Wimbush came to a startling realization: He needed to hire a new executive recruiter.

Wimbush’s realization was not unusual. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding economic downturn, 60% of companies hired at least 1 new employee since the pandemic began.

Onboarding new hires in the age of remote work requires creativity and planning. For Wimbush, onboarding Mya, the new executive recruiter, meant using remote technology and assigning an experienced employee to meet with her each day during her first week of work at the beginning of August 2020.

For other firms, remote onboarding requires welcoming multiple new teammates at once, establishing healthy work habits, and following a standardized, long-term onboarding plan.

Businesses can use a strong onboarding plan to effectively welcome and train new hires despite the remote work environment.

Our Findings

  • 46% of businesses who have hired during COVID-19 onboarded 10 or more new employees, indicating that companies should be prepared to welcome multiple new workers to their team at one time.
  • Only 3% of companies expect more than one-third of their workforce to leave the company in the next year. This suggests that standardized onboarding ensures teammates of different experience levels work together effectively and reduces turnover.
  • 61% of companies expect new hires to stay at their company for 2 or more years, so onboarding should be a months-long process.
  • 37% of businesses say work-life imbalance is likely to cause employees to leave their company, suggesting that businesses benefit when they use onboarding to make sure employees have healthy work habits.

1. Prepare to Onboard Multiple Employees at Once

Companies should expect to remotely onboard more than one employee at a time to maximize efficiency and meet hiring demands.

Of the companies who have hired new employees since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, close to half (46%) have hired 10 or more employees.

46% of companies have hired 10 or more new employees during COVID-19

To prepare for such hiring demand, companies should have the capability to onboard multiple teammates at once.

Onboarding groups of employees was a common practice for many companies before the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses can execute similarly when onboarding a group of employees virtually.

“Onboarding in groups is much more efficient and less time-consuming,” said Allan Borch, growth hacker and founder of DotcomDollar, a website that provides resources to business bloggers.

Onboarding in groups is much more efficient and less time-consuming.

Borch has applied many of his typical onboarding principles to the virtual environment, such as:

  • Giving new hires a few different start dates to choose from.
  • Sending new hires an email one week before their chosen start date with company details and the itinerary for the first week of work.

Since the start of remote work due the COVID-19 pandemic, Borch has begun to:

  • Send new employees company gear and equipment through the mail around the time of onboarding.
  • Host a day-long Zoom meeting on employees’ first day to discuss everything from company goals to DotcomDollar’s diversity initiatives.

Borch took stock of the remote work reality, evaluated what onboarding strategies still worked, and introduced new initiatives that met the current business environment.

A potential pitfall of group onboarding is that it can feel impersonal, especially when working remotely. William Taylor, senior career advisor at VelvetJobs, an employer branding service, suggests expanding beyond largely text-based communication such as Slack and email.

Instead, use video chat tools to have conversations with new hires that feel as if they are taking place face-to-face. One of Taylor’s clients has even started to ask new hires to submit a headshot and fun facts to be shared with the company. This way, new hires feel like real people, not just names behind a screen.

With creativity and strong onboarding principles, companies can effectively and efficiently onboard groups of new hires.

2. Standardize Employee Onboarding

Employees have various degrees of experience. Standardized onboarding will help make business teams cohesive and effective.

Only 3% of HR professionals expect more than one-third of their employees to leave the company in the next year. Companies will probably onboard most of their new hires into teams with veteran workers.

only 3% of companies expect more than one-third of their workforce to leave the company

A standardized onboarding process can help employees with different levels of experience and from different generations engage with a common company culture.

Niall Mullins, head of people at Unibuddy, a B2B tech startup that provides peer recruitment software to universities, says that his company has recruited more than 30 new teammates remotely since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The HR department established an “Onboarding Academy” where new recruits have a standardized onboarding process that includes:

  • Group meetings with different departments
  • An “onboarding buddy” who checks in on the employee’s progress.
  • Question and answer sessions with the company founders
  • Advice on company etiquette and best practices

Mullins says the “Onboarding Academy” has shortened onboarding time, improved employee performance, and contributed to a higher employee retention.

Other companies typically onboard employees individually and use HR technology to standardize the experience for workers.

Natalia Kavchak, HR director at ByteAnt, a software development company, uses BambooHR to create onboarding checklists for each department.

BambooHR Onboarding Tasks

This way, employees from HR to accounting to management know what they need to do to bring a new teammate up to speed.

Plus, BambooHR allows ByteAnt to have new employees fill out paperwork and documents before their first day. Now, new employees use the first few days of work to learn about the company culture and their specific roles.

Standardized and documented employee onboarding is an effective strategy to ensure that all employees understand and respect the broader company.

3. Develop a Long-Term Onboarding Process

When hiring, companies should plan for onboarding to be a gradual, lengthy process.

More 6 in 10 HR professionals (61%) say that an average employee stays at their company for 2 years or longer.

How Long Employees Stay at a Company

In comparison, 20% of HR professionals expect employees to stay at a company for 1 to 2 years; only 19% anticipate employees’ tenure to be 1 year or less.

If companies anticipate their employees will spend years on the payroll, having a months-long onboarding process makes sense.

“Onboarding should be a gradual process because we spend money to acquire talent, and we want to retain it,” said J.P. Brousseau, CEO of Phone Loops, a cellphone accessory company.  “Ensuring that new hires' first year is productive, efficient, and positive helps us reduce turnover.”

During its year-long onboarding process, Phone Loops makes sure employees understand:

  1. What they need to know to perform their role: Employees should fully understand their duties and responsibilities. They should also be fully trained on how to use different tools and technology to accomplish their tasks.
  2. How to live the company’s values: Employee mentors reinforce company policies and norms such as treating other employees with respect and demonstrating commitment to diversity and inclusion.
  3. Accountability, boundaries, and resources: What are employees’ core expectations? When is an appropriate time to send an email or schedule a meeting or reach out to a colleague offline? Where can employees go for help and whom should they ask questions? Gradual onboarding should eventually answer most of these common early-in-the-role questions.
  4. How to build professional relationships: Employees with strong internal relationships will likely feel less isolated and more connected to the company’s mission. Helping a new employee organize coffee chats or happy hours can help them meet their colleagues.

Broad, long-term onboarding goals can be good benchmarks, but companies may want to create an onboarding plan with specific weekly targets.

Ruggero Loda, founder of Running Shoes Guru, a running shoe reviews website, employs more than 20 testers, freelancers, and full-time staff members.

He typically onboards product testers by using a detailed 3-month timeline, broken into weekly increments:

  • Week 1: New hires spend time reading past reviews.
  • Week 2: Loda teaches testers about the business model, audience, and standard operating procedures.
  • Week 3: Testers practice creating a review with products they already own.
  • Week 4: Managers assess the practice reviews and provide feedback about what was done well and what can be improved.
  • Weeks 5 to 8: Testers advance to writing reviews about new shoes. By week 8, testers usually have enough confidence to work autonomously.
  • Weeks 9 to 12: Testers work autonomously but have regular check-ups. Managers flag any persistent issues and approve when employees roll off the onboarding phase.

Phone Loops’ onboarding is effective because it is clearly defined and anticipates gradual employee growth.

Companies with long-term onboarding processes help ensure their employees will succeed.

4. Emphasize Healthy Work Habits During Remote Onboarding

Successful employees have healthy work habits, so companies should emphasize appropriate work-life balance when onboarding new employees.

More than one-third of HR professionals (37%) say that work-life imbalance is likely to cause employees to leave their company in the next year.

37% of HR professionals say work-life imbalances cause employees to leave their company

Experts say it is important to highlight the importance of work-life balance, especially in a remote work environment.

Developing a standard, reasonable, well-defined workday is important if employees are to succeed when working remotely.

Antti Alatalo, CEO and founder of Smart Watches 4 U, mandates onboarding employees work between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. This way, employees understand that they are expected to work 8 hours per day and develop the discipline and focus required to complete their work.

After completing onboarding, Alatalo’s employees are granted the flexibility to determine their own work hours.

Companies should emphasize other behaviors that demonstrate employee wellness, such as taking vacation and time off.

Mostly, businesses should be aware that new employees will make judgments about the company’s work-life culture during onboarding.

“Onboarding is the time when new hires are indoctrinated into the culture,” said Laura Handrick, HR professional at Choosing Therapy, a mental and behavioral health website. “Work-life balance either is or is not part of the culture.”

Onboarding is the time when new hires are indoctrinated into the culture.

Handrick says that promoting a healthy work-life balance during onboarding is not meaningful if employees are teased or harassed for:

  • Taking all their vacation days
  • Asking for time to take children to appointments
  • Going for a walk at lunch
  • Failing to answer work communications overnight or outside of standard business hours

A culture of authentic, healthy work habits is difficult to fake. By stressing the importance of work-life balance, companies reveal a positive business culture to new employees.

Meet Hiring Trends by Onboarding Employees Remotely

Businesses must have creative, thoughtful plans to onboard new employees when their workforce is largely remote.

Virtual onboarding has its challenges but can be effective if businesses follow 4 remote onboarding tips:

  1. Be ready to onboard more than one employee at a time.
  2. Develop a standardized onboarding process.
  3. Plan for an employee’s onboarding to last for months, not weeks.
  4. Use onboarding to help employees develop healthy, sustainable work habits.

As hiring increases, companies can leverage remote onboarding to keep their business growing and profitable.

About the Survey

The Manifest surveyed 234 U.S. employees who work for a company in August 2020.

Thirty-four percent (34%) live in the South; 29% in the Midwest; 22% in the West; and 14% in the Northeast.

Forty-nine percent of respondents (49%) are female; 43% are male; 9% did not identify their gender.

Twenty-four percent (24%) of respondents are ages 18-34; 41% are ages 35-54; 24% are 55 years old and above; 11% did not give their age.

The Manifest also surveyed 505 HR professionals in the U.S.

Sixty-two percent (62%) describe their role as a hiring manager; 50% as a human resources generalist; 34% as recruiting or staffing specialist; 20% as an executive; 10% as a consultant; and 5% as other.

Thirty-five percent (35%) live in the South; Twenty-four percent (24%) live in the Midwest; 19% in the West; and 18% in the Northeast.

Six in 10 respondents (60%) are female, and 40% are male.

Forty-three percent (43%) of respondents are ages 18-34; 47% are ages 35-54; and 10% are 55 years old and above.

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