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Onboarding During a Pandemic

Ashley Jolman, CSM

October 6, 2020

Is it possible to successfully onboard a new employee, completely remote? How has COVID-19 changed the way new employees are integrated? Here’s my experience of virtual onboarding, along with some surprising benefits I encountered along the way.

I started a new job without physically meeting anyone at my new company. Without ever seeing the office. This must be the “new normal” I keep hearing about, welcome to 2020!

Pre-Boarding Process

I applied for this position in an ordinary way. I submitted my resume and cover letter as instructed on the company website. My first in-person interview was scheduled for March 23, 2020. This is a significant day in Michigan because it was the day our governor declared a statewide shutdown. To comply, Bulb transitioned my interview to a Microsoft Teams call. This was seamless for them, after all, they are a company that guides businesses into modern workplaces. However, it felt unusual for the first step of my interview to be to download Microsoft Teams. Luckily, I did that successfully, and then had 2 more interviews followed by a job offer, all completely virtually.

Virtual Onboarding

If accepting a job offer when you’ve never physically met anyone isn’t odd enough, the next step is virtual onboarding. Onboarding virtually, during a pandemic, sounds like it would lead to feeling distant and disconnected from coworkers. However, my experience was quite the opposite. Historically, I wasn’t one to talk much about my personal life at work (at least not outside of my close work friends). I didn’t even keep personal photos of my family on my desk. Fast forward to 2020, my kids are now barging into virtual meetings in their PJs and suddenly these coworkers I’ve never met know me on quite a personal level. If I’m working in a different room in my house, they know. If my husband is also on virtual meetings using up our bandwidth, they know. The list of personal topics I never thought would be closely intertwined with my professional life is long. However, this reveal of each other’s personal lives leads to deeper relationships, which leads to connectedness, which is ultimately a happier, more productive workplace for all.

Communicating Expectations

Getting new employees connected to their coworkers while onboarding virtually is an important achievement. However, what about getting new employees connected to the actual work? If there is anything I’ve learned through virtual onboarding it’s that everything needs to be very intentional, and you cannot over-communicate. Casual conversations that usually happen when working in the office no longer exist. Instead of overhearing work talk and jumping in when relevant, both myself and my new coworkers needed to intentionally reach out to each other in order to plug me into the work. Having a meeting in the office and having the physical reminder of someone who should also attend the meeting is a vastly different experience than challenging yourself to intentionally review virtual meetings and ensure new employees are included.  

Another loss of information comes in the lack of side conversations usually had before or after a meeting. In the traditional office setting, I would likely learn a lot about a project by asking a few casual questions to a coworker either before or after an in-person meeting. However, there is something very final about pressing the “leave” button at the end of a virtual meeting. Virtual employees and employers need to be very intentional about setting up follow up times to talk or ask questions and always error on the side of over communication.

A Continued Learning Experience

Finally, I have learned that companies who have a strong sense of their culture and values will continue to thrive in a virtual world. I knew early on what Bulb’s values and culture were because they live by these things. One of their values is to “Embrace the Unknown.”  I am sure they could not have imagined how relevant that slogan is in these unprecedented times. Living by this value prepared them to quickly pivot during uncertain times. A strong sense of company values helps immensely during the virtual onboard process and will continue to offer benefits as we navigate the virtual work world.

Virtual onboarding is different, and there is no denying the challenges. But companies who can recognize and emphasize the benefits of this new normal will effectively navigate through. So, fire up those webcams, have an open mind and continue to embrace the unknown.

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