There are a lot of “firsts” in our lives, some more significant and memorable than others. I wouldn’t say that I have a good long-term memory, but I’ve never had a problem vividly recalling things that are important to me in terms of being significantly impactful moments in my life. That said, I can say without hesitation that I remember every one of my first-day-on-the-job experiences, right down to what I wore on those days.  Each was poignantly unique, and several of these experiences were positive while some left a bit to be desired.

Regardless of sentiment, the point is I remember, and I bet you do too. And that’s because of something that’s probably fallen off the radar a bit during today’s crisis, but that we need to be actively considering now so we’re adapting based on what we’ve learned and making it the best experience it can be – onboarding.

Managing Through Uncertainty Onboarding Banner

Memorable experiences continue to be important

The first day on the job is important, but it’s not the beginning of the experience you provide employees. Finding your company’s job listing, reading and understanding the job description and your culture, gathering the information required to apply, evaluating the complexity of the application process – these are all chances during your recruiting cycle to make a strong first impression. It’s a great opportunity to take advantage of a memorable moment in someone’s life – applying for a job – and make an instant and lasting impact on them. If you start building a positive perception of your organization early in applicants, you can evolve that later when you choose new hires to aid in retention and engagement.

The time between when a candidate accepts a job offer and when they start work is critical.

Preboarding is where you can start adding to the foundation you’ve built during recruitment. The time between when a candidate accepts a job offer and when they start work is critical, and you can do a lot here to ensure your new hires don’t second-guess their choice to work for you. Create opportunities for them to start meeting teammates they’ll work with, start chatting with mentors, prepare any documents needed for their first day, submit preliminary information, and get hooked in to company announcements and procedures. You can create a sense of belonging during this time that will flow seamlessly into your actual onboarding process.

Onboarding itself is where a lot of new challenges are facing us. It has always been vital to the start of the employee journey, but the current situation has revealed some ways in which we need to change our onboarding approaches. But that said, the concept of employee onboarding as a significant moment that matters in the overall employee experience isn’t diminished by COVID-19. In fact, it should be focused on more than ever, which means HR and business professionals’ ability to be aware of trends, changes, and opportunities to improve the process is vital.

Regulatory changes are shifting onboarding processes

Through all the disruption that has occurred and will occur, it’s tough to remember that some compliance issues have actually become easier to manage these days, particularly for employers that have been forced to operate remotely or are at least trying to minimize physical contact. Take, for example, I-9 regulations.

I-9s have always been a necessary yet tedious task for HR professionals, but they’ve been made more efficient and are at least temporarily easier for both parties involved when remote work is mandated. As we know, during the onboarding process new hires must physically show the person conducting the orientation two forms of identification in order to satisfy I-9 requirements, but the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it will exercise temporary discretion and allow employers with employees taking remote work precautions to review the employee’s identity and employment authorization documents remotely. This is one way the government has intervened for employers, lessening the onboarding burden for them and for the new hire.

Track how regulations have changed so you can adapt your processes effectively.

Once normal operations resume, all employees who were onboarded using remote verification will need to report to their employer within three business days for in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation. This is something organizations are going to have to plan for when resuming physical operations so they stay in compliance. It pays to keep track of how I-9s and other onboarding-related compliance issues have shifted so you can adapt your practices effectively, avoid risk of violations, and offer more flexibility and relief to new employees whenever possible.

Day One is often going virtual

While speaking at HR conferences, I often ask my audiences what their onboarding experiences have been like, both positive and negative. I’ve heard a lot of things, but one story sticks with me more than others. When I asked the question, a woman raised her hand and said she received a large telephone-book-sized manual on her desk, and she was told to read the entire thing for the first two weeks of her employment, with this serving as new employee “training.” Furthermore, none of her technology was set up or ready to be used. This is clearly not the employee experience companies should strive to emulate, but it does illustrate just how far in the wrong direction things can go when employee experience isn’t taken into account.

Unfortunately, the reality right now is that many employers don’t have the luxury of trying to onboard in person right now due to COVID-19. As such, they’re having to virtually onboard staff in many cases, and that’s something that can easily turn into a “phonebook of rules” situation. Despite no physical presence, however, there are unique ways to start new hires off right. By utilizing a robust digital ecosystem, employers rethink the virtual onboarding employee experience and make it memorable and engaging.

It starts with employee information collected during the application process seamlessly carrying over to the company HCM system once they’re hired. This process makes virtual onboarding easy, efficient, and most importantly accurate. Furthermore, HCM technology allows employees to fill out new hire paperwork and receive company documents effortlessly. Signatures can be stored in the employee record to help meet compliance standards as well.

Build a sense of belonging, even from afar.

To showcase an engaging and fun company culture, a few simple things to consider are team video chats, one-on-one manager meetings, sending lunch to the employee’s home, or sending a care package of company gear to arrive on their first day. Even in less interactive technology environments, you can still embed company culture videos or even pre-recorded greetings from managers and colleagues into the onboarding checklists you assign through your HCM system. Of course, making sure the employee has all of their vital technology equipment, logins, and passwords needed is another great way to make them feel valued and welcome on day one.

Even if you can’t move your employees to remote work due to the nature of your organization or industry, you should still consider virtual preboarding and onboarding practices if it’s possible to do so. Pushing onboarding activities to employee mobile devices is a great way to do this, and by giving them extra time to prepare to come onsite and setting them up with what to expect when they get there, you can ensure they know your safety standards and that they have all the resources up front to help them feel confident and secure in their actions when they arrive at your physical location. And that brings us to our next point.

Safety is the first priority

Another part of post-COVID-19 onboarding should be a deep focus on employee safety training and procedures. Many working remotely have grown accustomed to the psychological and physical safety of their home environment, so returning onsite may cause fear and anxiety for some. Meanwhile, essential employees who have to keep working in physical locations will expect higher standards of protection. Be ready to address these concerns with any new employees joining:

  • Will there be hand sanitizer readily available? 
  • Will masks be required while in public spaces?
  • Will there be a heavier degree of personal protective equipment required for some roles? 
  • What are the protocols if an employee feels sick? 
  • Will there be sneeze guards over cubicles? 

These are all the kinds of questions you can answer up front for new employees to help alleviate stress.

Overcommunicating and anticipating questions before they arise with new employees (and existing as well) about safety measures the company is taking to protect their health will help alleviate some fears. Making this effort also shows you care about the whole person – not just their role as a worker.

Another consideration for onboarding now is ensuring the new hires are aware of your organization’s business continuity plan. This may not be necessary for day one, but it certainly should be addressed within the first few weeks of employment. Think about what parts of business continuity impact employees as you build your onboarding process:

  • How will employees learn if the office is closed?
  • To what location should they report in the event of a disruption?
  • How will they clock in and out remotely? 
  • What two-way communication tools will be available to send and receive messages?

If you answer these and other similar questions in clear and measured ways, you’ll create a sense of physical and psychological safety for new employees.

"Phasing in" should be part of your business recovery plan

A tough reality that many companies are facing is that they have had to furlough or lay off employees. Once the dust settles with the pandemic, employers could be faced with an overwhelming number of employees to re-board when business volume increases again. That said, in order to alleviate overworked or understaffed HR departments, companies should consider implementing a phased re-boarding process where different groups of employees return to work in a staggered way.

A second benefit to this is that you can pay more individual attention to employees who just experienced a significant disruption in their lives by being out of work. Though difficult, companies must work to regain trust and loyalty of these employees since they may have some negative feelings or perceptions around having to stop work.

Re-boarding is another area where HCM technology can save time and effort, as furloughed or laid-off employees’ records will already be stored in the company system and can be easily reactivated. Employees can use self-service features on any device to ensure their information is up to date, saving time for HR to focus on a re-boarding strategy. HR can then implement that re-boarding strategy in the same system, setting up automated checklists with refreshers on policies, retraining opportunities, and any changes to rules or safety protocols so returning employees can get up to speed even before they get back onsite.

Conclusion: The bottom line is embracing and learning from change

Every aspect of business has shifted due to COVID-19, with recruiting, preboarding, onboarding, and re-boarding all being affected. Using technology to assist in the virtual onboarding employee experience or update physical onboarding can save time and effort for HR professionals and help new hires feel welcome even when socially distant. Recognizing that we must adapt to circumstances quickly and seamlessly is what HR professionals do, and what has been done in terms of creatively onboarding employees virtually.

If you want more guidance on how to ensure employee well-being, maximize productivity, manage remote or onsite work environments, and build business continuity plans, please visit Kronos’ Managing Through Times of Uncertainty resource center. We’re here to help you pick up the pieces, learn from what we’re all going through, and come out the other side stronger as an organization.

Get more resources

Published: Wednesday, May 6, 2020