A new hire's first days, weeks, and months establish the foundation for the rest of the employment relationship. As more and more employees work from home during the COVID-19 crisis, acclimating new hires to your company culture and procedures can be especially challenging. Consider these guidelines to help remote workers get started on the right foot:
#1: Start early.
Once the applicant accepts your job offer and completes any post-offer screening, begin the process of welcoming them to your company. Send an email confirming their start date, expressing your excitement that they'll be joining the team, and letting them know that you're available to answer any questions they may have. You may also want to consider creating videos or interactive training about workplace processes and procedures to help acclimate the new hire once they start working. Ensure that any equipment and supplies the new hire needs are delivered to them by their first day and that IT systems are ready for them. Keep in mind that the COVID-19 pandemic generally has made delivery times longer.
#2: Assign a buddy and/or mentor.
Inform existing employees of the new hire's start date and explain their role, areas of focus, and relevant work history. Assign a buddy or mentor to help the employee with their transition. Consider matching new hires with existing employees who have experience with working remotely.
#3: Set expectations.
Schedule a video conference or phone call for the employee's first day to set expectations. During the meeting, provide your new hire with an agenda for the first week or so. Review job responsibilities, objectives, and expectations and explain how their role contributes to the success of the company. Instruct the employee to review your employee handbook and discuss key issues, such as work schedules, timekeeping practices, and how performance is measured. Obtain the employee's electronic acknowledgment of the handbook and retain it in their personnel file. Be sure to communicate that while working from home, the employee is still expected to complete their work assignments, be available during regular business hours (understanding potential limitations due to the pandemic), and communicate with their supervisor and others as needed. Additionally, retain discretion for changing the remote arrangement at any time. In addition to acknowledging your employee handbook, have the employee sign a simple agreement outlining the telecommuting arrangement.
#4: Complete new hire paperwork.
Consider how you plan to complete new hire paperwork for remote workers, including a Form I-9 and federal and state tax withholding forms (W-4). Keep in mind that you also need to provide new hires with the ACA Notice of Coverage Options and any required state and local notices. Additionally, ensure that remote employees complete an emergency contact form and receipt of company property. In many cases, employers can satisfy notice requirements virtually by distributing electronic versions of the required notices. However, employers may need to consider other options, such as a drive-up process, for certain new hire paperwork. Check applicable federal, state, and local laws to ensure compliance.
Note: In March 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that employers temporarily will be allowed to inspect identity and work authorization documents for I-9 purposes remotely in certain situations related to COVID-19. However, the temporary changes are set to end on May 31, 2021 and apply only to employers and workplaces that are operating remotely as a result of COVID-19. If there are employees physically present at a work location, no exceptions are being implemented at this time, according to the DHS. Therefore, employers for which the temporary changes don't apply may need to develop a plan for inspecting Section 2 documents in the new hire's presence while taking precautions against the spread of COVID-19.
#5: Make introductions and promote communication.
Within their first few days on the job, use video conferencing to help introduce new employees to key members of the company and their team. These introductions typically only take a short amount of time but can go a long way in helping employees feel welcomed. Have a few questions ready to spark conversation and allow the team to get to know one another. Then, schedule regular virtual meetings between remote workers and their co-workers. Also, hold supervisors accountable for maintaining communication with remote workers and including them in key meetings.
#6: Address training and development.
Ensure the employee completes required training, such as sexual harassment or safety training, as well as training on your company's mission, culture, and procedures. While many types of training can be provided remotely, federal, state, and local laws may have specific requirements for who can lead the training and what it must include. Check applicable rules to ensure compliance. Supervisors should also start a dialogue with new hires about their career interests and identify training and career development opportunities that may help them reach their goals. Career development is particularly important to address with remote workers, who sometimes feel there are more barriers to advancement since they aren't as visible as employees working in the traditional workplace.
#7: Check-in and provide feedback.
Schedule regular calls or video conferences to check-in with new hires to see how they're transitioning into their new role and into remote work, and if they need any additional training or further clarification on workplace expectations. Supervisors should also provide performance feedback immediately following a behavior they'd like to reinforce or address. Also consider conducting a more comprehensive evaluation at regular intervals (such as every 90 days), especially during their first year on the job. Train supervisors on how to provide effective feedback and coaching.
#8: Recognize remote work.
One of the complaints among some remote workers is that their work isn't as valued as, or is less visible than, employees who are working at the traditional workplace. Make sure you are recognizing remote workers for their contributions by giving them praise for good work and highlighting their accomplishments with other employees.
#9: Consider teambuilding activities.
Consider teambuilding activities in which both remote workers and traditional workers can participate. For instance, some employers host virtual happy hours or ice cream socials for employees. Another option is competing in online trivia, puzzles, or other games.
Solicit feedback from remote workers, and anyone else involved in the onboarding process, about their experience. Use the data to make improvements or adjustments. Since a primary goal of onboarding initiatives is to reduce turnover, make sure to track turnover in relation to the success of your onboarding program. In addition, compare turnover among remote workers against those who work in the office.
Effective practices can help newly hired remote workers feel welcomed and supported, which can lead to increased productivity and commitment.