Canadian Underwriter

Tips for re-onboarding employees who started remotely

June 28, 2021   by Jason Contant

Returning back to work

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It’ll be a difficult enough adjustment for Canadian P&C professionals who were working remotely to head back to the office. But it’ll be particularly challenging for those who were hired and onboarded remotely, according to a Harvard Business Review blog published last week.

As companies plan how to return to the office safely sometime during the months ahead, an opportunity exists to re-onboard employees who started remotely.

“Doing so will help create a continued positive employee experience and help further socialize them into the organization’s culture, given that this group of employees will likely not have met their fellow team members in person, nor likely have ever been to the organization’s physical offices,” says Rebecca Zucker, an executive coach and founding partner at San Franscisco-based Next Step Partners, a boutique leadership development firm.

One way to re-onboard employees who started remotely is to allow “remote hires” to bond as a cohort, Zucker wrote in How to Re-Onboard Employees Who Started Remotely. She defines remote hires as:

  • new hires
  • employees who started a month or so before the COVID-19-related shift to working from home, and who had their full onboarding experience cut short
  • internal hires transferring into new roles or offices.

Remote hires share a common, distinctive experience — starting a new job during what is, hopefully, a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic. So, allow remote hires to bond as a cohort, Zucker wrote. The roles of the people who joined the organization remotely may vary, but there is often an emotional resonance with your start-group, Zucker wrote, quoting Laurie Tennant, vice president of people at Norwest Venture Partners.

Consider structured opportunities for remote hires to interact and get to know each other, Zucker said. These could take the form of events such as ice-breakers or speed networking activities, “especially when there are multiple levels of the organization represented, or power differentials that can create feelings of awkwardness for individuals, regardless of their position.”

Welcome back to the office

Also, consider leaving something special at the re-onboarded employee’s desk, be it a personal note, company swag, or a small gift. “This is a nice touch that will go a long way in making members of this group feel valued, cared for, and recognized for having started a new job during a uniquely challenging time,” Zucker said. “Also, be thoughtful in making sure remote hires’ desks are located in an area where they will be able to naturally interact with other colleagues.”

Orienting remote hires to the facilities is another consideration. Conduct these tours in small groups to provide additional opportunities for them to meet and get to know others. Show them how to find the kitchen, break room, bathrooms, and fire exits. Also go over some of the office protocols and procedures; for example, security protocols, conference room sign-up procedures, helpful shortcuts, or “specific hazards or things to avoid, such as getting locked in the stairwell, like yours truly did the first week at work in a prior job,” Zucker wrote.

For managers re-onboarding remote hires, make sure the new recruits are adjusting well to the new environment and have everything they need. Managers should take their remote hires to lunch and conduct a one-on-one with them their first week in the office, as would have been the case if they initially started their job at the office, Zucker said. Then, check in with these workers in the weeks that follow.

Zucker also recommends a “buddy system.” In other words, pair remote hires with more tenured employees who are not only familiar with the physical office, but also with the office culture. Consider assigning remote hires with two buddies. One would be a member of their team; someone who has a good understanding of the remote hire’s role and manager. The other would not be on their team; this would help remote hires broaden their internal network and gain an understanding of useful context outside their department.

Lastly, create informal team-building opportunities. For example, Norwest Venture Partners plans to do a summer picnic and a voluntary opening over the summer for anyone who would like to come back to the office before their official open date in September.

“This gives remote hires the option to get to know the office and other colleagues in a less hectic or intimidating environment,” Zucker wrote. “You may also plan other activities with your more immediate teams, such as team dinners or other activities.”

After 16 months and counting of remote work for many, going back to the office is going to be an adjustment to say the least. “It will be an entirely new experience for remote hires,” Zucker wrote. “Don’t squander the opportunity to create a great employee experience and use the above-mentioned strategies to re-onboard your remotely hired employees.”

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