Getting On Board: New Employee Communications During COVID
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While much of COVID-19’s disruption has been out of our control, it’s more important than ever for businesses to harness human resource tools they can control to help their organizations communicate and thrive, especially when onboarding new hires. When the pandemic arrived and businesses shuttered, many had to suddenly rethink their onboarding communications, training, and processes for the foreseeable future. While existing employees adjusted to new forms of communications, processes, and meetings instead of physically being together, and uncertainty about new employees came to a head. To say the least, hiring people, conducting job interviews, orientations, and integrating new employees to their work and the company culture, sans live coworkers and an office, can feel a bit strange. Still, whether you are part of a small business or a big firm, data shows that creating positive employee communications especially during the onboarding experiences is critical to ensuring the long-term success of new hires while maximizing company growth. whether, if it’s in-person or remote, revamping your onboarding is a worthwhile endeavor.
The Business Case for Onboarding
Poor onboarding impacts retention which affects the bottom line. Structured onboarding is so important that it can mean the difference between newcomers’ success or failure and determine whether they will stay or go in the first year. An Equifax Workforce Solutions study reveals more than 40% of them quit in the first month, and an additional 10% leave the first year. That echoes the Harvard Business Review’s research which indicates one third of recent hires seek new jobs before their six-month anniversary, and the DataNow Snapshot: Evolution of Onboarding Study which finds that if they’re going to quit, they’ll usually do it within six months. Before the shutdown, 25% of recent hires left their company in the first year. Many newcomers exit quickly because poor onboarding left them less satisfied, engaged and productive. If you lose a new hire, repeating the recruitment, hiring, and training process can cost the firm triple that employee’s annual salary.
It pays if you get onboarding right, and the first minutes of the orientation are key. “There is a direct correlation between effective onboarding and employee retention and engagement,” according to Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer for iCIMS. “Ninety-one percent of [first-year] employees are retained in companies that have a formal onboarding program, but of those who don’t, just 50% are retained.” Firms that implemented even a basic onboarding program doubled new hire retention rates and saw a 54% increase in their productivity at work. According to Glassdoor strong, structured onboarding plans can increase productivity by 70% and retention by 82%. Mark Newman, founder of HireVue said, “If you could make the first 45 days better, you could cut new hire attrition by around 20%.”
One way to get onboarding right is to facilitate an integrated, worker-centric onboarding experience that focuses on addressing the new hire’s individual needs. Besides increasing productivity and preserving the company culture, the Society of Human Resources argues that effective onboarding can increase the chances that an employee will stick around for as long as three years by 69%.
What is Onboarding?
Onboarding is mainly about communication between the employer and the employee, with the flow of communication being mostly from employer to employee—policies, procedures, manuals, forms, who runs what, etc. However, onboarding no longer means completing a bunch of administrative paperwork, setting up a new computer, and going through tedious training procedures. Those days are long gone.
Today, onboarding employees is a multi-directional conversation to achieve organizational socialization by understanding and embracing your company’s values, culture, and mission. As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted every part of the work process, from interviews to welcoming new employees, some of the basics have remained the same.
Be organized and as early as possible, get new employees the tools and resources they need, along with instructions on how to retrieve documents, share information, and keep it protected. Ensuring new employees understand how to use essential communication tools, online meeting solutions, and file-sharing applications are the very basics to setting up a person for success. If a new employee cannot share information, access documents, and keep information safe, you are already starting out on shaky ground.
Here is a list of essential communication tools:
- Telephone services (cell phone, voicemail, audio-conferencing)
- Email (email client, mobile apps)
- Group messaging (Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc.)
- Video conferencing software (Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Go-To Meeting)
- File-Sharing (Network Access, WeTransfer, Dropbox, etc.)
We provided employers with organizational and project management tips in our blog, Keeping Your Company Organized While Working Remotely. Many of these tips can be extended to onboarding and employee communications.
Taking the Conversation Online
Video conference interviews have become commonplace, but they were on the rise even before the shutdown since they save companies transportation costs and get the interview process started much faster than scheduling in-person interviews. As much as video conference interviews have replaced phone screens, reduced travel and facilitated inclusivity for in group interviews much of the process that followed was still in person.
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Before the pandemic, a 2018 Talent LMS survey showed 40% of onboarding was conducted in person, 27% was online, and 33% used a combination of the two. But COVID-19 forced most businesses to transition to all-virtual communications for onboarding and everyday workplace functions.
As we transitioned to most if not all of communications being remote, consistency of branding becomes even more important. New employees have not experienced the organization’s history, growth, mission, values, culture, and personality and are more likely to notice inconsistencies. Key items for you to review for consistency include:
- Newsletters (print and electronic)
- Email signatures
Innovation In Welcoming New Employees
The pandemic has forced many companies to adapt and innovate. As Tim Corcoran shared “the environment in which we were working, applying our trade, and doing all this work as recently as two or three months ago is going away for at least a couple of years. It will probably not return to its previous form.
We are going to need to be something different for that world. This is our chance to be not just different, but better. Innovation is not just about spending money and making change for change’s sake. The whole point is that we do this better.”
The pandemic has also accelerated the pace of change and innovations in some areas including:
Video conferencing, online portals, and company apps are now staples of digital orientations. To create the best possible onboarding experience for your new hires, Human Resources Today suggests that companies consider incorporating the following:
- Post-Offer Nurturing
- New Hire Orientation (Payroll, Verification, Benefits Administration, EEOC and other compliance checks)
- Human Resources and New Hire Paperwork
- Job and Performance Expectations (Goal-Setting)
- Scheduled Check-Ins
- 30-60-90 Day Performance Milestones
- Managerial Communications Plan
- New Hire Training
- Mission, Vision and Values Alignment
- Feedback Loop
- Performance Management\Professional Culture Dissemination
- Productivity Parameters
- Mentorship Plans or Programs
New DHS Flexibility in Form I-9 Compliance Requirements
On March 19, 2020, due to the coronavirus shutdown, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it would exercise discretion and allow employers, including law firms, to suspend the requirement to be physically present, per Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9) under Section 274A of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Instead, employers may review the new employee’s identity and employment authorization documents remotely by email, fax, video link, etc. This stipulation only applies to employers and workplaces that are operating remotely, whose employees are social distancing by taking physical proximity precautions, due to COVID-19. For the time being, they will no longer be required to review the employee’s identity and employment authorization documents in the employee’s physical presence. However, employers must examine the Section 2 documents remotely and then obtain, inspect, and retain copies of the documents within three business days. Employers who choose to use this option must also provide written documentation of their remote onboarding and telework policy for each employee.
Once normal operations resume, all employees who were onboarded using remote verification, must report to their employer within three business days for an in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation for Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification.
Some employers have taken other innovate approaches to securing I-9 employment forms. Jeff Luttrell, senior director of talent acquisition for Alorica, a global outsourcing firm, spoke on a panel at the Society for Human Resource Management virtual conference in April 2020. Luttrell garnered a lot of attention from attendees when he explained how Alorica found solutions by being flexible and establishing impromptu, drive-through, mobile sites to administer drug tests, complete background checks and I-9 employment forms, and to deliver laptops. “We set up a kiosk curbside,” he said. “The new hire drives up and shows their IDs, and our team enters the information using an electronic I-9 system. We schedule these for five-minute increments and process about 50-60 I-9s in half a day.”
At Home Drug Testing
While paperwork can be done remotely, other items like Drug Testing may seem impossible to do at home, at first. Working in clinical logistic in the pharma industry, Jamie Heller is familiar with innovation. Recently changing jobs, she was impressed with her new employer’s novel delivery method for drug testing during the coronavirus shutdown – she took it at home by video chat. Jamie received an OralTox at home drug test via USPS. Inside the mailer was the drug test, swab stick, specimen bag, return pouch with a prepaid label, and a form in case the test needed to be sent back for further analysis. During her scheduled date and time to video chat with HR, the representative watched Jamie open the mailer live.
Jamie was surprised at how easy it was to use, and the results were ready in a matter of minutes. You just place the swab stick in your mouth, before inserting it in the test vessel. The saliva separates from the swab and is released onto 10 different drug test papers contained inside. “Super simple!!! No making an appointment, getting in the car, driving to a test facility, waiting for results, etc.,” Jamie said. “It was easy to coordinate with HR and take the test at my convenience.” Once the test was completed, HR viewed the results over the video link and a verification photo was sent to them. There was no need to send it to a lab.
Curbside Pick Up and Remote Supply Pick Up
From drop shipping laptops and key equipment to an employee’s home to coordinating contactless pick up, companies are coming up with creative ways to maintain social distance. Key to this coordinated effort is solid organization and clear communications. From ensuring that all equipment is onsite to any precautions you might need to take to enter a building (check out our blog on Temperature Checks and Health Testing in the Coronavirus World) to setting expectations and ground rules for interactions to avoid tricky interactions (check out our blog on Mask-Wearing, Physical Distancing, and Handshaking; Handling Tricky Interactions as People Begin to Gather Again).
In Pennsylvania, Alicia Kodadek started her job at an essential business in early April, a few weeks after the mandatory COVID-19 shutdown but before masks were mandated. After meeting with the head of HR to discuss employment details, IT set her up with a laptop and login. Although she could at least see the other employees’ faces, Kodadek said, “There was no shaking hands which was weird for a first day. After about two hours I went home to work from home and haven’t been there since. I’ve had lots of video meetings and intros with people virtually.”
Find Creative Ways to Introduce Coworkers
Let’s face it. Anyone who used to go to an office but has been stuck working remotely from home during the shutdown, knows that it makes you feel isolated. For new hires who don’t know their coworkers, the sense of isolation can be heightened, so from the first day, it’s important that digital onboarding is engaging and helps the newcomer feel like a welcomed member of the team.
To put names with faces and foster relationships when employees can’t gather around the water cooler for organic, face-to-face, human interaction, Collage’s Wally Nowinski says, “You can solve this by scheduling getting-to-know-you calls for every new hire with key people in the organization they are not working with directly.”
To feel connected when working remotely, new hires need to understand how to access the firm’s online meetings, intranet, and have a company contact and mentor available for questions or problems that arise. One common question during this time is information technology assistance, from VPN not working to updates not completing properly, technology challenges can be a huge disruption in workflow and onboarding. Regular one on one check-ins with a mentor, or supervisor can facilitate two-way conversations and trouble shoot any problems they may have.
Furia Rubel recently added a Drexel Co-Op student, Jayla Johnson to our team. She was immediately included in our daily Zoom status calls. In addition to those, she also checks in one on one with her supervisor to review her projects, any questions she may have, timelines and learns about new assignments. Jayla shared “These meetings have been so helpful. I am much more confident in what I am working on and understand what’s expected of me.”
Changes to new employee communications and onboarding are likely going to be permanently altered by the experiences of the last several months. Not only does digital onboarding provide more efficient and automated service, it also ensures consistency and compliance and saves companies time and money. Additionally, expectations are likely going to be shifting among employees in the market. The best news is that despite all the changes and transitions businesses are making to keep employees’ safe during COVID-19, it’s still possible to create an exciting and engaging onboarding program that will motivate and retain new hires.
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