Even in this time of extreme disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the work will go on. One of our clients, reached out to Cella with a need for a new project manager on their team. We were able to move quickly to fill the position, but now the hiring manager was faced with a different challenge—onboarding this new hire in their now virtual work environment. 

It’s critical that we build and nurture our teams to manage the new normal of our work lives. You may have seen recent posts from us highlighting remote work and remote interviewing, but what about onboarding a new hire when an in-person orientation is not an option?

Remote or virtual onboarding can still be an effective high-touch process if managed in an organized and personal fashion. I spoke with the leader of an in-house agency who managed through this process, and several other Cella colleagues, and here are some best practices they’ve put in place.

Staffing for a key position or need help with onboarding processes?

Securing Equipment and Access
Christine, a Cella consultant who is currently leading an in-house agency, pulled out all the stops to get the project manager mentioned above, and another new hire, up and running in the midst of a work-from-home mandate. Her first step and best practice was to proactively contact HR, IT, Facilities and Security to get needed virtual (and eventually physical) access to the company, along with email addresses and a calendar for scheduling, well ahead of her new hires’ start dates. One of Christine’s team members physically went to their office to pick up the new hires’ laptops, briefly meeting with one in-person, on site and meeting the other at a local restaurant a few days later. In spite of the extraordinary circumstances, Christine and her team were able to leverage their relationships with IT and partner with them to secure the needed equipment.

After ensuring that her new hires had access to the company’s network, Christine arranged for introductions. First, she sent bios of the new staff members to her team and clients with a letter of introduction. This paved the way for Christine to then set up virtual “meet and greets” with peers, managers and clients, making sure there would be no surprises when the new project managers jumped into jobs.

In addition to the prescheduled introductions, Christine arranged for other appropriate team members to virtually meet and review the in-house agency’s standard operating procedures, workflows, org structure and client profiles with the new hires. We recommend that some of this training be prepackaged and automated, saving your trainers’ time and allowing new staff to plan out their own onboarding schedules. Christine made sure that company-mandated Security, Facilities and HR training were set up and available for the new hires to complete online.

One of our leaders, and my manager, Jackie Schaffer, actually blocks out two weeks’ worth of orientation and introductory meetings in Google Calendar, so that when a new hire opens his or her schedule it’s already prepopulated. Jackie says that rather than feeling overwhelmed, her new hires appreciate the structure that enables them to spend time, energy and focus on getting onboarded.

Valerie Fedun, a Cella consulting team member, had an orientation packet printed, bound and packaged in a fancy tin box that she would send to her new remote team members, along with a personal handwritten greeting. Not only did this help her new hires familiarize themselves with the agency and how they fit into the organization, the personal touch made them feel valued from the very start. Another one of our consultant leads, who headed up a Cella creative team, provided a screensaver with a special customized welcome message for his new staff.

The Work
In coordination with her project management team, Christine identified what projects the new hires would take on prior to their start dates. Project complexity, timing and resourcing were taken into account so the new talent would be set up for success. She’s found that the best and most efficient way to onboard staff is to provide a mix of immediate training along with actual on-the-job experience that takes the initial training and applies it to real-world scenarios.

Her new hires received extensive training on the PM tool they’d be using to manage their projects. In addition to virtual classes, Christine’s team created reference materials that the new project managers could easily access when schooling themselves on the tool.

Christine’s new hires are now both onboarded (although that is a continuing process) and are successfully engaging in their jobs. They have started with a sense of gratitude for getting their jobs and are impressed with the agency’s competency and commitment to its staff.

Additional Best Practices
There are a few final best practices to share that I’ve personally put in place to remotely onboard new team members. 

Mentoring: When onboarding remotely, it’s especially important to assign a mentor to new hires to “show them the ropes.” This not only helps them quickly navigate logistical issues, but gives them a sounding board if they encounter any challenges that should be escalated and addressed by senior management. It’s also a professional development opportunity for the mentor.

Intranet: Many (and hopefully, most) teams have an internal site that is well stocked with reference materials, a detailed org chart and position descriptions. Don’t forget to give early access to new staff so they can incorporate the intranet into their onboarding. This site should include an up-to-date list of contacts for various needs such as IT support and an HR frequently asked questions and answers document. We also suggest a list of any internal email groups that new hires should be aware of/use.

Remote work guidelines: Make sure to document and provide remote work guidelines and expectations as well as home office recommendations that will help set your new talent up for success while letting them know you’re truly committed to their onboarding experience. Guidance regarding recommended communication tools is also a plus.

And, finally, consider a fun icebreaker for the whole team so that they can get to know your new hires and vice versa. For example, a virtual happy hour or lunch break.

All the recommendations in this post are applicable to in-person onboarding; however, they become crucial when bringing on new staff in a remote work environment. Though today’s environment is certainly not business as usual for any of us, work life, including onboarding, can go on when addressed in a focused and deliberate manner.

If your team needs assistance staffing key positions, or with onboarding processes or other general studio operating procedures, don't hesitate to reach out. Our experts are happy to be of assistance.