Hello! Pleased to not actually meet you!

Dear old COVID. It sure has been the mother of invention. That’s something we’ve experienced for ourselves when we brought on two new team members while both New Zealand and Australia were under lockdown.

We know good onboarding is a critical part of setting new hires up for success. That’s not just so they know how the filing system works and where to get coffee, but because it kickstarts their feelings of belonging, builds trust with other employees and leaderships, and helps them understand the value they bring. Unsurprisingly, these are some of the key factors that drive employee engagement, wellbeing and effectiveness.

But when it has to be totally virtual, how does that even work? We started back at the beginning, asking ourselves “What is an excellent onboarding experience?” Once we had our list, we set about finding clever ways to replicate that from afar. Here’s what worked.

Sending them stuff

We made sure our new team members got their laptops early, (obviously) so they could be all comfortable and set up on day one. We also considered home-office furniture a crucial part of getting people sorted. We didn’t quite get ahead of the pandemic in time to send them a bunch of cool Weirdly stuff – hats, stickers tee-shirts – that’s something we’re planning on doing next. We know those tangible representations of our culture meant our new hires could buy into the Weirdly way, even if they haven’t met any of us in person.

Creating an induction itinerary

Most onboarding goes a bit like this: “Hi, welcome! There’s your desk and there’s the manual. Ok bye!” We were aiming for something slightly higher and we didn’t have the benefit of incidental meet-and-greets or desk mates helping with log in snafus. So instead, we handed our new hires a plan of what their first two weeks would look like with all sorts of meetings already booked in. Some meetings were focussed on getting them upskilled in the detail of the business, and others were about getting to know the rest of the team.

That turned out to be a bit of a genius move (although we do say so ourselves). Here’s what our remotely onboarded customer success officer Sara Davenport had to say:

"Monday morning I was all set. A two-week induction plan meant I knew ahead of time who I was meeting and what sector of the business I was learning about – this amount of planning was awesome. I can honestly say it was the most planned out and effective induction I've ever experienced!”

"...[the onboarding itinerary] was really helpful for knowing who I was about to meet and in what context.”

Creating virtual watercooler chats

Remote working is pretty manageable when you know your teammates, but it’s hard to form bonds and build trust if you’re not even in the same city.

"The most challenging piece was not having access to those incidental conversations you have with colleagues throughout the day,” says Sara.

We have the regular virtual hangouts you’d expect from a tight knit team working across three countries, but we needed to add to that for our newbies. Our solution was to introduce our virtual shared desks. Just like watching Sex in the City with your bestie on the landline, we have a Google Hangout open all the time – if anyone feels like a bit of company while they work, they jump in.

“I definitely missed those water cooler/coffee break/lunchtime conversations – we worked hard as a team to stay connected. We’d call each other while walking for example,” says Sara.

4x "higher engagement and five times higher well-being" experienced by those "living their purpose" at work. Source: COVID-19 and the employee experience, McKinsey (2020).

Giving people an idea of the big picture

When people are sitting in their houses staring at their unvaccumed floors, it can be hard to understand why they’re even ‘going to work’ each day.

Research from McKinsey suggests that employees work more effectively when they understand how their actions impact on a higher purpose. They have four times more engagement and five times better wellbeing than those who don’t.

Even though the tech business creates a future that’s anything but predictable, we can still bring people on the (murky) journey.

Chuffy Slack channel at Weirdly

We’ve tried to pivot away from ‘values’ being something people get lumped with when they’re being onboarded. Instead, we weave them into everything we do. For example, we have two mandatory all-team meetings a week. One is the more serious, business-focussed Hui (‘meeting’ or ‘conflab’ in Māori), and the other is Friyay – our weekly group hangout. We share answers to a weekly getting-to-know-you quiz and hand out ‘chuffies’ (staff-nominated awards acknowledging team members who’ve been really living our values).

Helping them set some goals

I mean, remote working has always been a big part of the way we operate – in 2016 our Auckland team went entirely remote – so we’re not super worried about productivity. As Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace says, "When clients ask, ‘How will I know if they’re working?’ I ask, ‘How do you know they are working now?’” That said, getting new hires set up with goals that point them the right direction is good for them and good for us.

"When clients ask, 'How will I know if they're working?', I ask, 'How do you know they are working now?'" - Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace

We start right back at the job description, so our newbies already know what success in the first three months looks like. Along with our meeting itinerary, which helps them get focussed with subject matter experts, we also buddy people up – just like when you start a new school. The buddies take the lead in making sure recruits have everything they need and understand what their roles will look like in the coming months.

Get good at remote onboarding

Even post-pandemic (touch wood), we can expect the world of work to be fundamentally changed. Now businesses have realised it’s actually not that hard, and the rest of us have gotten used to not commuting, every organisation and as many as half of all workers could enjoy some degree of remote working. And that means remote onboarding is something we need to get used to – and good at. And we’re case in point – we’ve brought on three more people since the first lockdowns, and it’s working so well, we’re convinced remote onboarding will be part of our future. It’s about making sure newbies hit the ground running with the same practical and emotional support they’ve always needed It’s totally possible to deliver that from the other side of the city, or even the world.

“For me the lockdown onboarding was an awesome way to get to know the business – to the point of feeling luxurious!" – Sara.