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Welcome Aboard: Humanizing New Staff in a Digital World

Remote onboarding requires a new level of intentionality to ensure that our newest colleagues are learning what they need to learn and feeling like they are part of a functioning team.

For any organization, bringing new employees onboard is an important process. Not only do companies now need to acclimate new staff to systems and procedures, they must also make them feel welcome in the workplace and orient them to the corporate culture. But prolonged remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic has eliminated options like spontaneous hallway conversations and informal in-person coffees that provide important opportunities for both information sharing and teambuilding.

Dexis has been using this time where our entire workforce is virtual to take a fresh look at our onboarding practices and to see where we are able to make improvements. Things like formal orientation schedules are necessary but often insufficient when it comes to remote onboarding. Replacing the function and value of in-person and informal interactions when onboarding new staff remotely is more of a challenge.

Here’s some of what Dexis has been doing, learning, and finessing after onboarding nearly 70 new employees since March 2020.

  1. Introduce the Person, Not the Job Function. Dexis sends an email with fun details on a new hire’s background and interests—even what superpower they’d love to have—to introduce them across the company. To put a face with the name, our monthly internal newsletter includes the new hire’s picture, quote, and hometown. We also welcome new staff on LinkedIn (with their consent, of course). Established team members are encouraged to reach out to share a bit about themselves beyond their role in the company, introducing themselves and providing the opportunity for a memorable (virtual) interaction with a fellow colleague.
  2. Buddy Up. Even after the best formal orientation, new staff have an array of questions ranging from the logistical to the technical. But what do they do when they can’t just ask the person in the next office or cubicle? New staff may be more comfortable asking a peer questions about colleagues, systems, or the company rather than a supervisor or HR. Less formal or hierarchical than a mentor, we pair them with a buddy at their same level but from another part of the company, which brings another perspective beyond that of their assigned team and builds relationships across teams.Dexis provides guidance on how the buddy can help—being available to answer questions or help find answers to questions—and ensure each new hire is assigned a buddy and connects with them on day one. For the first week or so, buddies are expected to touch base daily and continue checking in regularly over the next several months (or longer!) to see how things are going and offer general help.
  3. Facilitate Randomness and Formalize the Informal. We let our new hires know how Dexis supports its employees at this time and helps them to navigate the new normal. We schedule “random (virtual) acts of coffee” across the company to pair staff who may not normally meet or interact for informal chats and check-ins. We also host virtual group meet-and-greets or team lunches with new hires where staff talk about anything but work. Increasingly, we are including icebreakers or breakout sessions in team meeting agendas so staff can interact in pairs or small groups and learn and share new things about each other.
  4. Help with Hacks. Dexis is also exploring ways experienced staff and recent hires can share company “hacks” with brand new hires. We ask them to share “what I wish I knew when I joined,” and then go around the (virtual) room at our staff meetings and have each person share a hack, trick, or secret about working at Dexis and getting things done.
  5. Balance Clarity and Flexibility. We strive to be clear about each new employee’s roles and the desired outcomes for their position while understanding the stress we’re all under. Likewise, we clarify what’s expected for those orienting them, both at the organizational level (e.g., HR) and at the team level. Do all team leads understand the new remote onboarding procedures? So many of us are stressed and distracted these days. We need to actively monitor and support managers to make sure that no new employees have started without an onboarding plan in place.

It can feel surreal to join a new organization and not meet any of your colleagues face to face. Taking multiple approaches to engage new team members can make them feel more welcome and provide important opportunities to convey Dexis’ culture.

Remote onboarding requires a new level of intentionality to ensure that our newest colleagues are learning what they need to learn and feeling like they are part of a functioning team. We all need to take a hard look at our onboarding practices—and get feedback about them from recent hires—to make sure approaches are still relevant and sufficient given today’s realities.

Mark McEuen is Chief Operating Officer at Dexis, where he oversees Dexis’ technical divisions, internal operations, and quality management system.