The onboarding process is an important strategy but it isdifficult tosuccessfully implement without a plan. COVID-19 has challenged employers in many ways and it is not surprising that for many – onboarding has gone into the ‘too hard basket’. Whilst some businesses are putting a freeze on recruitment, other employers find themselves recruiting to match demand.

We may be in the midst of a global pandemic, but this has only increased the need for a strong onboarding program to give a new employee a chance of success. This is a work climate like none before it which brings uncertainty and confusion.

New starters need an onboarding process to help them navigate a new job in uncertain times. Sure, they may be onboarding from their lounge room or in a half empty factory, but employers that take the time to do this well will no doubt find themselves with a well-adjusted and high performing employee when the crisis is over.

Tips to onboard a new employee remotely during COVID-19

Tips to onboard a new employee remotely during COVID-19
Address the unique situation
  • Call the employee and talk about the pandemic and how it will impact the onboarding and initial employment period.
  • Where possible, talk about their role in future terms. E.g. “next year when our new software arrives, you will play an active role in it’s implementation”. This forward language provides comfort and security.
  • Provide a safe space for questions and concerns to be shared.
  • Employers should refer to their Pandemic Planning Guide to assist them with their onboarding plan.
Safety first
  • A remote employee still has an important role to understand their responsibility to comply with safety.
  • Provide the new employee with a Working From HomeSelf Assessment Checklist.
  • Where possible, arrange a WHS representative to contact the new employee on their first day to discuss the organisation’s approach to health and safety, determine any unique employee needs and answer questions.
Work from Home policy (WFH)
  • New employees should be provided with the organisation’s Working From Home Policy.
  • The line manager is advised to discuss the key points such as what the employee needs to do when they are unwell, taking breaks and complying with safety and ICT standards.
  • As part of the safety assessment, it would have been identified what tools the new starter needs to have a safe and productive workstation in the home environment. For example, it needs to be determined if the worker needs a monitor or ergonomic chair. Do they need a laptop?
  • Confirm and test the new employee’s connectivity and access to all required programs.
  • Ensure that they have the software and hardware to complete their role.
  • Consider cyber protection, bandwidth and licenses required.
  • Demonstrate all of the technology such as messaging, social walls and video conferencing that will connect new employees in real time to the rest of the business.
Be clear about the communication plan
  • Starting a new role remotely during a pandemic is not ideal.It can be very isolating and confusing for a new starter. Consider how and when you will communicate prior to day one.
  • A daily video catch up at the beginning to answer questions may be appropriate. Consider the technology available and work out an onboarding communications plan.
  • It is much better to over communicate with a new employee who is working remotely – then to leave them for days on end. A quick check in via ‘teams’ or ‘zoom’ each day reminds them that they are not alone.
  • Employers may wish to refer to their COVID communication planfor tips on how to communicate through a pandemic.
Introduce peer support
  • New employees are grateful for access to their managers, but it is also a new job and they want to impress. Consider introducing a strong peer support program early.
  • Peer support can be spontaneous or structured – but it needs to be there.
  • Buddy up a more experienced employee with the new starter and encourage regular contact and even a joint project.
Feedback brings confidence
  • A new employee who is working remotely does not have the luxury of other workers providing feedback as they walk past.Make it a focus to ensure that the new starter knows exactly what is going well and what needs to be worked on.
  • A feedback plan should always be built into an onboarding strategy.
Review current onboarding face to face processes
  • Pinpoint onboarding processes that currently rely on face to face interactions.These will range from the welcome morning tea, to technical training and group induction days.
  • Brainstorm how these can be achieved and translated into a remote environment.
  • Pull together a work group to map out new and creative ways to achieve the same results. As an example, this may include webinars, online training links and a virtual morning tea.
Be clear about support
  • A communication plan is essential, but it is also important to demonstrate to the new employee what the business is doing for the broader employee group (e.g. what employee support strategies are in place?)
  • Share details of the EAPprogram, talk about customer wins, how the business is supporting employees and what it is doing in the broader community.
  • Provide a COVID-19 update each week and use positive language about a return to the workplace.
Introduce virtual team building
  • Discuss with the new hire’s manager a plan to increase team building during COIVD-19.What creative ideas do they have to bring the team together (e.g. Friday afternoon online trivia? Guess the baby photo competition? Virtual health/workout sessions?)
  • Create a new hire social blog for the team member to share more about themselves.
  • Introduce a weekly team catch up without an agenda for the team to bond and connect. It does not matter if they want to spend the time talking about their favourite Netflix show – the aim is team bonding.
It’s business as usual in an unusual time
  • It is extremely important in these uncertain times to operate as ‘normally’ as possible. Keep as many business rituals as possible – even if they are done via zoom.
  • Ask the CEO to prepare a welcome message that can be sent to the new starter – or even better schedule a zoom meet and greet.
  • Send the org structure and highlight the roles that the new starter will interface the most with.Organise virtual meetings with these employees as part of the onboarding strategy.
  • Share and discuss the business plans – and talk to how the new hire will be able to positively contribute.
  • Devise and collaborate on a 30-60-90 day plan for the new hire.
  • Prepare a toolkit of helpful resources and share information on key customers and competitors.
  • Drive meaningful conversations about the new employee’s engagement and career.
  • Establish a mentoring program and allocate meaningful work early.
  • Consider issuing an onboarding survey after the first two weeks to quickly learn what is going well and what is not meeting expectations.

Tips to onboard a new employee in the physical workplace during COVID-19

Many new employees are starting their jobs from home, however in some environments this is not possible or practical due to the nature of the position. Employers are encouraged in this scenario to refer to their current onboarding plans, however it is also suggested that they consider the following additional tips specific to COVID-19 when updating their workplace onboarding plans.

Tips to onboard a new employee in the physical workplace during COVID-19
Contact the new employee prior to commencement to discuss any restrictions
  • COVID-19 has imposed restrictions on everyone’s personal and professional lives and there are rules in place to minimise risk and stop the spread.
  • The workplace is now a different place with unique and necessary rules in place, which will be potentially challenging for a new starter and should be discussed.
  • It is recommended that prior to Day One, HR or a manager contacts the employee to discuss how COVID-19 has temporarily changed the workplace and what they can expect in this interim stage.
  • Employers are encouraged to reflect on their Pandemic Planning Guide as a reminder.
Safety first
  • COVID-19 is an extremely busy time for WHS teams.It is imperative that prior to commencing new employees are engaged with around safety expectations and requirements.
  • Discuss the organisation’s social distancing action plan and approach to sanitisation.
  • Prepare a toolbox talkas a key part of the induction process. This will provide critical WHS information for the new employee.
  • Outline the organisation’s approach to temperature checks and requirements around what to do when employees feel unwell.
  • Explain expectations around PPE.
  • Clearly articulate access to meeting rooms, lunch rooms and shared facilities.
Adapt the workplace onboarding plan
  • Even though the new employee is physically in the workplace, it may not be practical to conduct all of the normal onboarding activities. Identify some actions that can be done through an alternative manner. For example, can the employee watch an online demonstration?
  • Prioritise what the new employee has to know now as opposed to what can be learnt at a later time.
  • Be open with the employee about the usual onboarding plan and explain to them what might be different in the short term.
Check in regularly
  • Just because the organisation is allowing employees back in the workplace, does not mean that it is a ‘normal’ workplace environment.
  • A new employee is in unchartered territory and is unlikely to feel settled – even though on the surface they are doing their job.
  • It is recommended that employers have a structured process to promote regular and systematic check ins as part of an onboarding process.
Seek and provide feedback
  • Establishing a system to seek and provide feedback is an important part of an onboarding strategy. Employers need to share what is going well – but they also need to hear whether or not they are meeting the expectations of new employees.
  • Set up a choice of ways in which employees can connect with their feedback. This could be through surveys, check ins or via online platforms.
Continue to communicate
  • New employees in a COVID-19 workplace are needing to adapt to change regularly. It is imperative that employers can provide regular communication about what these changes mean to them.
  • Communicating often with new employees is a key part of a successful onboarding process and works hard to reduce anxiety in a time of uncertainly.

Irrespective of whether your new employees are starting from their homes or the workplace, it is important to consider that this is still an important employment relationship that both parties need to see the value of. Onboarding during COVID-19 may be challenging, but it is an investment worth making. Employees will greatly value their employers taking the time to remove as many hurdles as possible and work with them in partnership to navigate the challenges of a new job in a pandemic.

Further information

Please contact one of our WHS specialists or Ai Group's Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for further information.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice and resources

Ai Group is continually publishing new COVID-19 advice and resources for employers:

  • Specific HR Resource Centre and Health & Safety Resource Centre content to assist members during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found here.
  • DedicatedCOVID-19member advice, industry news, resources andlatest information can be found here.

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Georgina Pacor
Georgina is Senior Content Writer and HR Specialist – Publications at Ai Group. She is an accomplished Human Resource professional with over 20 years of generalist and leadership experience in a broad range of industries including financial services, tourism, travel, government and agriculture. She has successfully advised and partnered with senior leaders to implement people and performance initiatives that align to business strategy. Georgina is committed to utilising her experience to create resources that educate and engage and is passionate about supporting members to optimise an inclusive workforce culture that drives performance.