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The Evolution of Remote Employee Onboarding due to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the business world in unprecedented ways. Its effect on organizations have varied, sometimes significantly. While many companies have had to temporarily shut their doors and reduce workforces, others have ramped up recruiting and hiring quickly to respond to increased demand for specific services.

But how can HR leaders onboard employees who aren’t in the same office? Remote onboarding can be challenging. Without the right tools and processes in place, the initial employee experience with the organization can be negative, marked by poor communication, disorganization, and inadequate access to important resources.

The stakes have always been high to provide the best possible onboarding experience, and the bar has just been raised in the age of increased telecommuting and virtual offices:

With the rapid shift towards remote work in many professions, onboarding processes must be enhanced to support with the new normal. Global Workplace Analytics has estimated that almost one-third of the workforce will be working from home multiple days per week by 2021, and that was before the pandemic. A March 2020 flash survey from law firm Seyfarth found that 67% of employers that didn’t normally allow work-from-home (WFH) were making arrangements to do so.

Accenture, a company that typically hires 100,000 people annually, put 300 new hires through its virtual onboarding process in the second half of March 2020. They were ahead of the game with a formalized virtual onboarding program already in place. But what should you do if you’re building a new employee onboarding for remote hires on the fly?

Let’s review a few key activities to prioritize:

Assess the capabilities of your current HR systems

Streamlining key onboarding tasks and personalizing the experience where possible are key strategies companies should consider when implementing a new remote onboarding process. Take a close look at your current HR technology to assess whether you have the tools in place to deliver the proper remote onboarding experience.

Although video conferencing has received the most attention as the definitive WFH technology, having the right cloud-based HR platforms with automation is just as important behind the scenes. Cloud solutions ensure timely, convenient access to tools, supports, and processes, plus they can be quickly updated and have their changes scaled across the entire organization.

Understand that everything can’t become a virtual meeting 

While the agenda for your onboarding program might be similar, the way you deliver it will likely change to keep remote new hires engaged. Think of new ways your new employees can be introduced to your team and the culture of your company. Can training programs be made more interactive?

In the Accenture example, activities such as explanations of company policies and introductions to team members remained fixtures of remote onboarding and were supplemented by Q&A sessions and trainings via videoconference. These video meetings can help with one of the biggest challenges of onboarding outside of a traditional workplace, namely, ensuring new hires are familiar with the company culture.

Virtual onboarding may also benefit an ambassador program, under which everyone is paired with another employee who can show them the ropes, e.g., the rules for communicating over team chat and during web conferences. Almost 90% of companies that implement such programs are happy with the results.

Automate essential onboarding processes to ensure compliance

Existing onboarding processes are often very complex, with more than 50 steps involved. These steps can be overly manual and require employees to navigate various tools and methods to complete the necessary tasks.

One of the fundamental parts of employee onboarding includes having new employees review and complete necessary compliance-related information. This includes everything from I-9 employee verification and federal, state and sometimes local tax withholding forms to company policy acknowledgement forms. If you don’t have the right tools and processes in place, it’s easy for important steps to be missed or completed incorrectly. 

With employees onboarding remotely, employers must pay close attention to their I-9 process, given the rather complicated steps that must be completed in a short timeframe. During the pandemic, the IRS has modified the requirements for in-person verification of employee documents during section 2, but employers should note that the in-person confirmation will still need to be completed. CIC Plus can help by providing a network of physical locations all over the U.S. for new hires to visit to complete document verification for section 2 of the I-9. If steps are missed, it could lead to costly audits and penalties. CIC Plus helps employers automate the full verification process, including E-Verify.

Employers with employees in multiple states also need to be diligent when it comes to managing tax withholding information. Don’t leave it to employees to figure out what tax forms to complete; use an automated system such as what CIC Plus offers to guide employees through all necessary forms based on where the employee works and lives.

Help employees feel connected

New hires generally appreciate a highly engaged, hands-on onboarding process. Over 70% of respondents to a LinkedIn survey said that one-on-one time with their managers was the most important part of onboarding. In a virtual context, the use of video solutions such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, and Webex can all help create these types of in-depth professional connections, even from a distance. Video allows for a better understanding of reactions and can also assist with visual demonstrations, via the video feed itself or a screen-share. Keeping in touch via video, chat, or other collaboration solutions might feel like “overcommunicating,” but it can be appreciated by, and valuable to, new hires.

What happens next? Preparing for the remote onboarding future

Many regions are seeing restrictions related to the COVID-19 crisis lifted, although many organizations may opt to continue their remote operations even if they’re technically allowed to return to their offices. Since remote onboarding is likely here to stay, it’s a good idea to prepare now with an automated onboarding plan that will make new hires feel as connected as possible to the organization right out of the gate.

At CIC Plus, we’ve been helping companies onboard their employees for 20 years. Please connect with us to learn how we can help. You can access our COVID-19 resource page here.