Remote Onboarding of an Employee Due to COVID-19

BY Syretta Williams and Chyna Purdie
4/13/2020 - HVAC Employment , COVID-19

The Employer's Perspective

COVID-19 has been a unique learning experience for all of us in some manner.  Before the pandemic hit the United States and basically stopped everything in its tracks, HARDI’s Talent department was actively recruiting and interviewing for a Talent Administrative Assistant.

On Friday, March 13, 2020, HARDI decided to take extra safety precautions and advised that the staff would be working remotely going forward to self-quarantine and begin practicing social distancing in the workplace.  Prior, the plan was to have in-person interviews beginning on Monday, March 16th for the role.  We quickly had to change our plans and hoped that we would not lose any viable candidates as a result of this situation.

While some candidates were naturally eliminated during the interview process or as a result of COVID-19’s uncertainties, others rose to the occasion and remained responsive to our changing business needs. Candidates showed their ability to be flexible in the hiring process, allowing HARDI to interview them completely remotely.

HARDI made an offer to its final wonderful candidate, Chyna Purdie, for the position on Monday, March 23rd but then that is where the real work began.  After her acceptance on Wednesday, March 25th to begin work on Monday, March 30th, we had to adjust on the fly, fluidly in real time on how to help her complete all her pre-employment paperwork.  We also had to ensure that her remote work environment was set up with all the necessary technology and equipment.  Together as a leadership team we faced these challenges to get her the needed remote office essentials and work arounds for sending HARDI her pre-employment paperwork.  Remaining in compliance with employment law was a concern that we honestly had not planned for.  We learned through the process that there is a Homeland Security caveat that allows employers a work around to getting the I-9 document signed remotely in lieu of having a HARDI staffer complete it with Chyna. 

Once her set up needs were resolved it was onto designing her onboarding plan which again was another hurdle that had to be crossed considering everything that HARDI would normally plan to do in person, now had to all take place virtually offline.  As her leader and hiring team, we continued to assess and think through how to give her the same or similar experience that any other employee would received to ensure that she knew she was a welcomed new addition and we were prepared to greet and train her.  Emails and instant messages flew around towards the end of March 27th to ensure she had welcoming HARDI swag and gifts, first two-week onboarding plan to feel as secure as possible with all parties involved, and a “Coffee with Chyna” team webinar scheduled so that we could break the ice and get to know each other. 

We did as much as we could to mimic our normal practices realizing the importance of laying a good foundation to retain top talent even in a remote environment.  While there were many lessons learned and tips that Chyna and I will share in this post, read below on her perspective of how the event unfolded.

The Employee’s Perspective

Throughout this process it has been a fun experience. To say it wasn’t your “conventional” hiring process would really be an understatement. For the first time, I was hired not only during a pandemic but also, all at home. Pretty cool right? 

During this trying time, a lot of basic life struggles came into play. One of those struggles of life being, parenthood. I am a parent to a beautiful four-year-old little girl. So, it’s always fun to try to work with her around.

From day one, the HARDI team has done all that they can to make me feel comfortable in this interesting time. Between sending me equipment at a fast pace to even sending me welcome flowers. The compassion they had for a new employee was astounding. 

The weekend prior to becoming employed with HARDI was full of anxiety. I was really anticipating how everything was going to work. I mean, never having done this before, it is all a completely new experience. I had everything set up and ready to go for that Monday and of course with some side by side support from my little girl, I knew this would be fun.

Of course, it’s not all cupcakes and rainbows, especially when she wants ALL my attention, but you must multitask. During this time, I always recommend helping to get your children on a schedule with you so it’s easier to work from home. Easier said than done but helping to get children occupied with their favorite thing, lessons or activities, can always help you while working from home (including the virtual mute button on conference calls). 

Working with some awesome people, from the comfort of your own home, does in fact take away some of the jitters of starting a new job.  We had our share of technology trial and errors, but with the help of the team, we overcame them. 

I believe that majority of the trainings went well, and I believe that with my assistance with organization of the information and the structure I can implement will help the next person that becomes a team member with HARDI.

Coming into my almost third week of working with HARDI has been full of surprises, technological challenges and even some parenting hurdles. I am still excited to be working here and really just enthusiastic about being here for a long time to come. HARDI made sure that I was prepared with everything I need, especially being a mom on a budget during a pandemic. I wouldn’t change anything about this experience.

Chyna and I learned a lot from this experience, we hope our post helps you.  Here are our remote onboarding tips and resources for employers and employees:

  1. Have a documented hiring and onboarding plan to reference and review to see what items may need to be changed in order to ensure a smooth transition and no critical steps are missed trying to execute plans remotely.
  2. Employers should concentrate on setting themselves and employees up for success by following this new remote hiring and onboarding plan. Remain flexible and adjust along the way as needed.
  3. Have a contingency plan for any technological or resources to resolve issues that distancing may create.
  4. Ensure the new employee feels valued and welcomed throughout the hiring and onboarding process. Do your best to mimic your in-person interactions and plan ahead.
  5. Working remotely, communication is a key to success. Create a trusting environment and build a relationship where the new employee knows they can have even more open communications with their leader and others they may work with. 
  6. Set clear cut expectations on what productivity looks like for your organization for the new employee.
  7. Allow for work hour flexibility as the employee may be dealing with a variety of home life scenarios during business hours.
  8. Help your employee create a healthy work life balance since the lines of work and life may now be blurred. Stress the importance for a consistent schedule for both the employee and their family so that everyone knows when the employee is “at work” and their time and workspace can be respected by all.
  9. Building a bond with the new employee is more important than ever in a remote environment. Take the time to get to know your new employee and allow them to get to know you and who they will be working with. 
  10. For more tips on virtual onboarding, visit our blog post or this Association for Talent Development article