Experience of a new starter in lockdown
Firstly I should introduce myself – I’m Sam, and I was lucky enough to land the role as sales and marketing manager at River after being made redundant from a previous role two weeks prior (Yes, I did spend morning, noon and night looking for jobs and yes, I never want to read the words, “we are looking for an ambitious, self-starter” ever again).
As the team at River are currently working from home, my commute is now only as far as my bedroom to my dining room table, approximately 6 seconds (depending on how tired I am in the morning). It has been an interesting experience onboarding from home and so I decided to share my thoughts and tips in this blog to help others (both employees and employers) when onboarding new starters during the ongoing pandemic.
Creating personal relationships in lockdown
I was very lucky at River as I was able to safely meet up with immediate team members to put names to (non-video call) faces. We were able to have a coffee and catch up which adds a layer of reality to the new job and the people you’re going to be working with. If it’s not possible for you to meet up with your work colleagues in person, perhaps organise a 30 minute “tea and chat” session with key team members during a lunch break so you can get to know them.
Another challenge of not onboarding from a physical office space is not being able to shout across a desk to ask someone a quick question. This can take up more of your time to work out a) who you need to ask and b) where to find things such as documents or images. Thankfully, with tools such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Slack etc, chatting to colleagues is easy, but providing new starters with a rough guide on how everything works is advisable to save time and effort in the long run.
River’s approach to onboarding
River has provided a fascinating experience during the onboarding process because of what they do and their company values: openness and honesty, fairness, commitment, kindness and trust. The side of the business I work in is called “Rippl” – our employee engagement software which celebrates and rewards people for the great work they do. This aligns nicely with River’s beliefs and helps create a culture where people are valued and rewarded for their work, no matter if they’re in the same office or a million miles apart.
Practising what they preach, River uses Rippl internally – it’s called ‘River Blue’, and has been a cornerstone of my onboarding experience. Not only did everybody welcome me with a post on the social timeline on my first day, I’ve been recognised and nominated for a ‘River Blue Award’ on the platform for completed tasks that have impressed line management and my team-mates, too.
In most organisations, you might receive a thanks from your manager as they walk past you to get to the water cooler or even a thumbs up in an email, if you’re lucky. But there’s something about receiving recognition within the domain of a work platform that elevates the ‘thanks’ to a higher standard. If I maintain the hard work and keep receiving nominations and recognitions in the Rippl platform, it’s likely I’ll earn some ‘points’ that can then be used to spend on vouchers in the future, so it’s a great tool that has encouraged me during my first few weeks.
Getting the basics right
Putting the recognition platform aside, River has thought through a lot of the more obvious areas to make things easier for employees working from home. Simple things like where files are located have been well-thought out and we recently had a company-wide video call with the Head of IT Operations to walkthrough where everything should be stored and how to gain access to files. Whilst it might not be possible for considerably large organisations to hold video calls like this, you could record them and make them readily available for new starters.
Staying sane in lockdown
River has also carefully thought about how to keep people connected on a personal level, as well as how to communicate from a work perspective. There are lots of groups set up on our messaging tool so we can pick up interesting conversations whenever we fancy. For River, this includes a health and wellbeing thread, an ‘ideas for kids’ thread to lend a hand to parents looking to stay sane during lockdown, a virtual meditation club and a ‘water cool chat’ channel where you can drop in and out of a video call if you fancy some background noise or a catch up with your colleagues. I think these are all great ideas that other organisations can easily implement if they’re looking for ways to keep their employees engaged.
Simple onboarding efficiencies
Finally, River is very good at collaborating on joint projects using the cloud. If you’re like me when in an office, you would rather pop your head around someone’s desk to have a look at a document on their screen rather than send 100 iterations back and forth on email. A danger of working from home is you could end up with clogged up inboxes full of worthless document versions and tracked changes. Luckily, River make use of cloud-based tools so that we can securely collaborate on communal documents with ease and efficiency.
A lot of people are calling this strange working period a “virtual experiment”, but I think that working from home (for the majority) is like Marmite. We all knew within the first couple of weeks of lockdown whether we were a work from home lover, or hater. I know which camp I sit in. I’ve been very lucky to have experienced a well-thought out, efficient and fun onboarding process from home, but I now can’t wait to meet all my colleagues in person, whenever that will be.
Here’s a few key takeaways and tips to enhance your virtual onboarding process:
Make your new starter feel welcome– whether that’s checking in every now again or using the tools you have to recognise them for hard work. You could even engage with them before their start date to really make them feel comfortable.
Allow for new connections – provide ways in which new starters can connect with other colleagues whether that’s informally or formally (you could even assign a ‘buddy’ or mentor).
Help them navigate new waters – provide as much detail on where to find things or who to speak to, as this will make their life much easier.
Keep them involved – whether that’s asking for their opinion on a new project or sharing information with them, it will make them feel welcome and appreciated.
Whatever you do, ensure it’s reflective of your company culture and values – remember how important first impressions are.