What to Do When You're Asked to Onboard Remotely

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Question: I recently accepted a job offer with my dream employer. Then, they told me I would be onboarded remotely, given stay-at-home orders in the community.

What does that mean? Am I still hired?

Answer: Certainly, a note like this from a new employer feels very different from when you entered the military. Can you imagine if you'd been given the option of going through boot camp from home? Not likely.

Businesses are facing entirely new issues because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. In hiring new talent in the midst of a national shutdown, many have had to refigure some of their processes. Many companies sent employees home to do their work, but the business is still growing and hiring. For other companies, the opposite is true.

Onboarding at most companies typically consists of:

  • Paperwork: From employment, payroll and tax forms to confidentiality and non-compete agreements and other necessary documents, employers get all the paperwork completed with new employees during the onboarding process.
  • Compliance: During the onboarding process -- whether in a formal setting or more informally -- new hires are briefed on compliance issues with the employer. New hires learn what's acceptable and what's not, how to access and store confidential and sensitive data, and what's expected of them as a steward of the company's assets and brand.
  • Meeting the team: Typically, the new hire's manager walks them around the office, introducing them to their new co-workers and peers, as well as managers and colleagues in other departments. The new hire may also be introduced to key clients and vendors as part of the initial welcome process.
  • Learning the rules: Each company has its own unwritten rules and protocols. The onboarding process usually includes a conversation about company cultures, keys to being a successful team member, and even casual conversations around how to avoid making mistakes.
  • Getting oriented: From setting up and learning computer systems and software, to accounting processes (i.e. how to file an expense report, request time off, modify work schedule, etc.) to getting oriented around the "typical day" work schedule, onboarding is where most of this orientation occurs.

Much of typical onboarding occurs in person, as you can imagine, but some aspects have always been done online. For example, training videos, off-site group education and reading materials supplement the in-person experience for new hires.

Today, with companies restricting contact and onboarding new employees online, things have changed. The parts of the process that were handled online or virtually in the past are intact, but the in-person experiences have shifted to virtual as well.

Some ways you might experience virtual onboarding include:

  • More documentation, forms and paperwork will be online. You may sign electronically using a document signing software and upload your own documentation online.
  • You may participate in virtual team meetings and welcome calls. Many of these will be done via video, so ensure you have a home set up to manage these. Refer to the tips I shared in this article on how to work remotely.
  • You may be viewing more online videos, video tutorials and onboarding materials. Ensure you have proper equipment to view these and complete the viewing in the time required by your employer.
  • As you are invited to collaboration tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams, you may be jumping into team conversations that are well-established. This can feel like walking into a social situation where everyone is telling stories and sharing jokes they all understand. Be careful seeming too familiar with lingo, humor or frustrations that are shared among co-workers who've been working together for a while. Instead, keep your contributions authentic but professional until you have more fully integrated with the team.

Virtual onboarding may be the norm for a while yet, as companies learn how to stay operational and even grow during times of shift. As a new hire, show your flexibility and resilience by being cooperative through the process.

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