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Nov 05, 2020

A Series on Work and Mental Health: Virtual Onboarding

2020 has put significant burden on everyone's mental health. Your job and career make up a significant part of that and researchers have in fact found that being in a job you hate can be worse for your mental health than being unemployed. I want to share my learnings from this year in a series of three articles where I’ll explore the recruiting and jobseeker space and offer my advice, thoughts, and guidance to help people along their journey and, hopefully, make the experience a bit better.

By
Alex
Pavlou

US MD & Co-Founder of Bamboo Crowd. I lead our New York office and work with high-growth businesses to build recruiting strategies, employer brands, talent pipelines and networks.

Virtual Onboarding

The day we all went into lockdown feels like years ago. As a business owner of a recruitment consultancy, 2020 has been the most mentally taxing and exhausting period of time, even more than the year we started Bamboo Crowd, which many had said would be the most difficult.

Mental health has always been a priority to me, particularly as mental health problems do run in my family. This year, I have certainly seen the impact that this new world and way of living has had on everyone’s mental health, particularly when it comes to those closest to me, whether that be family, friends, or coworkers.

While we’re facing tough economic times ahead, companies are still hiring and people are still looking for work. One opportunity the pandemic has presented to many of us is a chance to reflect on what is important to us and our happiness. This has led many people to think about what type of job they really want to be doing. And companies are thinking at this moment about what type of culture and team they want to build. At Bamboo Crowd, we've had inspiring calls with thousands of candidates over the last few months. Many are looking for more meaningful and rewarding work.

In a series of three articles, I’ll explore the recruiting and jobseeker space and offer my advice, thoughts, and guidance to help people along this journey and, hopefully, make the experience a bit better.

The three areas I’ll be exploring are:

  • Onboarding new hires. But rather than focusing on how to do it, I’ll explore the issues that we should prioritize and be mindful of right now.
  • Looking for a job in a new field. How do you sidestep into a new industry or trade to find greater happiness and fulfillment?
  • Employee experience. In the last post, I explore how business owners and leaders should approach our new virtual world

We begin with virtual onboarding for new hires. Never before have so many companies had to adjust to a new way of hiring. No office tour, no meeting the team over drinks, no handshakes.  The virtual hiring and onboarding experience is a different world. Drawing from the many candidates that we’ve placed this year, here are some takeaways and tactics that I think should be prioritized.

Communication and more communication. Avoid anxiety and imposter syndrome and consider vulnerability.

No matter what year it is, starting a new job can be daunting and anxiety-inducing. Many people face imposter syndrome when starting a new job and will rely on positive cues and physical indicators that they’re doing a good job. Virtually, however, this doesn’t exist in the same way. No one is dropping you a quick thumbs up and there isn’t the same opportunity to talk and make new friends around the proverbial water cooler. Vulnerability is at an all-time high and engagement is incredibly important. 

Communication has become a critical aspect of ensuring that a new virtual hire remains engaged and cared for through onboarding and beyond.  It’s also important to:

  • Ensure your leaders and managers undergo training or receive guidance on how to communicate and engage new hires virtually.
  • Book catch-ups and meet-and-greets with different people across the business throughout the first couple of weeks but emphasize that these conversations can (and should) be informal and about anything.
  • Create a safe space for open and honest feedback. A new hire needs to be able to communicate how they’re feeling and what they need. Without this space, they'll likely be at home, alone, trying to figure things out for themselves, which can take a toll on someone’s confidence and sense of belonging.
  • Give frequent positive cues and signs that a new hire is moving in the right direction. Level-set your expectations with them and ensure they know that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that you recognize that onboarding virtually and ramping up can take time. Many new hires can put a lot of pressure on themselves because they are virtual and this can cause further strain and burden.
  • Communication platforms like Slack should be encouraged and used often throughout the day. Try not to over-police Slack (or whatever platform you use). Set clear boundaries but let this be a safe space for non-work chatter as well.
  • Scatter meetings throughout the week. Team meetings help everyone keep in touch and see what others are working on. This can help a new hire learn, soak in more of the culture, and get to know the way people communicate.
  • And one final piece of advice: Be careful and thoughtful when communicating with new employees, specifically. New hires may read certain things the wrong way. Be considerate to the reality that a new hire may be in a heightened state of anxiousness. This anxiety may be triggered by certain things. Understand that a text, Slack, or email may be misinterpreted. So whilst communication is important, how you communicate is equally important. For instance, throwing a random “catch up” into the calendar can be particularly anxiety-inducing!
Many people face imposter syndrome when starting a new job and will rely on positive cues and physical indicators that they’re doing a good job.

Set realistic expectations: Avoid the tendency to overwhelm and “burn out” new hires.

Any business trying to ramp up a new hire fast is setting the relationship up to fail. I’ve seen this happen across the board from, “Oh, can you do this training and read all of these decks while you’re working your two weeks’ notice?” to, “We’ve stacked your calendar full of meetings and will be introducing you to all your clients in your first week – aren’t you excited?!” 

Whether it’s a startup, agency, or corporate, hiring managers, who themselves have been insanely stretched the last few months, are eager to hand things over. But trust me – please be patient. Overwhelming new hires creates immediate disengagement and increases stress. It also builds resentment and frustration and many will just deal with it and not necessarily push back or express how they feel. I’ve seen people teetering on the edge of burnout. This has a huge impact on mental health and will have a longer term impact on your employee retention and turnover.

Here are some of my tips for ramping up a new hire:

  • Focus on mission, values, and culture before the work. Yes, it’s tempting to hand everything over at the onset, but take the time to set the right foundation from day one.
  • Streamline the amount of activities and meetings you are about to book in. Actually, just halve it! Cramming someone’s schedule will only lead to further anxiety, particularly for those who are just returning to work and navigating the re-adjustment period.
  • Spend time learning your new hires’ goals and objectives and set these together.
  • Don’t try to over standardize your onboarding – what works for one person might not work for another. Be flexible, fluid, and spontaneous. If it makes the most sense to learn new technologies in week one, then do it. If someone would prefer to learn more about customers first, do that. Keep it open and set realistic timelines for how fast a new hire will be able to ramp up and start contributing.
  • Train and educate hiring managers on the importance of mental health when onboarding new staff. Encourage them to focus on delivering a positive employee experience, rather than handing over a bunch of work. Frequent one-on-ones, open communication channels, and, most importantly, EMPATHY for a new hire must be prioritized as much as possible.
Overwhelming new hires creates immediate disengagement and increases stress. It also builds resentment and frustration and many will just deal with it and not necessarily push back or express how they feel.

Test and learn: Be flexible and more personalized in your approach.

Noone is going to get virtual onboarding right the first time. It takes a test-and-learn mindset to build the right process and approach. If you’re an HR leader or business owner thinking about what you can be doing more of, please consider the below:

  • Build a virtual employee experience strategy and a framework for how to deliver it. Consider building a mission and set of values to level set what you want to prioritize, including selection criteria for adding a new tactic.
  • Consider aligning start dates so multiple employees can join at once. This is also a logical way to create a buddy system that allows new hires to connect with others and speak candidly about their experience.
  • Seek open and honest feedback and invest this back into your onboarding strategy.
  • Consider technology that tracks employee motivation and adjust your strategy to be  more personalized. There are tools out there I can recommend to you.
  • And, most importantly, make your virtual onboarding fun and rewarding!

I hope that some of the tips and tactics I shared resonate with and work for you! Just remember, everyone is figuring this out together and we all have a long way to go until we get it right. From what I’ve seen, this isn’t really a case of who’s doing it “best”. Your virtual onboarding experience should be measured on the “experience” itself and it’s one that has a tremendous impact on someone’s mental health and wellbeing. Above all, be considerate, kind, and compassionate. With the right preparation and care, you’ll foster a high performing team that feels heard and valued.

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions and, if you have any tactics that have been working for you, we’d love to hear them.  Please share! Lastly, if you’re hiring, and would appreciate advice or support in designing your onboarding process, please drop me a line at [email protected] 

Please come back next week, when I’ll explore strategies to find happiness at work by sidestepping into a new industry or trade. See you then!

Alex Pavlou
Meet Alex

Co-Founder & US Growth Lead

Build & Executive Search — New York

“Alex helped scale my team in ways that never would have been possible”

Head of Design, Alibaba