Most of us currently find ourselves in a time when we want to continue our work, not only for the well-being of the organizations to which we have devoted our time and talent but also to create some sense of normalcy and feel a sense of control over our environments – while focusing on our complex day-to-day lives, our families, and our communities.

If you have chosen to bring a new team member into your organization at this time, we applaud you. Hiring and welcoming a new individual to your team at this uncertain time is a generous act. You are providing someone with a bright future.

You may be challenged by how to on-board your new team member in a virtual world and may not want to lose the momentum that you have created in filling the position. At Aspen Leadership Group, we have found that successful on-boarding may be achieved virtually. The key, as with all on-boarding, is to have the right plan and team in place in advance of your new hire’s first day.

On-boarding serves four primary functions.
  1. It provides the new hire with the basics of the job function, the mechanics of how the work is performed, and the protocols that ensure that their work is integrated into the work of the department and the organization.
  2. It helps them establish relationships with their key colleagues.
  3. It ensures that the new hire complies with human resource policies – signs up for benefits, tax information, etc.
  4. It introduces new hires into the culture of the organization – building and enhancing mission alignment and providing context to their work.

Successful on-boarding is curated by the new hire’s supervisor but involves a number of colleagues. In fact, the supervisor should assign a “buddy” to the new hire as soon as possible. This buddy should be a peer and should be a member of the team but need not have a long tenure with the organization. Often, the last hire serves as the best buddy as they recall their own on-boarding, including what worked and what could have been more successful. The buddy should be warm and unassuming, a role model with a sense of humor, and most of all someone of whom the new hire can ask questions, sometimes confidentially, about team dynamics (is it a hierarchical or flat culture, do certain groups conduct their work more or less formally) as well as questions about day-to-day life within the organization (what should I wear, where should I get lunch, can I have personal items on my desk). Once an HR liaison is determined, you have your three-member on-boarding team – supervisor, buddy, and HR liaison.

In a virtual environment, everyone involved will need to be acquainted with video conferencing software. ALG uses and recommends Zoom, but there are numerous video communication services including GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, and Cisco Webex, among others. We strongly recommend against conducting meetings via telephone – phone eliminates non-verbal communication that can be a very important part of effective on-boarding.

The role of the supervisor

As the new hire’s key colleague, the supervisor should curate the on-boarding process, developing a clear and thoughtful framework and reaching out to the key players. Periodic check-ins scheduled at the onset will ensure that on-boarding remains on track and takes place efficiently. It is critical that a schedule (with specific meeting times) be developed in advance, prior to the new hire’s start date, with everyone informed of their role. Although the first and last on-boarding session that the new hire has should be with the supervisor, the supervisor is not responsible for the dissemination of all information. We recommend that the supervisor provide a broad overview of the department, define expectations, and provide the critical information that the new hire needs to get started with confidence as soon as possible. The supervisor should then designate a series of colleagues within the division that can provide depth to the framework laid out by the supervisor. For example, the new hire might meet with the head of prospect research in order to learn how this work is integrated into their own work and how to work together productively. These one-on-one meetings are the first step in building relationships within the department while alleviating some of the burden placed on the supervisor. There should be logic to the schedule and the sessions should build upon one another (this means that team members cannot “pick a slot” on the schedule).

The role of human resources

One human resources team member should act as the HR liaison to the new hire. All of the necessary information should be provided to the new hire in advance so that the time spent with the HR liaison may be focused on questions that the new hire may have. Protocols should be in place for submission of paperwork, signing up for benefits, etc. Bear in mind that very few individuals have fax machines today, and many do not have scanners.

Seeking inspiration

New staff need to be inspired by the mission of the organization and they need to associate the mission with real people on the frontlines. This gives purpose to their work. We recommend two to three sessions with key influencers at the organization – this may be the president and CEO or dean (depending on the role and the size of the organization), a musician at a performing arts institution, a curator at a museum, a professor in higher education, etc. These sessions may be in small groups or one-on-one; either way the goal is to provide meaning and additional context to the work of the new hire.

Creating an on-boarding plan in advance may take some time, and it certainly involves a number of players and some coordination, but it is well-worth the effort. On-boarding in a virtual environment requires more planning and more structure that will only benefit the on-boarding process. Effective on-boarding can be accomplished in-person or virtually; in a virtual environment, it will allow your organization to continue its vital work even in uncertain times.

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