It is your first day of work at a new employer. You are both nervous and excited about this next chapter in your professional career. You look forward to meeting your new colleagues, getting to know your manager, and learning more about the company and your place within it. However, you are also well aware of the many less-than-fun onboarding activities you must complete in the first few days, weeks, and even months of your new job. From trying to have IT set you up in the system to completing all of the legally required forms and trainings, there are many opportunities for an onboarding experience to go from “meh” to an outright nightmare under “normal” circumstances. Add a global pandemic that makes the entire onboarding experience transition to a fully remote approach, the technical and legal components are made even more difficult. Not to forget that many of the “fun” parts of onboarding, such as tours of the office, lunches with coworkers, and informal opportunities to meet others not located within your team or department, are made impossible.
Onboarding covers a wide variety of tasks and trainings, as well as coordination between different HR functions (benefits, payroll, talent development, the list goes on…) and other departments (most notably IT), so there is NO WAY to cover all of the intricacies in a single blog post (I believe a glance at the high-level process map below will make this clear). With this in mind, I hope to share some of the good associated with remote onboarding based on my personal experience of starting an internship in May of 2020 and working on remote onboarding-related projects and initiatives.
Many of you at this point are probably thinking – what could POSSIBLY be “The Good” of remote onboarding. Well, as our resident HR lady, I am going to tell you!
My company, Clean Harbors, was making a big push towards remotely training new hires even before the pandemic started, specifically through the use of eLearning (i.e., online videos, quizes). Many of you are likely thinking, “but most of these videos are so boring and disengage new hires!” I agree; if done poorly, they do just that (and sometimes they do that even if done well). However, eLearning’s benefits far outweigh its cons for a company of 15,000 employees who operate across the US (and Canada) in a highly regulated industry. Not including position-specific OSHA (30 hrs) or Hazwoper (40 hrs) trainings, the company has approximately 30-40 hours of training that every employee must complete. These range from trainings all employees must complete like sexual harassment (Title IX) and how to submit PTO; to position-specific government required information, such as chemical waste packaging requirements for Chemists and Dept of Transportation load requirements for truck drivers. Since government compliance is a necessity, eLearning enables an auditable, efficient, standardized, and cost-effective way to provide the required trainings on a mass scale.
Now many of you are probably thinking, “well, yes, this makes sense for highly regulated industries, but is not a good method for most other companies.” I agree and disagree with you there – I think many large firms can benefit from having general all company orientations and trainings conducted via eLearning. For example, I could not remember the order of a particular process a month after starting my internship. The online training index made it simple to find the appropriate video and see the parts I needed a refresher on. Another benefit of generalized trainings for an entire firm is that it presents a unified vision, mission, and purpose of the company, which is especially important for new hires to understand.
Another positive of the pandemic and the shift to remote onboarding is that it has pushed many firms, including Clean Harbors, to adopt a paperless approach for documents not required by law to be signed and saved using real ink. Using platforms like DocuSign and I-9 express (when virtual ID verification was allowed for employment authorization forms) or developing internal systems for submitting new hire information has drastically decreased the amount of physical paperwork previously required. For example, Clean Harbors has several optional benefits offerings (pet insurance, gym rebates, grocery promotional memberships, etc.). Every employee used to complete and sign a paper form that would then be scanned and emailed to the benefits department. The IT department developed an internal form that new hires now complete and check a box to e-sign the form. Once submitted, the form automatically sends emails to the appropriate benefit program coordinator based on a new hire’s selections. It makes one wonder why it took a pandemic to implement such a simple solution…
Lastly, remote onboarding enables a culture that promotes connecting with employees not located in the same office/region for training and networking. Before the pandemic, it was not uncommon to receive training from someone based on their proximity to the new hire rather than them being the best person for that new hire to learn from. For example, one of the projects I worked on required me to learn about the company’s reporting of employee survey data. Instead of learning about the reports from my manager, who distributed and did not create the reports, I was connected with an HR colleague in the Midwest to learn about the current reporting process. That was not a cultural norm for the company before the pandemic, but has become a training norm today. Additionally, the SVP of HR hosts a daily trivia via WebEx created specifically to resolve the lack of “water-cooler” type interactions. Regular remote events such as this enabled me as a new employee to develop social ties with employees from California all the way to India (where there is a Sales, IT, and HR team).
As you can tell, I really focused on the GOOD in this post. However, if you are interested in hearing about the BAD and the UGLY from this HR lady’s experience in a future blog post – let me know! I have plenty of remote onboarding horror stories to share.