Social distancing and the subsequent government lockdown is unchartered territory for everyone. But even during a pandemic, businesses need to sustain their workforce to keep operations running smoothly. Companies that hire during the pandemic face unique challenges when it comes to screening candidates and onboarding employees, but there are ways to make the process easier for everyone involved. 

The following guide explains potential pitfalls of remote hiring and suggestions for addressing them. 

Appearing Impersonal  

Onboarding a new employee takes more than sending a welcome letter. It’s challenging to treat every employee like an individual if you send the same form letter to everyone on their first day. Tailor the message to the employee’s position and department and welcome them in the morning on a video conference. Check in with them frequently throughout the week, and assign them a peer mentor to help them adjust to their new workflow and setting. 

Communication Breakdowns  

Confusion about communication chains and expectations are more likely to occur when businesses onboard remote workers. For example, new employees might not understand who to contact if they have a question about the software they need to use for work—IT, a direct supervisor, or a peer? They also might not know what to do if the person they need to reach isn’t available to answer a question—or if their reaction should vary depending on the topic that needs to be addressed.  

Make sure you explain these points ahead of time and establish which channels of communication the employee should use in different scenarios. For example, your company might use email to communicate weekly objectives and expect the employee to respond to emails by the end of the business day.  

It’s just as important to also review your correspondence for the conversational tone. Some people agonize over slight nuances in word choice, and, without facial expressions, gestures, or tone of voice, there are fewer social cues available to reassure someone of their position during an email exchange. As a result, they might react defensively if it seems like an email is overly critical or curt.  

Take an extra minute to review your emails before sending them—or save them as drafts to read again with fresh eyes later.  

Not Monitoring the Employee’s Progress 

Managers and HR need to establish a clear process for documenting the employee’s progress and ensuring they meet milestones at an appropriate pace. During the lockdown, there’s an additional burden on the employee to also report their status on every assignment.  

Consider creating a “living” document in Google Drive, Microsoft Onedrive, or a similar program that the employee can update throughout the day that shows every user their changes in real time. In Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel, you can set data validations for a specified row or column with various stages of completion—for example, “In Progress,” “Complete,” “Waiting for Approval,” “Approved,” or “Needs Changes.” You can even assign tasks to different users so everyone knows what to do next. 

Failing to Connect With New Employees 

The first 90 days of employment are pivotal. During this time, new employees start to build rapport with the company, its leadership, and their peers. They learn about the organization’s value system, norms, and what behaviors are expected of them.  

But it’s challenging to make these connections while social distancing. People might not feel welcome or identify with the company’s driving purpose. As a result, they’re less likely to fully participate in the company culture.  

According to Gallup management consulting, over 50 years of research prove employees who are engaged are more likely to:  

  • Seek new ways to optimize their process and build on their strengths. 
  • Be proactive about collaborating with colleagues and participate in work-related events. 
  • Take accountability for their performance.  
  • Assume ownership over their projects at work and act independently. 
  • Overcome challenges that interfere with productivity or performance quality. 
  • Attract high-quality job candidates through referrals, which account for nearly 71% of job applications. 

Company culture and employee engagement go hand in hand. To welcome new members to your team, look to your organization’s values. If your company wants to communicate compassion for their employees, for example, and cultivates an atmosphere of wellness, introduce your new hires to the company’s benefit programs. Ensure employees can still take full advantage of these benefits while working remotely—for example, by taking a virtual fitness class or telehealth consultation.  

Not Giving Employees the Tools They Need 

Make sure all essential equipment is delivered at least one or two days before the employee’s start date and confirm that everything arrives intact and fully operational. It’s also imperative to set up the employee’s computer with all the software, updates, and log-in credentials they need to begin working right away.  

Because you can’t train employees in person right now, it’s a good idea to install remote-access software that allows IT to control the user’s computer from a distance. You also want to assemble thorough training materials and video tutorials to help guide new hires through work processes. You might need to review and modify your existing training material to simplify concepts for distance learning. If possible, try to break expectations down into separate learning modules that employees can cover gradually over the course of several months.  

How Will Remote Work Change the Workplace? 

As businesses adapt to social distancing orders, the modern workplace will be forced to evolve. Some of these changes will be highly visible—open office layouts, for example, could fall out of favor in exchange for separate workstations and half-partitions. To reduce disease transmission, companies can also install new air filtration systems, automatic doors, and hand sanitizer dispensers.  

But companies are also reevaluating their attendance policies, and many business consultants believe remote work will become more common overall. In an interview with Vox, Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, explains the financial incentives for allowing employees to work remotely part- or full-time: 

  • Remote work can help employers save money on rent and office maintenance costs.  
  • Employees are likely to need fewer infrastructure on-site, including office furniture.  
  • Employers can avoid relocation costs and attract candidates outside their commuting zone.  

Since the beginning of the lockdown, almost 34% of employees have started working from home for the first time. As a result, many companies have already invested in the resources to make remote work possible. Business leaders may decide to capitalize on this technology to create more flexibility and incentives for their workforce.  

As HR departments pivot to address the new challenges of employee onboarding, they also need to reevaluate their benefits packages to stay relevant. Digital memberships and subscriptions are becoming as important as conventional office perks that take place on-location.