First days in a new office are full of mixed emotions – excitement to begin something new and probably a little fear and anxiety about whether you’ll get along with your new colleagues or be successful in the role. And often, all it takes is a reassuring smile or quick conversation with a team member to ease those negative feelings.
But what happens when you’re starting a new job remotely? Suddenly those spontaneous moments of connection are a lot harder to come by. And that means hiring managers and people teams need to be much more intentional about creating a welcoming experience for new hires.
Danny McGrath, Manager of Customer Success at Greenhouse recently sat down with Alex Duell, VP of People at Cutover at Open Forum EMEA to learn how Alex has been approaching new hire onboarding throughout the pandemic. Catch the highlights from their conversation below or watch the full recording here.
Don’t underplay the importance of preboarding
Most businesses think of employee experience in terms of talent attraction, employer branding, recruiting and performance reviews and management. While these are all essential elements, Alex says, “An often neglected part is the preboarding and onboarding piece. For me that is as important – if not more important – than the rest of the employee experience.”
Alex points out that since Cutover has offices in both the UK and US, the time between offer letter and start date can vary significantly among employees. In the UK, lead time can be as long as three months, while in the US it’s often a matter of weeks. “We try to really focus on that gap between offer letter and start date,” says Alex.
Greenhouse Onboarding has streamlined this process significantly, says Alex. “We’ve been able to create that consistency of experience and have it automated without needing to have millions of spreadsheets flying around or hiring managers manually adding start dates that are six or eight weeks out to their calendars. We’ve been able to create very specific journeys for each of our teams and new hires, regardless of how long their lead time might be.”
Remote onboarding can still feel personal
Cutover has been in the fortunate position to be growing quickly, even during the pandemic. Around 75% of the company’s employees have joined since the start of the first UK lockdown in March 2020. Alex believes this has been instrumental to creating a sense of community. “We’ve got such a great amount of camaraderie and understanding and empathy from our team, given that 75% of us have been in the shoes of the most recent crop of new hires joining in this state of being hybrid or semi-remote or fully remote.”
Alex calls out specific actions like employees proactively reaching out to say hello and organizing virtual coffees with new hires. “Those are the things that you really can’t script and you can’t force people to do.”
Having a scalable and repeatable onboarding process is a top priority of the people team, says Alex. But he’s grateful that employees are taking the lead with those personal touches. “It’s been the human side of things that’s gladly been very natural for us as a culture and a community at Cutover. And that has led us to have great success with onboarding so many people during the pandemic.”
Key takeaways for people professionals
Reflecting on what he’s seen at Cutover over the past 18 months, Alex has a few key takeaways to share with other people professionals.
You have less time than ever to make a good impression.
“We’ve seen a few folks who have come out of relatively short tenures – 1 month, 3 months, 6 months – at companies where they’re still onboarding because they’re not being impressed with what they’re seeing. They’ve not felt part of a community. They’ve not been set up for success through the onboarding procedures at the business that they’re leaving,” says Alex. In the past, employees might have been more reluctant to leave a company so quickly, but now they’re not afraid to cut their losses and move on to the next role. This means you have to do everything in your power to create a really engaging first 90–180 days. “We’re in a stage now where we’re working to retain people from day 1 onwards, not just from year 1 or year 2.”
Onboarding is a team sport.
The people team has the responsibility to create structure and make sure new hires are able to hit the ground running with the right tooling, hardware and role-based knowledge. But good onboarding is also about developing a sense of community, which involves many other employees. “Many of the folks that have joined us have never met another coworker in person. So how can we really focus on building that sense of community, even though we’re not at the point we were a few years ago of everyone being in one space with everyone being able to shake hands, go out for lunch together, etc.?” This is where Alex leans into the empathy of hiring managers and other team members to take those proactive steps to welcome new hires.
There’s nothing fluffy about this work.
Over the past five to ten years, people professionals have been making the case that their work is strategic and critical to a company’s success. Good quality onboarding has a clear impact on business results in terms of the time it takes new hires to become productive. “Ultimately, it’s going to be the business results we’re looking at that are going to tell the story of whether we’ve done a good job,” says Alex. “The little bits that we do leading up to the start date can set us on a critical path to success or mediocrity if we do it poorly. It’s high-stakes stuff and it’s not fluffy in the slightest.”
Want to hear more about creating a structured and systematic onboarding program for new hires – no matter where they are? Watch the on-demand recording of Alex and Danny’s conversation here.
Watch the recording