Two WFH challenges stare companies in the face: Cultural onboarding of new recruits and ‘reinduction’ of old employees

The induction session on day one of a new job is akin to wows on wedding day. The roadmap for a happy partnership has been sketched; however, for it to turn into a happy journey together, the road has to be taken in persistent daily steps of adjustment, discovery and even self-abnegation, till “term termination” do us part.

Abhishek Paul, culture shepherd at Kissflow, is currently officiating an unusual “wedding ceremony” between a group of employees and his organisation. The series of virtual induction sessions he conducts for them factors in a unique situation — onboarded remotely during the pandemic, these new recruits are yet to set foot in the office, exchange face-to-face howdys with colleagues, which they can’t hope to do in the foreseeable future.

Despite the miasma of uncertainty encircling businesses, organisations can’t put off hiring totally and indefinitely. Therefore, remote induction of new recruits is a situation many of them would be dealing with, along with the inevitable questions it raises.

The obvious first question: Will virtual onboarding for remote-working new recruits be half as effective as regular onboarding?

Gayathri Shankar, Head HR, Operations, Ramboll Middle-East and Asia-Pacific, believes virtual onboarding should not pose any major challenges, if the regular modules are migrated to the virtual space, and the online modules are designed anticipating gaps in the understanding of certain purely in-office situations. In fact, she believes there is a silver lining to it that is hard to miss.

“Virtual onboarding programmes come with a distinct advantage — they are not plagued by interruptions that are the bane of in-office onboarding, and are better attended. At office, a new recruit may sometimes be called out of an onboarding session as there is ‘work’ for him to do. Sometimes, teams may want the onboarding programme to be deferred as their new recruits would have been drafted into regular work on the very first day.”

As one battle-ready unit

Let’s assume the basic onboarding process has been executed without any hitches. Now, what does it take for the new recruit to be accepted as one of their own? It takes a deeper level of onboarding, one that reaches down to the core cultural values of the organisation, to bring about such an integration.

“I have heard new joinees onboarded remotely during the pandemic saying that they receive little cooperation from old employees, as they are just a message or a face on a video call,” discloses Sandeep Kochhar, founder, Blewminds Consulting. “To start with, WhatsApp or a Telegram group should be created just for the new joinees so they may not feel entirely lost.”

Everyday interactions and informal lessons offered around cubicles — and why not, even the water-cooler conversations and team lunches — have been part of a natural mix that aid bonding, learning, and ultimately cultural integration of new employees.

“Now, it is necessary to orchestrate these natural and spontaneous social interactions,” says Abhishek, adding that they may help contextualise the induction sessions being conducted for the new joinees.

While Sandeep suggests that there is no substitute for a “mentoring buddy” to help the new joinee culturally integrate himself into the organisation, Gayathri puts forth that regular check-ins are necessary to make online buddy programmes effective. She believes that the online environment allows for quick and prompt supervisions of this nature.

Frequent check-ins

“As a matter of routine, every new recruit would be assigned a buddy. In its regular format, where the new recruit and buddy could meet at office, it would usually be entirely up to the two to organise the programme, including meet-ups sessions, and there may not be structured periodic check-points to see how the programme is shaping up. Now, as the buddy programme is being run virtually, it comes with regular check-ins, and team leaders and HR professionals are able to monitor its progress closely. A buddy is sent regular reminders and there are also corresponding follow-ups. How effective the ‘buddy’ has been in communicating the organisation’s core values is analysed, even when the buddy programme is in progress. In the normal course, the new recruit would be answering questions about the usefulness of the buddy programme, only at the end of the probationary period, ” details Gayathri.

Greater involvement, early on

Sandeep brings another dimension to how quickly new joinees working remotely can “assimilate” into an organisation’s culture.

“It is necessary to involve new joinees in special projects, which would lead to more interactions with old employees thereby increasing the bandwidth they have to imbibe the organisation's cultural values quickly and effortlessly.”

‘Re-onboarding’ old employees

At one level, all employees, old and new, are being onboarded as they are now working outside many of the familiar organisational structures that defined work for them. Given this, is there a need for cultural re-engineering for entire workforces?

Abhishek states that what would happen spontaneously earlier should be intentionally planned for the benefit of the entire workforce.

Abhishek explains, “Open up multiple communication channels — work chat and video calls — that give the feeling of constant chatter as opposed to emails. Communicate the core changes in the paradigm of managing remotely to the managers/leaders and coach them, if required. Intentionally create opportunities for people across departments to connect and catch up for informal chats — this will fill the gap of the casual water cooler conversations and the chats over coffee and lunch. Don't ignore or discount the non-work interactions; instead celebrate them! We spend some time in our weekly all hands called G2G just saying hello to all our colleagues who we haven’t got the chance to interact with through the week,” explains Abhishek.

“All-hands meets should increase in frequency. Now, HR professionals design virtual programmes such as virtual dodo, fun Friday and the works, to maintain a sense of connection,” says Sandeep, adding that connectedness is essential to keeping organisational culture in fine trim.

What had earlier enabled an organisation to work in alignment with its stated culture may require trimming and restructuring to work in a similar fashion.

Smaller teams

Abhishek believes it is absolutely necessary to offer a greater degree of autonomy to individual teams. “Push control to the team level instead of centralising it. Teams have to be broken down to smaller units for this to get the desired effect. In our organisation, we now roughly have one manager for every six employees,” he points out how smaller teams provide a favourable and receptive environment for dissemination of cultural values.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2021 12:35:54 AM |

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