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Virtual Employee Onboarding to Maintain Firm Culture

Apr 21, 2021
Virtual work is here to stay, and along with it, virtual hiring, onboarding and training. All these processes can be handled in a way that not only maintains, but also strengthens, your firm’s culture.
Now that virtual work has been embraced, it’s not going anywhere. It’s important to create a strong plan for virtual hiring, onboarding, training and remote work.
Virtual Meeting

Interviewing Candidates

Prepare for the interview just as you would if you were conducting it in person. Prepare questions ahead of time and dress professionally, even if you think you’ll only be seen from shoulders up.

Let the candidate know that the meeting will be held virtually and explain what they need to participate in the meeting. Avoid scenarios in which the candidate would be driving or caring for children during this time. They need to be as focused as they would if they came into your office for an interview.

However, understand that you may be interviewing people who are sitting in their living room or kitchen. They may not have an office to retreat to, nor a professionally designed wall behind them. The lighting may not be perfect, and internet connections and speed may differ.

Allow extra time than usual because virtual meetings usually take longer than in-person meetings. Consider how many interviewers really need to be in the session. You don’t want your candidate to take time to figure out which of the eight people on the screen is asking a question. Keeping the group small will eliminate some distractions.

New-hire Meeting

Now that you’ve hired your best candidate, here’s how to go about meeting with them virtually. Seeing a face makes for a better connection between the new hire and the employer. So, if possible, hold the new-hire meeting in a virtual meeting space, such as Zoom, Google Meet or Microsoft Teams.

Communicate ahead of time what is needed for the meeting, including I-9 identification, direct deposit and payroll documents. During the meeting, go through and explain the employee handbook and benefits. (Do not send a 20-page document to the new employee and expect them to go through it at home.)

In addition, before an employee’s first day on the job, make sure they understand exactly what the hours of work will be and the expectations for their virtual working space.

Paperwork Process

Accountants, more than anybody, know the paperless society hasn’t quite materialized. However, there are now tools that can streamline the paperwork process and reduce the amount of physical paper employers need to handle.

DocuSign or Adobe can help you securely gather forms electronically. Take advantage of available technology. But, if you must send hard copies, have the new hire complete and return the documents before their first day on the job so you can review them together. And include a self-addressed stamped envelope so they may return their paperwork in a timely manner.
Being prepared, following best practices and making employees feel a part of your company culture will only strengthen your firm.

Welcoming

Starting with a new company includes a bit of an adjustment period. But imagine not meeting or getting to know your bosses or co-workers in-person. Don’t just introduce the new employee to the team—make them feel valued and welcomed. Bring the best qualities of your firm to bear.

Give the new employee a primary contact (or contacts) they can reach out to during those first few weeks. Anticipate the common questions they might have and plan appropriately.

The employee should know who their manager is, but there are other important contacts within the firm. Inform them who to contact for accessing paystubs, enrolling in benefits and just learning their way around.

Continue the welcoming process by reaffirming your fi rm’s culture. Make sure managers are accessible and that time is carved out for team meetings and virtual gatherings. Check in with new hires on a regular basis to solicit and provide feedback. Do they have everything they need to perform their duties? That includes not just equipment and software, but also communication from management and within the team. Find out if there are additional resources that could help a new employee thrive.

Remote Work

Remote work has created new opportunities for employees and employers alike. It also presents its own challenges. If you haven’t done so already, developing a policy regarding remote work will enable you to make the expectations and guidelines clear from the start. And, because employees aren’t sitting at desks just outside a manager’s office, employees need to track and record their work time accurately. They also need to abide by security measures to keep your network and your firm safe. Provide practice and compliance posters online so they are accessible to everyone.

Virtual Meeting Fatigue

Virtual meeting fatigue is a new aspect of our lives now. You may have experienced it yourself. Employers can help employees overcome virtual meeting fatigue by focusing on these key points:

  • KEEP MEETINGS ON TOPIC. Be succinct and schedule breaks in long meetings.

  • LIMIT PARTICIPANTS to only who needs to be there. When meetings get large, it’s hard to connect and engage.

  • CONSIDER THE GOAL of the meeting. Are you sharing information or collaborating? Sharing information company-wide should be kept succinct. Don’t expect effective discussions and input from a large meeting. Collaborative meetings should be smaller.

  • PLAN FOR TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES and lag time. Participants can get frustrated if they can’t participate effectively. For example, plan a reaction or chat response ahead of the meeting. For example, have someone use the “raise hand” tool or physically raise their hand if they are having trouble finding how to communicate input.

  • DESIGNATE A POINT PERSON to collect and share input and questions for their group to present at the actual meeting. Use breakout rooms when needed and then come back together.

  • MAKE SURE EMPLOYEES KNOW TO TAKE BREAKS from their screens if they need to join virtual meetings or instant messaging or chat threads frequently while performing their jobs.

  • DON’T DEFAULT TO VIDEO CHATTING for every communication. There are things that can be handled through email or a non-video chat feature. Non-video chat apps allow the employee to pay attention when they need to and snooze notifications when they need to focus. Don’t forget that sometimes an old-fashioned phone call will do just fine.

  • ADJUST THE SETTINGS on virtual meeting apps to make you feel most comfortable. For example, “touch up my appearance” in Zoom or toggle between “gallery view” or “speaker view” based on your preference. If you are distracted by your own video, you can hide your video from your own view while others can still see you.

  • Every now and then if time allows, HAVE A FUN TEAM MEETING, where the agenda is only to chat and have lunch with your team, rather than accomplish a work task.

Now that virtual work has been embraced, it’s not going anywhere. It’s important to create a strong plan for virtual hiring, onboarding, training and remote work. Being prepared, following best practices and making employees feel a part of your company culture will only strengthen your firm.

Reprinted with permission from the Massachusetts Society of CPAs.


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About the Author

Michelle Tabako, LICSW, SHRM-CP, and Wendall Waters are with Integrated Human Resources. Contact them at Rteam@integratedHRTeam.com.