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The Path Forward
In March 2020, we established this dedicated hub as a business resource for our customers to help them manage day-to-day operations when navigating the growing risks associated with COVID-19. As the pandemic and responses to it evolve, we continue to provide content and resources here.
- How will COVID-19 developments impact and define the challenges ahead?
- How do businesses and their employees best move forward and adapt to the COVID-19 workplace?
- How do all of us participate in building a safer, more resilient future?
Business travel has suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, but many companies are resuming the practice. Here are some travel safety tips to consider.
Employer focus on mental wellness can help smooth transitions back to offices, retail businesses and other workplaces following COVID shutdowns.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced many companies to welcome new employees remotely. How can you optimize onboarding in a virtual work setting?
By Jessica Aguilar, Vice President and Head of Talent Acquisition, Zurich North America
Onboarding new workers has always represented huge stakes for the company, for the hiring manager and, of course, for the employees themselves. For companies with offices shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, remote onboarding can create additional challenges, but not insurmountable ones.
At Zurich North America, our Human Resources (HR) team literally had only a few days to figure out how to successfully implement remote onboarding. Through intensive collaboration with business units and hiring managers throughout our organization, we identified how to help new employees feel supported and ready to work beginning Day One.
Here are some observations we’ve learned along the way:
View virtual onboarding as part of an ongoing strategy, not a pandemic workaround
The COVID-19 outbreak accelerated a need to optimize remote onboarding for new hires. But the need to implement best practices around virtual hiring and onboarding will likely be important even after companies reopen their facilities and the coronavirus (thankfully) recedes.
The workplace is changing. A 2020 Gallup poll found that nearly two-thirds of U.S. workers who have been working remotely during the pandemic would like to continue to do so.1 And research supports the likelihood of remote work continuing to grow in popularity in the U.S. and globally.2
Make IT your first priority for new hires
Information technology (IT) is fundamental to equip and support someone for success. New employees will feel more productive in their first week if they have a comprehensive view of how to get set up with key business and productivity tools. Our HR and IT teams worked together to establish the best protocols for supplying new hires with the technology they need.
As soon as the environment shifted to working from home, our IT department focused on enhancing the remote onboarding experience for new employees as well as their managers. Among the implementations:
- The team published a “quick start” guide, which is included with new computer bundles and gives a new hire tips on how to log on and access basic systems.
- About two weeks before the new employee’s first day, a support analyst contacts the manager and confirms the hardware bundle components to be delivered. The analyst can address any questions or unique needs.
- The IT package usually arrives on the Thursday before a Monday start date. Ideally, an IT representative will meet with the new hire a day before their start date or on their first day.
- We established virtual communication and collaboration tools to support not just remote working but also virtual interaction. This is key for workers to be engaged and productive.
New employees will need ongoing support, and easy access is crucial. Members of our end-user support team from IT are available to new employees to answer questions or troubleshoot any potential problems.
Be sure to communicate cyber security mindfulness to every new employee. Also, pay attention to your new hire’s ergonomic setup at home, which may include making potential accommodations aligned with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Support your hiring managers
Many of the onboarding tasks a manager needs to perform with a new hire will remain the same regardless of where work is being conducted. But for managers with smaller teams, who don’t do a lot of onboarding in general and now face doing it remotely, it can feel daunting. This also applies to any organization where remote onboarding is new.
Zurich had already developed an onboarding toolkit containing resources to help managers prior to the pandemic. We updated it to address remote onboarding needs (with some of the tips listed below). The kit includes a short onboarding video, an online guide and checklist that we send to hiring managers prior to a new employee starting.
Effectively communicate your company’s culture
Let’s face it, when job prospects visit your office, and especially when someone begins working onsite, they holistically experience and absorb your organization’s culture. With remote work, their home becomes their office. So, it’s important to consider not only how you’re introducing someone to your organization, but also reminding managers they need to be strategic about how they connect with their new team members:
- Create some excitement about their joining your company. Prior to their start date, our new hires receive a welcome kit with Zurich “swag” to get them excited about their new opportunity and reinforce that they’re part of our organization (even if they aren’t able to enter a physical office location). We’ve done this for a couple of years but with COVID-19 and remote working, I believe it has served a higher purpose.
- Create opportunities for networking and collaboration. Managers will have to be intentional about introductions, as new remote team members won’t be bumping into someone in the hallway or striking up a conversation at a departmental meeting or social gathering. Being on a Teams call with 30 colleagues is a technological boon during a pandemic, but it sure isn’t conducive to one-on-one interactions.
- Help remote hires identify “who’s who” in your company. Speaking of those large video meetings, managers have to consider not only how they introduce a new employee, but also how others on the call are introducing themselves. Personally, I like to meet with my new employees ahead of a large call and offer a brief rundown of who is on the call and the roles they play.
- Dispense information at a steady pace. It’s very easy to overwhelm someone in a remote onboarding situation. Be intentional about how and when you share information — giving the new employee time to digest it versus their feeling that too much is being thrown at them. It’s all about making someone feel comfortable in that new environment.
Handpick two work friends
Helping new hires feel connected, even when they physically are not in an office, is very important. Because new employees benefit from making both professional and social contacts as soon as they start, at Zurich we ask managers to assign two colleagues to them: a “New Joiner Buddy” and a “Welcome Colleague.”
New Joiner Buddy: This is a purely social contact who serves as a “go-to” to help the new hire get acclimated to our culture and answers basic questions. Remember, remote workers don’t have a desk to lean over and quietly ask an awkward (to them) question. Buddies aren’t there to train anybody, but rather, to be a “safe-space person” they can go to, where no question is too trivial. I also recommend that their buddy invite the new employee to a virtual lunch on their first day. I can’t overemphasize this: Most of us in a new job met our work buddies because we sat near them. Remote workers do not have that luxury. This needs to be prioritized.
Welcome Colleague: This is the work friend tasked with providing consistent contact and proactive outreach during a new joiner’s first 30 days. Their interactions are formalized (we supply training as well as a checklist) and the goal is to share our company’s history, culture and strategy. Welcome Colleagues can address everything from helping new employees navigate our company website and virtual communication tools to walking them through the HR benefits web page.
How robust is your company intranet?
Our intranet website has a portal devoted to welcoming new joiners to Zurich, as well as a variety of new-employee checklists with links to resources. This includes a technology support page to help them navigate the remote environment. Does your company’s intranet site contain the information they need?
Be ready to address I-9 compliance
Form I-9 — aka the federal government’s Employment Eligibility Verification — verifies the identity and employment authorization of individuals you hire. Federal regulations have required this process be done in person, but an exception has been made during the pandemic that allows virtual verification. Eventually, though, these verifications — including those of new joiners you already verified remotely — will have to be conducted in person. Stay up to date with federal regulations regarding the resumption of in-person requirements and figure out a strategy for undertaking what may be a significant challenge.
Although the pandemic has been a catalyst for managing remote onboarding, in reality, it now has a stickiness beyond the pandemic scenario. It’s really about new ways of working.
Your company’s ability to successfully onboard remotely can be a huge asset in tomorrow’s post-pandemic world. And, for now, it may be a necessity. This is one of those skills you’ve got to hone to be prepared for the future.
Jessica Aguilar is Vice President and Head of Talent Acquisition for Zurich North America. She has more than 20 years of experience in talent acquisition and employment branding working with Fortune 100 companies. Jessica received her Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Indiana University. She currently resides in the Midwest with her husband, four children and her furry office partner, Stella.
1. Brenan, Megan. “COVID-19 and Remote Work: An Update.” Gallup. 13 October 2020.
2. Chavez-Dreyfuss, Gertrude. “Permanently Remote Workers Seen Doubling in 2021 Due to Pandemic Productivity: Survey.” Reuters. 22 October 2020.
The information in this publication was compiled from sources believed to be reliable and is intended for informational purposes only. All sample policies and procedures herein should serve as a guideline, which you can use to create your own policies and procedures. We trust that you will customize these samples to reflect your own operations and believe that these samples may serve as a helpful platform for this endeavor. Any and all information contained herein is not intended to constitute advice (particularly not legal advice). Accordingly, persons requiring advice should consult independent advisors when developing programs and policies. We do not guarantee the accuracy of this information or any results and further assume no liability in connection with this publication and sample policies and procedures, including any information, methods or safety suggestions contained herein. We undertake no obligation to publicly update or revise any of this information, whether to reflect new information, future developments, events or circumstances or otherwise. Moreover, Zurich reminds you that this cannot be assumed to contain every acceptable safety and compliance procedure or that additional procedures might not be appropriate under the circumstances. The subject matter of this publication is not tied to any specific insurance product nor will adopting these policies and procedures ensure coverage under any insurance policy.
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