We’re sorry we didn’t have time to answer all the great questions posed at, ‘The Psychology of Onboarding: 5 insights to help HR improve their new-starter experience’, and that not everyone was able to stay online for the Q&A at the end of the session. From queries about first impressions, to digital introductions and D&I considerations, there were lots of very important issues put forward.

Our experts: Nadine Michaelides (CEO of Anima and Chepyng), Dan Lucy (Principal Research Fellow, Institute for Employment Studies), Justine Brown (CEO and Founder of Just Global HR Services Limited) and Flora Mowll (Customer Support Manager, Cezanne HR) provided their insights on some of the queries at the end of the webinar – you can watch the webinar here.

onboarding boat webinar questions

We’re pleased to provide a round-up of Cezanne HR’s responses to the questions below. We’ve also signposted where in the webinar’s accompanying report, ‘The Psychology of Onboarding: Optimising the new-starter experience in the digital age’ you can find further information.

What can we do to overcome negative online impressions?

In our onboarding report, Nadine Michaelides references a study that shows online interactions having a negative bias (page 6). This is of concern given so many of us have been working from home over the past few months, and we may continue to work from home in one capacity or another for some time to come.

65% of respondents answered yes to our webinar poll, ‘Have you onboarded any new employees while you and your workforce have been working remotely?’ Onboarding via digital channels is already happening, and it’s going to be an ongoing activity.

One of our webinar participants raised the point that COVID-19 might have driven us to improve virtual interactions. The flip side is that people are probably becoming used to substituting digital interactions for face-to-face meetings, (whether HR/line managers have improved or not) driving a wider acceptance – and less negative view – of this mode of communication. We probably don’t have the evidence available yet to definitively say one way or the other.

Perhaps the age-old rule of ‘when in doubt, ask!’ remains true here. Ask your new starters about their first impressions of people, and whether they felt that ‘meeting’ people online felt dramatically different to meeting them face to face. The answers will be subjective, but they will help you gauge current sentiment. You can also ask for their ideas on interacting with new hires:

  • Should different channels be used?
  • Should the communication frequency be dialled up or down?
  • Did you have a better impression of some people (e.g. colleagues, line managers, senior management) over others?

Pages 28-32 in the report look at our survey results, from March 2020, on first impressions (not specific to online or face-to-face impressions) – why not compare what your people are saying now with what we discovered then?

Can you share some ideas about introducing people to their team and other departments via digital channels?

As we stated in our recent blog on remote onboarding, ‘To tackle onboarding in a remote-working world, businesses need to really understand the goals behind their onboarding activities, and to think about fulfilling those goals online rather than face to face.’

The first question for HR and line managers to ask is the purpose of the onboarding activity. For example, is its purpose to:

  • Socialise the new starter with colleagues?
  • Deliver training?
  • Set up the new joiner’s software and equipment?

Start with the activities that are easy to complete online, and then think about what the new-starter might be missing out on – that’s less tangible – by not being in the office.

Match the tool to the need. For example, an online tool that allows for sharing screens is an ideal solution for training and IT set up; but for introducing the new-starter to a wide group of people, as you might at a team lunch for instance, a programme like Zoom that shows multiple people on the screen at once may be better.

Invariably, it’s going to be the social interaction that’s hardest to replicate online. While people might be comfortable socialising by sitting around a table at work and making small talk, online socialising with colleagues seems to work better if there’s an activity involved.

Ideas for socialising online as a team, include:

  • team quizzes, like a pub quiz
  • Friday drinks
  • show and tell, harking back to school days
  • exercise classes
  • book clubs
  • share a skill (origami, cooking, languages, etc).

We mentioned on the webinar that working from home might be a chance for senior management to catch up in terms of making a good first impression – colleagues and managers tend to outperform senior management in this area. As HR professionals, why not encourage your senior management team to get involved in the above sorts of online social events? Their schedules and different working locations might make face-to-face interaction hard, but senior management could use the shift to an online world to their advantage, mixing with multiple people at once, from the convenience of a home office.

Pages 28 & 30 look at our survey responses on first impressions, and suggestions for senior management.

What are the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) considerations for remote onboarding?

A member of our audience raised the challenge of onboarding people as a group, if that group has part time people working (and starting) on different days. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg in finding digital onboarding solutions that work for everyone.

  • What about people who aren’t great with online tools – but are otherwise perfect for the role? They perhaps don’t normally need these skills, so they’ve never had to acquire them.
  • What about people with sight or hearing impairments?
  • What about introverts who are even less likely to speak up in a digital meeting than a face-to-face one?
  • What about the people who rely on the infrastructure at work to do their job, and can’t afford an internet connection, office setup, etc at home?

For a myriad of reasons, digital onboarding might be very difficult for some new starters. HR needs to be on the frontline of overcoming these obstacles. If new starters don’t readily divulge concerns about digital limitations, it might be prudent to pre-empt potential difficulties by giving people options. It’s also important to make sure line managers and people working with new-starters have proper software training, optimising their ability to use it in interactions with people with different needs.

Digital encounters tend to be far more structured and organised than face-to-face meetings – if a new starter doesn’t turn up to their online meeting with IT to set up their software, the IT person can’t just run around the office looking for them. HR can encourage a culture where people give colleagues a choice of a few different meeting times so people can be flexible with each other (and considerate of commitments outside of work), and they can also remind their workforce to be courteous with each other about punctuality once a meeting has been agreed.

It might also be helpful to ask a new starter what their preferred digital communication channel is, and to try to accommodate that – at least while they are settling in. Most organisations use many communications tools these days, from Skype and Microsoft Teams to Zoom, Slack and many more. Where possible, let people get over any initial nervousness before foisting a range of new systems on them.

Our survey showed those who were still unsure about their decision to change roles (after at least 6 months in their new job) were more likely to be apprehensive and worried going to work on their first day (pages 21-22). So, to increase the likelihood of retention, it’s well worth identifying who might be more anxious, and helping to find solutions (page 22).

Working digitally – which, on the scale we’ve seen recently, is new for many people – is likely to have only increased anxieties, and you may never know all the different ways it presents challenges for your new starters. Being aware of D&I issues around digital working, and showing flexibility, is a great first step.

If you have any other burning questions related to our onboarding webinar or report, please don’t hesitate to email our Head of Content, Shandel McAuliffe. Please find the report, webinar recording and other information relating to onboarding psychology here.

Shandel McAuliffe author image

Shandel McAuliffe

Now based in sunny Australia, Shandel is prolific writer and editor - particularly in the world of HR. She's worked for some big names, including the CIPD and the Adecco Group. And more recently, she's been the Editor for new HR publication HR Leader.