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On-boarding during a pandemic


These are strange times! (If only I had a dollar for all the times that’s been said since March). We sat down with HR guru, Margo Downs, to discuss the acute challenges of on-boarding new employees and upholding team cohesion and engagement during the pandemic. Margo has led the development of innovative people strategies at three iconic brands — Stitch Fix, lululemon, and Starbucks. She’s been a friend of Maveron for many years and consults for a handful of our portfolio companies. We’ll start this two part series with some specific, scoped out tips on how to onboard new employees remotely, and later we’ll be sharing Margo’s advice for keeping employees engaged as we continue to navigate working from home.

First, when a new person joins your team, it is key for them to start feeling like a part of the organization and culture as quickly as possible. This priority transcends title and level of expertise. Margo recommends the following approach:

Build towards a shared goal

The importance of thoughtfully on-boarding new employees should be led by the founder and company’s leadership team. Making on-boarding an organizational priority along with a structured, consistent plan is the key to success. While this point might seem obvious, it’s very easy for the best intentions to get derailed by day to day operations and a need to get someone up to speed quickly. Taking the time to thoroughly onboard employees, especially during these Covid times, will pay dividends down the line with an engaged, informed employee. The first few weeks in a new job are filled with excitement and also uncertainty. This is a time to double down on making the new person feel like they made a great choice. Beyond the leadership team, stressing the importance of on-boarding across the organization and engaging existing employees in the process is encouraged and should be a part of the regular work day. A successful on-boarding benefits everyone.

In order to ensure that every new employee gets to experience the business and the culture in a clear way, it’s important for the on-boarding plan to be consistent, with customization for each individual role. Over-communication and clear expectations are essential in a fully digital setting. It’s easy to become disconnected, especially when getting up to speed. Everyone needs to bear a shared responsibility for a new hire’s success, along with assigning one or two key champions who take full accountability.

Build relationships

Make video 1:1s between the new team member and all relevant employees a key part of the plan, and if your company is small enough, consider introducing them to everyone. The focus here is on setting context for the new employee about the importance of spending time getting to know the people, the business, and their role, in addition to building rapport and relationships. It’s an opportunity to learn about the company through someone else’s eyes and gain perspective. Encourage the employee to be curious about the ways in which they’ll work with other folks on the team. Consider crafting a list of questions that combine work-specific topics like “how do you best receive feedback,” to more light-hearted trivia such as favorite snacks, in order to help seed the conversation.

Provide the new employee with an Immersion Buddy — someone to help guide them through their first few weeks. The buddy should ideally be at the same level as the new employee but not necessarily in the same department, and can serve as a friendly ear for culture or process-oriented questions. Assigning this person from the start gives your new teammate an established confidant from day one.

Build experiences

How can the employee experience the ins and outs of the core business? Should they shadow customer service or sales calls? Should they watch a teammate go through a specific workflow? They should have an opportunity to participate in something core and relevant to the business, even if it falls outside of their normal responsibilities. It’s so beneficial that they gain a larger perspective of the company they are joining. You may have to get creative to do this via zoom — we are getting to be professionals at innovating in this medium. Additionally, encourage quick 15 minute zoom meet-ups to recreate some of the “water cooler” chatter the person would have picked up on if they were joining IRL. Because of the digital on-boarding, it’s easy for someone to miss out on numerous micro learnings that would have otherwise occurred. This experiential learning gives them an opportunity to intentionally be a part of something important to the company.

Covid has kept many of us in our homes for months now. It is inevitable that companies will hire during this period and in fact, it can be an optimal time to find hidden, diverse talent from a broader base than usual. At the same time, building relationships entirely digitally can be tough. Cracks in a company’s culture are more apparent than ever with the lack of proximity which we have relied on to build a strong team. On the positive side, this time is causing us to truly dig into what our cultures stand for, beyond the office traditions. We hope that this post can support you and your team in bringing on new individuals. Stay tuned for our next post when we’ll share our thoughts on how to create and nurture culture during these unprecedented times.

-Anarghya Vardhana

Image Source: Vantage Circle

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