I sat down with our Chief People Officer, Kristin Cullen-Lester to discuss the topic of onboarding during the pandemic. When diving into what onboarding looked like during the pandemic, Dr. Cullen-Lester shared how in an effort to minimize health risks, organizations transitioned most of their onboarding to asynchronous (e.g., email, online checklists) or synchronous virtual sessions (e.g., webinars, one-on-one meetings). This enabled organization’s to complete the necessary paperwork and distribute vital information to help employees get started in their new role. However, onboarding (aka organizational socialization) is meant to accomplish more than checking off obligatory HR policy boxes. It is a critical process for getting new employees off on the right track by helping them acclimate to their new workplace.
A completely virtual process has made it difficult for many new employees to meet and develop meaningful collaborative relationships with new colleagues. It also has made it more difficult for newcomers to identify and develop rapport with ‘go to’ people throughout the organization who can help them learn the ropes, navigate the written and unwritten rules, and understand the ins-and-outs of the organization’s culture. Many people who have onboarded in the last year are struggling to feel comfortable and embedded in their new workplace, undermining their commitment and ability to contribute to the organization.
When I asked Dr. Cullen-Lester if she thought employees might have to be re-onboarded she stated that all employees, especially new one’s -would likely benefit from re-onboarding- especially if the organization has changed the way it operates or its mission and goals as its adapted to the pandemic (some orgs have had to change their business models, some orgs will now work remotely or in hybrid form).
When it is safe, organizations are encouraged to provide venues for relationship development – e.g., creating space for before/during/afterwork social interactions and building time into team meetings for not only professional but also personal updates.