Covid-19 has impacted how every organisation operates, with onboarding being no exception.

I recently took part in an online webinar looking at how organisations have responded to the challenge and considering the future of employee experience.

I had the privilege of joining a knowledgeable, expert panel which comprised: Lise-Lotte Helms-Olesen, Senior Director Global Employer Reputation and Engagement at McDonalds; Alex Onoufriou, Managing Director at InterQuest Solutions; Mark Thomas, Talent Acquisition and Development Director at Abcam; and David Mackay, Director at Rees Draper Wright who chaired the session.

We considered what the last few months had meant for us, both as employers and as employees, exploring the role of employee communications, engagement and wellbeing. Although each of our organisations serve quite different industries, several common themes emerged:

Businesses will live and die based on their response to the pandemic

How businesses respond to the challenges of Covid-19 will either enhance or destroy their reputation - not only with customers, but also whether their employees perceive they’ve been valued at such an unsettling time. At McDonalds they recognised the link between employer reputation and employee engagement and put core values high on the agenda, focusing on keeping teams informed and motivated, and adjusting their recruitment and rehiring materials to focus on respectfulness, wellbeing and keeping teams safe.

Agility and resilience is crucial to ‘ride the bumps’

Having an adaptable, resilient workforce and being agile in deploying – and upskilling - employees where they’re most needed is key. Capita, for example, was able to quickly ramp up extra support for the office-based customer management teams whilst clients were experiencing a massive influx in calls and enquiries.  At InterQuest they worked on educating clients away from a predominantly face to face culture to ensure they felt comfortable making candidate decisions based on a virtual interview.

Delivery must be localised to suit local needs, roles and environments

The varying impact of the pandemic means global organisations have had to make decisions locally to adapt to government requirements – crucial for ensuring an appropriate, considered response which keeps staff and customers safe. This ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ approach applies to employees too, taking into account the different needs of those able to work from home and those needing to work on the frontline, from McDonalds employees providing a continuous service and/or adapting to takeaway only in certain countries, to InterQuest employees supporting clients on-site, to Abcam scientists needing to travel to laboratories to study coronavirus antibodies.

Employee experience directly correlates to customer experience

Whether it’s to provide clear, consistent communications to ensure employees understand how to keep themselves and customers safe, keeping in touch with employees on furlough or ensuring those working from home don’t feel isolated, employee experience should be an overriding consideration. This is also key at the onboarding stage, which is why McDonalds concentrated on improving digital employee experience as they continued to hire and why they felt that they needed a single communications channel to ensure existing and new employees were all on the same page.

A positive onboarding experience has an impact on your bottom line

So why exactly is onboarding so important? Because it’s the point at which employee engagement is won or lost. Because if your new recruit feels disengaged from your culture and values, or doesn’t have the knowledge - or tools - to carry out their role effectively, then it affects productivity and ultimately your bottom line.

And although that might sound somewhat clinical and detached, the reality is that productivity depends on those ‘softer’ people values such as having an engaged employee who is excited to be there and knows how to do their job. 

We considered how organisations can ensure a successful onboarding experience:

  1. Plan a comprehensive induction: A successful induction is one which shares information about organisational culture, vision and customers, and which considers how the new recruit can be made to feel part of the team, including bitesize digital training and meetings with stakeholders, being supported throughout by their line manager and with the opportunity for two-way feedback.
  2. Make it personal: It’s important not to ‘cookie-cutter’ the onboarding process – it needs to be specifically aligned to the individual and their role so they understand the part they play. The personal touch goes a long way: at Abcam, for example, their chief executive officer personally welcomes every new employee.
  3. Remember those returning to work: You may well have people returning to work – perhaps from furlough, maternity or sick leave – who need to refresh their learning to get back into the flow or to reskill where their role has changed. The same rules around a successful induction apply here.
  4. Keep it consistent: Whether onboarding new recruits or re-boarding returners, communications about policies and procedures must be consistent. Although local details may vary, company-wide best practice principles should be applied to the quality, accessibility and dissemination of communications – easier to achieve if you have a nominated person with oversight across all onboarding.
  5. Don’t forget your outsourced candidates: At InterQuest candidates take part in two inductions – one to ensure they understand the codes of conduct and values of InterQuest, the second to familiarise them with the culture and aims of the organisation they’re outsourced to, with both being critical to mobilising people quickly.

This is just a flavour of the insights shared in the webinar - as the world continues to change at an accelerated rate and we consider our teams of tomorrow, it’s perhaps fitting to end on the words of Lise-Lotte Helms-Olesen: “We learn every day. But if we fail in onboarding we fail on the rest.”

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