Photo by Alessandro Bianchi

Making onboarding work, even during a pandemic

Getting started at a new company can be a daunting-enough prospect under normal circumstances. But how is it to join a team where everyone is suddenly working from home due to a global pandemic?
Arjan van der Gaag
Arjan van der Gaag
Jan 8, 2021
people culture

When joining a new company, the first few days can be awkward and exhausting. There are many hands to shake, names and faces to remember, learning how the coffee machine works… But during a pandemic, things are different. Handshakes are replaced by awkward waves, the office is mostly empty, and chances are you are getting the tour virtually via a video call. At least you don’t have to ask where to toilets are.

Dominique started in September 2020 as data science intern at Floryn. “Luckily, in September it was still possible to come into the office with a small group of people. That really helped me get to know people. It was a real shame when we could no longer do that.” Likewise for Hugo, who started in February 2020 as a software development intern, before joining the company full-time in July 2020. “I am glad I got to start before the pandemic hit — I even got to join for drinks on Friday afternoon. It was a real help knowing most of my colleagues once the company went remote.”

Meeting the team

Giorgia started in September 2020 as an expat from Italy. Looking back, she remembers it was harder than usual to get to know people. “Starting during the corona crisis was hard. At times I felt like I was missing out on getting to know the people and to actually experience the ‘vibe’ of the company.”

Especially with people I had never met, it made communication awkward sometimes.

When working remotely, parts of the company you don’t usually work with are almost invisible. In a regular office, you’d meet at the coffee machine and over lunch and get a chance to chat. When working remotely, such chance encounters don’t come naturally. Giorgia: “Working remote, it’s harder to get to know each other not only as professionals, but also people with stories and experiences.”

Creating room to talk

Floryn relies heavily on chat and video conferencing for daily business. Making a group call has become a lot easier over the years — but a clear etiquette is lacking. Do you send calendar invitations for small talk? Do you turn cameras on or off? Giorgia recalls that especially for the people she had never met in person, “it made communication awkward sometimes.”

Stijn started in September 2020 as software development intern, and was unable to meet all his colleagues in person. But he found ways to adapt: “even though you can’t meet in person, it really helps to make the time to have a chat with people. After the first call, the rest comes a lot more natural.”

As with all remote working, the key is to create your own serendipity and err on the side of over-communication. Hugo: “even when making a quick call, or helping someone out, don’t forget to make a little time to chat. We all enjoy that little bit of connection.”

Finding your way

One way to help new team members on their way is to give them a checklist of people to talk to, processes to learn about and practicalities to arrange. Introducing a buddy system can work well: having someone you know from day one to ask for questions and advice is a great way to get up to speed. A checklist of tasks to complete or subjects to learn about, along with the names of people to contact, can also be great way to force yourself to make a virtual round through the office and break the ice with a bunch of different people.

Giorgia: “don’t hesitate to ask questions, get involved, listen to people and trust that everyone wants to help you out — because they do.” Dominique: “not only is everyone willing to help, everyone loves explaining their own jobs and what they do on a daily basis. You can really learn a lot about the company if you make the effort to get to know everybody.”

Welcoming new team members

If you’re in charge of onboarding, make sure to announce to the company who will be joining the team. That way, people know they can expect incoming questions and chats. Having newcomers introduce themselves in a staff meeting — even when it’s a video call — can also help break the ice. Giorgia explains how a good first two weeks can make a big difference: “At Floryn, I immediately felt like they were putting value, effort and trust in my project: everyone was willing to help and interested in my progress. Perhaps I am biased by my experiences interning in Italy, but I have the impression that even for the Netherlands this value put in people is above average.”

And if all else fails to make people feel welcome, you can always resort to the tried and true method: “it’s awesome to receive a postcard in the mail every now and then”, explains Dominique. “And even the occasional bar of chocolate! 😋”

Finally, accept that despite all your best efforts joining a new team during a pandemic is even tougher than usual. It calls for patience, kindness and a bit of understanding for the new team member trying to find their way around. Giorgia: “all the communication tools didn’t fix the awkwardness of not having met 80% of the company and wondering whether the names that I see popping out in chat and video meetings are avatars or real people 😛”

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