Coronavirus (COVID-19), Learning & Development

Expert Tips for Successfully Onboarding Remote Workers During the COVID-19 Crisis

Some businesses and organizations are at a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic, but for those still operating, now is the best time to keep your training initiatives in play.

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Source: Den Rise / Shutterstock

Don’t Stop Training During Times of Crisis

Melanie Estes, Senior Learning Experience Designer at NovoEd, an online learning platform, explains that during these unprecedented times, most employees who can work from home have been mandated to do so.

“These precautions are forcing corporations to move quickly to find alternatives to critical onsite training initiatives that can’t be postponed indefinitely,” Estes says. “Training programs like leadership development, sales training, onboarding, diversity and inclusion (D&I), and digital transformation are more important than ever right now to business and employee success.”

“They can’t be delayed or put on indefinite hold as they are vital to employee skill-building and engagement as well as business growth and continuity,” Estes adds. “As a result, companies are seeking efficient and effective ways to quickly move these training programs online during these uncertain times.”

Online training programs are nothing new, but for organizations that are new to remote work, managers and leaders may have a difficult time prioritizing their workers’ training needs. Estes says the best place to focus on, first, is the onboarding experience.

Prioritizing Onboarding

For employers lucky enough to still be hiring, Estes says, first impressions count, and that applies to the new hire experience just as much as it does to meeting any individual for the first time.

“If the onboarding process is haphazard, confusing or disorganized, your new hire may just start job hunting again before he or she even finishes day one,” she adds. “To get that new hire to stay onboard and succeed, you need to supply the tools and connections required to allow them to succeed. This includes helping the new hire integrate into the company culture, as well as training on processes and procedures.”

Onboarding is even more important now, with the majority of the workforce working remotely, she shares. “When employees who are used to working in the office start working from home, they can wind up feeling isolated and cut off from their co-workers,” Estes says.

“Imagine how much more that applies to someone who hasn’t already established personal connections within the office,” she adds. “Your onboarding process needs to include ways for new hires to create those connections with management, established co-workers and with other new hires.”

This may seem like a daunting task, Estes says, but it is far from impossible, especially with all of the online tools available today. “Done right, your new hire may wind up with an even more valuable network than your employees who started in the office,” Estes adds. “This is because their networking will not be limited to the people who just happen to sit nearby.”

“As you start to create your vision of an onboarding process for employees who will be working from home, look at the content that you usually give your new hires––including company history, HR information and mission, vision and values––and then think about what you might have them DO with that information,” Estes suggests.

“Instead of a quiz on the company’s mission, perhaps have them record a video of them explaining the mission as they would explain it to a friend,” she says. “What other activities can they do? To whom can they speak about the materials? In what form should they report back about that conversation? Get creative, and have them interacting with others and using the materials as they would use that information in real life.”

However, onboarding is only part of the battle. For your existing workforce, you must get creative in how you’re offering these workers other training opportunities.

Remote Training for Existing Staff

The key to training existing talent for skills like leadership and D&I in a remote setting is to seek out virtual solutions that allow employees to maintain—if not improve—the impact and engagement from your in-person training program, suggests Estes.

“Given the need for speed and ease, many companies are tempted by video conferencing as their training solution,” she adds. “If you’re planning a short information-sharing session, a video conference might be a fine solution. But, most companies are looking for a rich learning experience to train employees on deeper, high impact skills that they were previously doing in onsite workshops.”

“In this case, they need a scalable, flexible online platform that incorporates virtual instructor-led workshops, self-study sessions with articles and videos, peer feedback, group projects, and mentoring and coaching, all designed to generate powerful learning and to scale culture and performance change,” Estes says. “When done well, effective and engaging online learning will also enhance employee connections and a culture of togetherness in today’s environment, which can be very isolating.”

Best Practices for Remote Training
Due to the new normal of remote work, many global enterprises are grappling with the transition to remote training, Estes says. We asked Estes if she has any best practices she can share to help those of you who are new to remote work/training.

“First, take a deep breath and view this as an opportunity to innovate, to digitally transform and to more fully engage your employees in learning,” Estes says. “It’s then down to brass tacks and good decision making.”

“To maintain quality, companies should be selective in how they get started, meaning don’t move all of your training online at one time. Start small before scaling big,” Estes suggests. “Then, develop a clear plan which includes identifying your team and clarifying learning objectives before identifying the appropriate technology solution, the timeline, and the desired content.”

“It’s helpful to develop a common framework and structure for moving training online.” Estes adds. “For example, migrating a one day workshop will have different components than a 12-week leadership development program.”

And finally, Estes suggests that HR and leaders should identify content that currently exists, can be easily developed, and can be repurposed where possible to help train your existing workers.

Final Thoughts

We asked Estes to share any additional thoughts, and she says that it is key to make the distinction between onboarding experienced business people vs. rookies to the business world.

“With the rookies, you absolutely should start the onboarding process because you can use this ‘distance downtime’ to lay in all your HR policy learning, product knowledge, and industry knowledge online, leaving only your culture and processes for when the world is back on its axis,” Estes suggests.

“For your more tenured new hires, you can focus on culture and processes online, and just coach to your differentiators relative to their last job elsewhere,” she adds.

While we don’t know how long this crisis will last, the best thing we can all do is be prepared. Whether you’re onboarding new hires or training existing staff, keep Estes’ tips in mind to help your organization weather the storm.