It doesn’t need to be in-person to be personal


Starting a new job is always awkward. Exciting, but awkward. And now that office chat and face-to-face encounters are a thing of the past, new starters are missing out on lots of little moments that make it a bit easier and smoother. And without them, many new hires are feeling isolated, and riddled with unnecessary anxiety. Legal employers need to focus on finding ways to bridge the digital gap and help new hires feel like part of the team, just as they would in a traditional office space.  In other words, let’s make virtual onboarding a success.

First impressions matter. Everyone knows that. But when it comes to onboarding, it’s even more important, as it’s key to an employee’s long-term success. Many organisations seem to think that onboarding starts when the employee logs in on their first Monday, and ends when the clock strikes five that Friday. In reality, it should begin once an employee signs their contract, and continue until at least 12 months later. And in order to retain that talent and get the very best from them, you need to make that year as positive and productive as possible.

A small ask during a global pandemic, right?

“Accept up front that it’s going to be a different experience to joining in the office, and then identify ways that you can make up for any gaps.”
Laura Vosper

Head of Talent, Obelisk Support

Why it’s so important to get off on the right foot


Let’s start with some eye-opening stats:

  • A positive employee onboarding can improve employee retention by a whopping 82% according to Glassdoor. And not just that. It can also increase productivity by 70%. Now those are figures to get behind.
  • New hires who experience a negative onboarding are twice as likely to look for other career opportunities in the future (Digitate).
  • A Gallup study found that only 12% of employees strongly agree that they had a great onboarding experience. Which means that 88% didn’t.
  • 58% of companies say that their onboarding programme is focused on process and paperwork (HCI).
  • One third of employees found their onboarding informal, inconsistent or reactive (HCI).

Considering the amount of time, money and effort it takes to attract and secure top talent, it’s quite shocking that companies are falling at the first hurdle. Rather than setting new employees up for success, it appears that poor onboarding processes are setting the stage for an early exit.

It would be safe to say that we could all do with doing better when it comes to welcoming new staff. But, fear not, help is here. Keep reading and you’ll find out how you can make your process a lot more people focused, even if it is via a screen.


Making your welcome process “remote first”


There are loads of things you can do to improve your process. It will take time to get it right, but it’ll be worth it in the long run. Especially when you have benefits like these to look forward to:

  • Increased engagement
  • Increased productivity
  • Decreased time to proficiency
  • Decreased turnover

And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Where to start?

#1 Be prepared


Fail to prepare, prepare to fail – as this wise person once said. And this rings especially true when it comes to onboarding. It may seem obvious, but don’t forget that we’re navigating a strange new, screen-filled workscape these days.

We’ve created this checklist to help with the onboarding process:

  • Go through your current company process with a fine-tooth comb and make sure it’s fit for working from home. Look for gaps.
  • Create a detailed, personalised onboarding plan for your new start.
  • Have all material ready. And logins.
  • Set up all meetings throughout the following weeks with agendas, video links, etc.
  • Have clear milestones to measure how an employee is progressing through the process.
  • New employees aren’t robots – they’ll need time to absorb all the information being flung at them. Be sure to schedule plenty of down time for them.
  • The IT ninjas are no longer up the hall so make sure all software and tools are pre-installed on new employees’ laptops before they arrive.
  • Along with any IT equipment, send a notepad, agenda, some stationery, and if possible, a personalised welcome note. Little details matter, but more on that below.


With a positive onboarding experience:


Improved employee retention


Increased producitivity

#2 Have information at the ready


Gone are the days when a new team member could pop their head into your workspace to ask a question. Or just saunter up to IT to troubleshoot a login issue. Therefore, arming them with everything they need to know on day one is crucial. This will not only set them up for success, but it’ll also take a lot of the stress and anxiety out of being new.

The welcome pack should include:

  • Administrative information and passwords
  • Training documents
  • Information on each department and different roles
  • Information on identifying the best channels for asking questions and finding what they need.
  • A list of common phrases or abbreviations the company uses.

But don’t forget to also include non-work, human-focused information. Whether that’s fun facts about their new team members, tips on balancing work and life, and general advice on mental and physical wellbeing, it will show that you care about them as a person, as well as an employee.


#3 Communication, communication, communication​


Then communication some more. There’s no such thing as too much in the first few months of a new hire. Or first year in fact. Especially in this virtual work-from-home world. As casual desk check-ins and lunch table chats are out the window, we need to make time to make stronger connections. By organising regular calls, you’ll not only ease new job jitters, but will boost their confidence, making them feel more at home at the company.

Moving on to teammates. Office tours may be on hold, but the team can still get together online to break the ice. Start with group meetings, and then encourage one-on-ones so new hires can get to know everyone individually. Personal relationships are just as important as professional ones. As this HuffPost article stated, ‘One key contributor to being happy at work is having friends there, but that doesn’t just make it more enjoyable – it actually helps productivity, creativity and increases engagement, as well.’

To help with this side of things, assign newbies a ‘welcome buddy’. Be it a colleague from the same team, or a friendly face who’s recently gone through the same process, having someone approachable and available to answer any questions, even the ‘silly’ ones is a great way to help them ease into their new role.

And don’t forget to ask for feedback. This will help you to improve the process and find out how the new hire is feeling. As Laura states, ‘When you’re not in the office, it’s harder to see how a colleague is settling in so it’s important to show you care and find out how well your onboarding plan is working.’


Make virtual onboarding a success

#4 Hold on tight to your culture


When crisis strikes and attention is diverted to the financial implications, it can be easy for companies to kick culture down the priority list. Don’t. In a time of uncertainty it may seem frivolous, but it’s a lot more important than we give it credit for.

In reality, workplace culture is critical for employee engagement and satisfaction. According to a Society of Human Resource Management study, one in five employees said they would leave a workplace because of poor culture.

But when it’s good, it’s great. And other benefits start to bloom. You attract better talent,  staff are more productive, retention increases, better decisions are made, and most interestingly, you generate more revenue. Investing in your people helps build a bigger bottom line in the long run, so don’t scrimp on people.

Also, as CEO advisor Christine Alemany states, ‘Your team culture includes how you work with one another, so it’s important that new hires are empowered to do their jobs.’ Cue Zoom. Use video calls to champion a culture of collaboration. Bring teams together online to solve problems and offer up opportunities for people (especially the new hires) to use their unique skills. Celebrate wins, milestones and birthdays. At Obelisk, we have twice-weekly huddles to help new joiners get settled in. These chats give everyone a chance to catch up on what they’re working on, ask questions and have a moan/laugh about the state of the world.

Then there’s team building activities. And no, we’re not just talking about the Zoom quizzes – we left those back in lockdown one with banana bread and TikTok dances. While they may be a bit cringe sometimes, these events are important for welcoming newcomers, and keeping existing employees engaged and connected. Whether it’s a small ice-breaker game, or even a Harry Potter Virtual Escape Room, get involved.


#5 Be human first


We’ve saved the most important thing for last. When setting up an onboarding plan for a new start, put yourself in their shoes. What did you love or hate about your own experience? How did you feel during your first few weeks? What would you have done differently? The training and endless PowerPoint decks are essential, but can be rather dull, so try to make the other parts more interesting and engaging.

Secondly. Want to find out how a newbie is really getting on? Just ask them. Have proper conversations where you enquire not just about their work, but about their lives. There’s a seemingly never-ending pandemic happening around us so no doubt they’ll have personal dramas on a daily basis like the rest of us.

And as we’ve touched on above, encourage team connections. Laura shares: ‘One of the big things that’s missing when a team is dispersed is the natural opportunities to share and learn about each other’s lives outside work.’ The key is to make sure new starts feel ‘plugged in’ to the company and be excited about the future.


In Summary


While talking about onboarding in the Harvard Business Review, Ron Carucci states: ‘isolation is amplified for new hires, who often feel like a stranger in a foreign land, and can increase their chances of leaving a job.’ Make it your mission to transform them into a well-equipped, confident ‘insider’ asap.

The information is there, the team is there and the tools are there. While welcoming someone new to your team is undeniably more difficult when everyone is apart, with a little bit more time and attention you can make it work.


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