How to Hire and Onboard New Employees When You Can’t Meet in Person

Nine months into the pandemic, it’s very clear that work culture has changed—possibly forever. According to the most recent weekly report by security service Kastle Systems, office buildings across 10 major American cities are less than 25% occupied on average, with most of the workforce doing their jobs from home.

While it was probably pretty manageable to transition to remote work with your current design team, it’s a bit more challenging to go through the hiring and onboarding process for new employees when you’re working from home. That said, there’s a way to make the most of it. Here’s what to keep in mind when virtually hiring and integrating new hires into your firm.

How to Hire Remotely

When it comes to hiring, things aren’t all that different than normal. Before the pandemic, the first steps in the process were already digital; job postings are listed online, and applicants typically apply via an online portal or email. And while the concept of the interview process is largely the same, the process looks a little bit different.

Now, video interviews often replace in-person interviews, which may feel unnatural to some hiring managers. “Interviewing candidates virtually makes it hard to read a person,” says Megan Grehl, founder and principal of her eponymous design collective. “How can you see body language and confidence over a screen?”

But those challenges might actually be a good thing. Elizabeth Graziolo, principal at Yellow House Architects, founded her firm in February, just before the pandemic hit, and she hired her entire staff of eight remotely. The video interview process, she suggests, is a good test of whether a prospective hire can handle the demands of a remote, client-facing job.

“If they are not able to effectively communicate with me in a video interview, that is a red flag,” says Graziolo. “How they present to me is how they will present to the client. In Zoom, people tend to be informal, a little laid back. I can’t let that happen in an interview. We aim for respect first, friendship later.”

How to Onboard Remotely

Traditionally, onboarding is very much an in-person process, but that’s gone completely out the window with the pandemic. There are, however, several steps you can take to smooth your new hire’s transition into the company. “If you’re committed to onboarding someone properly, it shouldn’t matter where you sit,” says Bryan Miles, cofounder of virtual staffing company Belay. “All that really matters is trust. If you can extend trust—trust in your ability to hire well and onboard appropriately—your organization will see a windfall of success.”

Here’s what we suggest you do.

Sort out the technological logistics of onboarding ahead of time.

Just as you’d have your I.T. team set up a desk or office for your new employee before their first day, you need to make sure your new hire is technologically prepared for the job. “One week before a new hire’s start date, my executive assistant will put our I.T. person in touch with the employee to find out what kind of computer they have, to see if we will need to send them a new one and to see what programs they might need,” says Graziolo. In essence, you want to set your new hire up for success.

Make sure your new hire’s first day is well organized.

Don’t just wing it on day one. “Your onboarding process has to be more intentional than including your mission statement in the signature of their emails and giving them branded corporate swag, followed by a hollow ‘Go team!’” says Miles.

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