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Masha Gribova
06 May 2020
8 minute read

So, you want to expand your team, but you’ve found yourself in a position which doesn’t allow you to conduct the interview in person. Perhaps your superstar applicant is currently based abroad and can’t justify jetting across the world for a first interview. Or maybe you’re hiring talent in the midst of lockdown. Either way, you’re going to need to carry out all the interviews on video call and onboard remotely.

Onboarding remotely

And while many candidates actually like the convenience of video interviews, onboarding remotely is new territory for most of us - both as employers and employees. Even under normal circumstances, research shows that plenty of businesses neglect their onboarding process. The implications are demoralising: more than 1-in-4 quit a new job within the first 90 days, citing levels of satisfaction in relation to the onboarding process as crucial.

So, if it’s such a challenge to get right under normal circumstances, what can you do to successfully hire and onboard a new employee, from afar? We caught up with Ben Gateley, Co-Founder and CEO of CharlieHR, to bring you some valuable insight into key things to bear in mind when hiring and onboarding new employees, remotely.

Okay, so, first question: what are the differences between hiring in person and remotely (apart from meeting candidates face to face)?

I think there are a couple of elements to it. The first one is to be really aware of what is different about the process. So don't treat it the same.

Be aware that you're going to have to think differently about how you hire. That probably means adapting your in person hiring process and making it more relevant to having to hire people remotely. You’ll probably want to think about how many stages you're going to have - you might want to add another stage, you might want to add more people to the interview process.

I think it's generally harder to get a read for someone digitally versus face to face. I can normally sit in the office and look around the room and get a sense of whether a person is having a good day. Maybe I'll ask them how they are. It's very difficult to do that remotely. You can't get that sense or feel that energy as much digitally. So the same is true for hiring. You probably need to think about getting more opinion, and maybe spending more time with the candidate.

I think questions become really important as well. You're going to be going off what someone's actual answer is, because you've got less data, fewer clues from their body language and nonverbal communication, that kind of thing. Thinking about questions and being very clear on asking candidates the same exact questions so that you can do more answer comparison I think is important.

What are the biggest challenges and how do you overcome them?

I guess when hiring, the biggest challenge is that there is no substitute for meeting someone face to face. We are social creatures, and there are physiological responses that happen when we meet someone in real life which are just not the same in a digital remote world. There are of course pros and cons. In hiring there’s a new, unbalanced playing field.

This might sound weird, but people are not gonna be sitting in their offices, they're going to be sitting in their homes, in different types of rooms, and how those rooms look might influence how you first regard someone. We are driven and our opinions change and adapt according to the things we see and experience. There's just another facet that is part of remote hiring, which is that you're also getting a data point of the situation that the person is within. For example, you’re [interviewer] sitting in a garden and it’s got a very positive and calm vibe. But maybe I would feel differently at the very start about you if you were sitting in a drab, spare room like I am right now. So that’s another underlying element you as an interviewer need to be aware of. How these different elements unique to remote hiring, such as visual perception of a person’s surroundings, might affect your unconscious biases.

How do you ensure a culture fit?

There's no such thing as culture fit. I think there is instead, value fit. Actually, it's pretty dangerous to try and hire a team that are all exactly the same, which can happen if you’re trying to find loads of culture fits. We want to create diversity. And so what we're looking for is values fit which is where two people might enjoy very different things, they might be very different people, but they have the same values. Being ambitious can be one of those values. How that person looks and responds or behaves in a given situation can be very different, but they can share the same values that would drive them.

Making sure you've got clear questions to ask people for each of the values you’re screening for is important. You can make some good decisions about how different candidates stack up by using that approach.

Asking them for examples is a good way to kick-off. Ask them ‘Have you spread that value?’ It’s really important to dig a little deeper with those sorts of questions, so let them lead with a scenario that you can then get into.

What are the key things to keep in mind when onboarding a team member?

This is a good point for any business thinking about how they operate in a remote world. We need way more documentation in terms of process, policies and culture. This stuff needs to be codified because less is going to transfer by ‘rubbing off’, from people just being in a room together. You can't use the office as a crutch. You've got to work harder to walk people through how things happen, why it happens. There's got to be clear and good documentation on all aspects of working life, whether that’s social norms you’ve set like team coffee breaks or a process for product ideation.

I think onboarding someone remotely definitely will show you what the weak points of your onboarding process and plans are. If things aren’t clear, it's because you're not properly walking someone through that.

How do you facilitate cultural integration?

I think the key really is just to make sure that the individual is spending as much time with different people from across the organisation as possible. All organisations have subcultures within them, which is really important, and useful? Because we want to hire different groups of individuals, it's important to let that new person experience as many of the different cultural aspects of the company as possible.

Try to make sure they spend time with different people from a cross section of the business and a cross section of teams. Maybe you can't spend time with everyone, that's fine. But I'm trying to create a mix and really trying to optimise for them getting to know the people that they're working with and alongside. That's how you start to develop trust and positive relationships.

How do you provide training on your product? How do you introduce new hires to CharlieHR’s software?

That's the first thing all new hires do is set up a test account. And then start understanding it and playing with it. Every business and every team member needs to understand the problems that they solve and how they think about the product that they build in depth.

To understand those problems is to have a play around with it and to see the challenges that we're trying to help our customers with. That's a really nice place to start in terms of any onboarding plan is to go through the product and play around with it and get them to demo it back to you.

To someone else in the organisation, trying to sell it to someone even within their team, gives them a sense of what the key selling points are. Getting everyone to have a turn on customer service and provide support to customers is a really good test of that knowledge, and helps them learn more as well.

What onboarding tools do you recommend?

We can talk about checklists. We can talk about onboarding slides. We can talk about handbooks. Fortunately for us, our own product is set up to onboard new hires in a remote way that is also warm and engaging, and gets all the legal stuff handled easily before a new employee’s first day.

For us, the first point of contact in terms of onboarding is when they join our team through our product. A new hire is sent a sign-up link unique to them before their first day, and they’re introduced to the team and their own team in a nice, personalised way as refined by their line manager through our easy software. It’s built to be a warm introduction to our company, and helps them establish a first understanding of how we work, who the team are and where they’ll be within the organisation. You can see exactly how we, and our customers, use CharlieHR to establish a warm connection with new hires and make sure that cultural onboarding is highlighted and kicked-off in the right way with all the right elements, as advised by HR professionals.

Not only does it help with cultural onboarding, but it gets all the admin sorted as well. All the necessary documents you legally need to organise a new hire, store them securely in a way that the right people can easily access it, in a smooth, self-service way is what our product does really well.

Are there any other points or tips you can add, based on your team's experience?

I think what is more important than ever, at the moment in this remote world, is that everyone's experience of working during COVID-19 is gonna be slightly different. Everyone's experience of lockdown is gonna be slightly different. And so trying to be as empathetic as you can be, I think is really important.

Bearing in mind that we're all feeling a bit of stress, we're all feeling the challenge of this moment and so we might not all feel like being the most empathetic that we can be, but just trying to be kind, trying to be understanding is the key, right? We're not all going to be the best versions of ourselves right now.

Do you think that some businesses might find it more difficult than others to go about hiring?

Absolutely. It's the businesses that haven't defined the criteria that they're trying to hire against, that haven't defined the process or their values. If they haven't been defined and the types of things they're looking for or the values that have been scoped out in a pretty natural and kind of osmotic process up until now.

Elements of your culture that were previously not defined in depth, and were picked up on and weighed up internally as the hiring team in person, might make hiring really difficult now that it’s all virtual. It’s unsustainable.

You really need to put some time into defining what you’re looking for, who as a company you are from a values standpoint, and how you’re going to codify that and screen for it. We spent a lot of time defining what we call our High Performance Behaviours, which are in essence the values we screen for. We have a whole three part blog post on how we defined them, what they are, and how we implement and look for them.

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