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Remote onboarding and remote digital learning


The number of people currently furloughed in the UK has passed nine million, and only a half of the workforce feels confident that they will be able to go back to normal after the job retention scheme has wound down. HMRC has announced that a total of 6.3 million of employees had been temporarily laid off by 800,000 companies. However, some companies in the UK have been hiring during the pandemic, facing a challenge of remote onboarding of their new hires.

“I was furloughed from my job when the scheme started”, said Sarah (name changed). “And about a month later, another company found me on LinkedIn and offered me a job. I jumped at the chance. I wasn’t sure how they were going to provide an induction. So far, I have ‘met’ my team on Zoom and have daily check-ins with my manager. This has helped me start to feel at home.”


“Remoteable” roles – new vocabulary for new times

Worldwide, the economics slowdown has forced companies to rethink the jobs that are truly essential and most valuable to their organisations. A new Randstad report has revealed that financial services (84%), professional services (78%) and IT/telecom (75%) roles are the most “remoteable” and easiest to carry out from home. Employees in other sectors find it impossible to generate output from home, such as construction where only 6% can work from home. The report also emphasises a new demand: within the pharmaceutical R&D space an increase in hiring has been observed for almost all the roles, with clinical trial managers and research associates being most sought after (40% and 50% respectively).

There are companies finding unexpected benefits of the current situation, particularly when it comes to educating the workforce remotely. During the height of the pandemic, the companies predominantly in the tech sector, have emerged, if not victorious, then at least relatively unscathed: not only did they not lay off staff, they continued to hire – and remotely onboard.

“At Sponge, we have seen an increase in enquiries for digital onboarding. We have recently responded to a challenge from an international company to meet their need for remote onboarding of new hires”, said Tom Bright, Commercial Director.

Typically, it is not unusual for such large companies to organise a multi-day in-person onboarding at a single location. With the outbreak of COVID-19, they pivoted to an interim solution that involved distributing videos through a website. Although it does serve a purpose, the feedback from people attending has shown it was limited compared to the previous process, especially when it came to its social function.

Critically, the company does not see itself going back to their way of onboarding for at least two years – the risk has simply been deemed too high. And even if the face-to-face process does come back, the company is confident it will complement the online experience. This presents a chance for a truly global, unified remote onboarding of a geographically and culturally diverse workforce.

The two-fold remote onboarding challenge

As they need to assure both the knowledge and skills transfer of their remote onboardees, as well as enable the new hires to immerse themselves into the company history, values and overall culture, the organisation cannot rely on simply distributing information and hoping it will stick. There is a need for a structured, participatory learning experience, that is enjoyable for the onboardee and effective for the business.

The other challenge is to recreate the feeling of excitement and magic that happens live and on site and make it an experience that can be enjoyed from home. Currently, the actual time when the new recruits have nothing else to think about but onboarding, has not been blocked out, as they get contacted by their managers for check-ins, assignment discussions etc.

Participants of the existing video onboarding have reported it as “stressful”, “isolating” and “flat”, and the company wants it to evoke pride in their new employees, as well as the sense of belonging to a community. While the employees need to be ready for their role, they also need help and support for working from home.

The enterprise has outlined that it needs the remote onboarding experience to be the solution that facilitates communication and is different, cool and new, and it “feels like” the atmosphere at the company, with room for excitement, community and a joyful gathering of minds.

Remote digital learning as the new onboarding solution

LinkedIn’s latest report, delivered by their chief economist, Karin Kimbrough, states that hiring has rebounded in China, Singapore and France. Bloomberg predicts a slow, steady and sustainable growth after the months in which the pandemic brought the economy to a standstill. Legal, software and IT services and corporate services saw the strongest rebound in hiring, trending at -16/17 per cent year-on-year in the UK.

The companies hiring will still have to say ‘welcome’ to their new employees over the coming months. The challenge will be how to execute the ‘stay at home’-part. Tom Bright, Sponge’s Commercial Director, said: “Remote digital learning can do the heavy lifting of remote onboarding of new employees, by leveraging social channels, delivering personalised content and ensuring active participation. Add to that a creative heart and mind, and maybe, maybe the future is not so bleak, after all.”