Onboarding Is Key To Making Remote Work Successful

Liz Hall, chief people officer at Splash, on how your first steps for new employees in a virtual workplace can make them want to stay.
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Remote work brings all sorts of new challenges, including making sure new hires are onboarded successfully enough that they’ll want to stay, says longtime HR professional Liz Hall.

Hall is chief people officer at Splash, a New York City-based company that provides an event marketing platform. She is also a founding member of the CPO network, CPOHQ. She spoke with StrategicCHRO360 about replacing the old water cooler, the importance of avoiding technology snags and the new employee’s role in building culture.

With the emergence of remote working, not just as a temporary solution but a full-time reality, what are the challenges that companies are facing in creating a fulfilling onboarding experience for new hires?

It’s interesting you mention remote working as going from temporary to an established trend. Even before the pandemic, companies had remote opportunities. But it’s more than just an offering today—it’s a legitimate way to work, and it’s become an expectation for many workers and an ideal solution for companies looking to hire talent in any part of the world. For example, when we announced in 2020 that Splash would become a remote-first company, we saw it improve our employee retention and recruitment. Last year, we hired 95 new employees and increased our acceptance rate to 93 percent. 

Part of the legitimacy of remote working is creating a comprehensive onboarding experience that builds confidence in new hires, makes them feel seen and not isolated and part of a team. There’s no water cooler talk online, so that’s probably the first challenge with remote onboarding—building that process to meet team members and keep them feeling connected.

Technology can also be a challenge within that first connection challenge too. That’s why it’s so important to ensure employees have their computer and networking tools set up before their first day. Scrambling with some of that on the first day or two can make a remote new hire feel less confident and more nervous, which, as employers, we want to avoid.

Another challenge in a remote-first working environment is building a company culture where employees feel part of the culture. How do you do that?

Yes, so that the feeling of being part of a team doesn’t end during a remote onboarding process, right? Company culture is an incredibly important extension of that. You want to introduce company culture during the initial onboarding process, but a good company continues throughout a remote employee’s entire journey with the company. That can be a challenge in a digital-only environment versus an in-office experience, like having birthday bagels in the breakroom or after-work drinks with colleagues. But in many ways, building company culture in a remote world can be more meaningful and creative.

One of the many great things we’ve done as an employer brand is to create a Splash Culture Book. It’s a living, breathing document created with input from all our team members and employees and updated regularly. It’s beautifully designed—which reflects our DNA—communicates our core values and how we celebrate employees, implement inclusion, share our traditions and more. It’s how employees can learn about our culture and understand our seven core values: Be Real, Co-Create, Show Up, Love the Details, Stay Curious, Find the Fun and Take Care, which we added this year to emphasize the importance of mental health.

Actions, though, can speak louder than words, which is why we have launched initiatives that showcase our culture. These include an annual award for employees who demonstrate our core values, granting employees twice-monthly “M.E. Days,” instituting a five breaths tradition before meetings, adding Juneteenth as a company holiday and more.  

Following up on the remote onboarding process, what are a few takeaways for HR professionals to help make that new hire feel seen and fulfilled in a remote onboarding process?

Each new hire receives a Splash swag box filled with the equipment they need to start their first day and other warm-welcome goodies. We’ve implemented classes for new hires, where new employees across departments come together and share some of their onboarding experiences, easing some of that isolation that remote working can bring. We’ve also set up “meet and greets” with executive leadership to provide more intimate face-time for employees to meet with senior leaders. 

Initiatives like these are critical for relationship-building with employees in a remote work setting. As I mentioned earlier, our culture-building work shouldn’t feel like it’s over once an employee is done with their onboarding. It should feel like part of an ongoing experience with the company.

In talking about company culture, what are some tips to help get “buy-in” from employees to be part of and build company culture?

Making a company culture work—and be understood by everyone within the company—is a two-way street. You want to ensure employees don’t just react to a culture put in place by their employer but also help build it. Yes, it’s on the company to offer creative ways for employees to feel involved, but it’s also up to employees to get involved and play an integral role in seeing that company culture through. 

Even though we’re a remote-first organization, creating in-person experiences is still important for building and reinforcing company culture. We have implemented quarterly surveys for employees to tell us how we can do better or where they can step up in certain areas. It’s an effective way to give each employee a voice and feel comfortable sharing. We also have offsite meetings to bring remote employees together. We offer employees learning programs and professional development opportunities, so they feel supported as individuals and help earn that “buy-in.” 

Lastly, I would add that valuing employees and what they do each day is a transparent and effective way to get employees involved in building company culture. Last year, more than half of our current employees earned an internal promotion, and we started several manager and employee training and growth plans to help others earn promotions as well. If employees feel valued for what they bring to the table, it’s much harder for them to think about being anywhere else but your company.

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