(This article originally appeared on HR Daily Advisor.)
The transition to remote work amid COVID-19 was a daunting challenge for many companies, but the advantages of moving beyond the traditional office environment—from flexibility to cost-effectiveness—have become more and more obvious over the past year. Employees have been surprisingly productive from home, and companies have made it clear they’ll continue to rely on remote work even after the pandemic is under control.
Despite the advantages of remote work, there are plenty of challenges to consider. For example, the process of training and onboarding new employees has been especially difficult over the past year. Not only are there logistical obstacles such as broken connections and distractions at home, but it’s also harder to integrate new employees into a company’s culture when they aren’t able to interact with their colleagues in person. Hiring managers should be particularly cognizant of this issue with recent graduates who are taking their first jobs at a time when remote work is still the norm at the majority of companies.
These are all reasons why helping new graduates adapt to your company’s culture in a remote work environment should be a top priority in 2021 and beyond. By facilitating healthy relationships among employees and providing the resources they need to communicate and collaborate digitally, companies can do more than take advantage of the benefits of remote work while mitigating the costs—they can make their cultures healthier than ever.
Why Remote Work Is Here to Stay
COVID-19 has permanently altered many of our fundamental assumptions about how and where we work. According to Gallup, the proportion of employees who prefer to work from home over returning to the office has steadily risen since spring 2020. Meanwhile, companies are expecting to prioritize remote work after the pandemic—a recent Gartner survey of HR leaders found that 90% expected to allow employees to work remotely at least part of the time.
Companies are committing to remote work over the long term because they recognize it can make their workforces more productive and happier while cutting down on unnecessary costs and inefficiencies. In our 2020 survey of company leaders and hiring professionals, we found that attitudes toward remote work are largely positive: 54% of respondents say their view of remote work has improved since the beginning of the pandemic, while 42% say it has stayed the same, and just 4% say it has become more negative.
There’s no question that remote work will remain a major focus for companies going forward, and for those who are just now graduating and entering the workforce, this is the only work environment they’ll ever know. It’s vital for hiring managers and HR professionals to make these new employees’ acclimation to that environment as smooth and rewarding as possible.
Onboarding Deserves Special Attention in the Remote Work Era
A year of isolation and anxiety has taken its toll on millions of workers around the world. Recent graduates who are just now entering the workforce know they’re doing so at a time of economic uncertainty, amid a still-raging pandemic, and during a transition to new norms and policies around where and how they’ll work. Therefore, it’s crucial for hiring and onboarding teams to make these employees feel welcome and introduce them to their new roles with empathy and encouragement.
According to our survey, when deploying best-practice recruitment methods such as preemployment assessments and structured interviews, hiring professionals actually found it easier to find high-quality candidates, increase the efficiency of the hiring process, and carry out other core functions of their jobs in 2020 than in 2019. But there was one notable exception: More hiring professionals said training and onboarding new employees was a challenge in 2020 than in 2019. This is no surprise, as it’s difficult to imitate the camaraderie and natural interactions that take place in the office from behind a screen.
But this doesn’t mean companies shouldn’t try. The remote onboarding process has to go beyond training on digital productivity tools, information about the company and the employee’s new role, and other practical and logistical issues. It should emphasize the company’s mission and principles, provide opportunities to get acquainted with new colleagues, and make employees feel like part of the team right from the start.
Building a Healthy Remote Work Culture
Although many employees report they’ve been as productive or more productive while working remotely, there are also clear risks associated with spending less time in the office. One of these risks is the sense of alienation that can develop when employees are isolated from their colleagues; according to a survey conducted by Slack, 45% of newly remote workers said their sense of belonging suffered after they started working from home.
This is why companies need to make a concerted effort to address new employees’ social and emotional needs by introducing them to people across departments and setting up unstructured time that provides a chance to build relationships without the pressure of deadlines or other stresses. Managers who have demonstrated emotional intelligence and a firm understanding of the company’s mission and values should be mentors to new employees. Ongoing training and professional development opportunities should be available, particularly to recent graduates and other young employees, who place a premium on education in the workplace.
There are many strategies for bringing young remote workers on board and helping them feel comfortable in their new roles. But above all, hiring and HR professionals should remember that the era of remote work doesn’t mean the importance of human connection has diminished—in fact, it’s more important than ever.