Hiring and onboarding virtually during COVID-19
Shutdowns and social distancing guidelines in response to COVID-19 have led a vast number of industries to move their operations to virtual overnight. Hiring managers are faced with the prospect of either putting a freeze on vital new appointments, or conducting the full hiring process—from interviews to onboarding—in this virtual environment.
We have watched recruitment processes being furloughed or delayed as the world continues to feel the calamitous force of COVID-19, in part because of the apprehension hiring managers in the international development community feel when it comes to hiring and onboarding employees remotely. When your hires are strategically important to the impact your organisation makes, it’s understandable to want to have a physical meeting with your appointee to build a rapport, pick up on body language, and get a sense of the energy he or she brings.
Through planning, coordination, and best practices, hiring can be adapted for our new virtual workstyle in the same way much of our other work has. At SRI Executive, we are confident in our tried and tested 5-Stage Process for end-to-end recruitment and onboarding remotely. These steps can be adjusted, re-ordered and tailored to suit your organisation’s specific needs.
Our 12-month guarantee for new hires means if the appointed candidate leaves within the first year, SRI Executive will conduct our search again. We continue to be committed to bringing you the people who will create lasting impact for your organisation.
To avoid your critical searches being sidelined, we have prepared our guide to support you in conducting the full recruitment process virtually.
Building a Robust Virtual Hiring Process
SRI Executive’s 5-Stage Process for hiring virtually includes the following:
Stage 1: First-round interviews
This involves narrowing down a lengthy list of candidates and identifying the stronger ones to bring forward in the process. Virtual tools make this process incredibly efficient.
Stage 2: Individual interviews with key team-members or stakeholders
At this stage you identify key team-members or individuals within the organisation who have a vested interest in getting to know the candidates, and arrange 20-30 minute 1:1 interviews during which each team member probes for a specific competency and captures the result in a central location to share later.
Stage 3: Panel interview with hiring team
A more in-depth panel interview with final candidates can help you understand their behaviours in different circumstances, ask more in-depth questions around their motivations and how they might do a job, and get a sense of how they will fit as part of a team.
Stage 4: Psychometric assessments
Psychometric assessments add exceptional value when reviewing candidates at the final interview stage. They help you objectively assess your candidates’ motivations and behaviours to provide insight into both why and how they will carry out the role. It is also feasible to run assessment centres virtually with careful planning.
Stage 5: Virtual Onboarding + SRI Executive’s 12-Month Guarantee
Effective onboarding practices, as we describe in more depth below, help ensure that your new hire becomes productive more quickly and stays with your organisation for longer. This, coupled with our 12-month guarantee, ensures that the candidate you select stays with you even during this uncertain and challenging time.
Getting the most out of Virtual Interviews
Well-conducted phone or video interviews let you efficiently rule out weaker candidates and piece together a fuller picture of your candidates later in the process. Preparing for virtual interviews is the same as preparing for face-to-face ones, and it is key to determine:
- The assessment needs for the position: 1:1 interviews or a panel, written assessment or presentation, any challenging assignments, etc.
- Technology being used and any IT support needed
- How interviewers at different stages will avoid duplicating questions and share the results of their assessments centrally
- Priority areas or competencies each interviewer will probe for assigned in advance
- How to communicate the process, technology being used, interviewees and other necessary information with candidates
SRI Executive recommends these tips to help prepare for virtual interviews during all stages of the recruitment process:
Have an Objective
Plan ahead and consider what you need to hear from a candidate for him or her to advance to the next stage of the process. This means prioritising the most important responsibilities of the job and weighing up the candidate’s suitability and capability against these. This will help guide the questions you’ll ask during the interview.
Prepare Questions and Structure
The best telephone or video interviews are conversational and dynamic, giving both the employer and the candidate the flexibility to explore if it is a good fit. Having a planned structure will eliminate any lapses or awkwardness in the discussion, helping the candidate feel more at-ease and ensuring you get the information you need from the interview. It can be useful to have between five and ten questions planned in advance, depending on the level of the position and how are in the process the interview is. It may be helpful to prepare questions to give you a sense of the candidate’s remote working experience, and how he or she might deal with the associated challenges.
Who’s Calling Who?
To help the process go smoothly for yourself and the candidate, clear communication on the logistics of the interview can go a long way. Ensure the candidate knows the start and expected finish time for the call, keeping time zones in mind. Sharing contact details is important, and as the employer it can be a good idea to lead the exchange by agreeing that you will call the candidate.
Consider connecting with the candidate ahead of time to ensure he or she has access to the virtual interviewing platform, and can learn how to use it. We also recommend having a backup plan in case technology fails on the day.
Prepare Your Environment
Where you conduct an interview can make a big difference. If possible, try finding a room where you won’t be disturbed. Ensure you have the lighting and setup ready to go if using a video interview.
It will be important to recognise that at times disturbances can’t be avoided. Family life and work life are converged more than ever. In many ways, managing the unplanned intrusions during an interview can often provide good insight into how the candidate deals with pressure or an unplanned event. But it will also make a difference to be forgiving of disruptions and glitches as we all adapt to these new circumstances.
Put the Candidate at Ease
Telephone or interviews by video conference can feel awkward and stressful at the best of times, even without a global pandemic. The pressure on candidates can bring out their nerves, but in an environment where reading body language is more difficult, it’s easy for the nerves to be misread.
It will be important to give the candidate the opportunity to shine by starting with conversation and ‘ease-in’ questions. If possible, leave the trickier questions to the later stages of the interview and hiring process, where the candidate will have had a better chance to settle into the situation.
When interviewing virtually, candidates will miss out on the experience of walking through or touring your organisation’s offices. Consider ways to provide candidates with the full ‘virtual experience’ of the office. How can you creatively convey your organisation’s culture? If a candidate may need to relocate in time, a virtual experience of the local schools, city or town may be a good idea.
As an employer, collating a comprehensive pack of information for candidates will add to the virtual experience and will help fill in some of the blanks. Many organisations have this information readily available, but may need to co-ordinate with local schools, real estate agents, and local tourist offices to get additional information and to make the virtual experience as comprehensive as possible.
What is missing from virtual interviews, and how can you make up for it?
Virtual interviews have their advantages. They help you quickly eliminate candidates who don’t meet the job requirements while sparing everyone the time, expense, and carbon footprint of travel for a face-to-face interview. They force us to create a more robust interview process in which we really take the time to get to know candidates before making a decision.
What hiring decision-makers struggle with are the components of an interview that are lost in translation virtually: social cues, the ability to quickly connect and build a genuine rapport, seeing how the candidate reacts to the working environment, his or her attitudes and energy. All of these things factor into the vital final hiring decision, so proceeding without them makes us wary.
Following our robust Five-Stage process involving a number of key stakeholders can help counteract these concerns. We also recommend:
- Do your best to conduct interviews throughout the process via video call. Even through a screen, you can see facial expressions and reactions to help build a picture of a candidate. By the time you reach the final stages, you will have built a rapport with remaining candidates.
- Create time for conversation. It’s easy to jump straight into the agenda in a virtual interview. Building a rapport through conversation will take a little extra effort, but it is possible.
- We recommend each person capture interview feedback centrally and independently, then review and discuss as a group to identify recurring themes that emerged in the interviews.
If anything, hiring virtually may just result in a more careful, deliberate and comprehensive hiring process with greater planning, preparation and consideration.
Onboarding when your new candidate is working remotely
Successful onboarding has a vital function of improving productivity and employee retention from the start. Research show that organisations with a structured, supportive onboarding process experience up to 50% more productivity from new hires, and are more likely to retain their employees after three years.
To bring new hires up to speed when their first few weeks or months will be virtual, we recommend some extra considerations for Stage 5: pre-onboarding and onboarding:
Operations and Logistics
An important initial step is to determine and communicate the logistics of the new employee’s role location, key information about organisation and the employee’s department and team.
Ensuring the person is set up for remote work: This may involve checking in with a checklist of the technology and software needed to connect with new teams, and ensuring that the individual has the setup and space he or she needs well ahead of the starting date. Confirm the employee can liaise with your IT department to assist with setup if necessary.
If relevant, you may need to provide the new hire with IT manuals and descriptions for how to set up: their company email, group messaging tools, video conferencing software, phone applications, etc. Ensure the pieces are in place for your new employee to be productive while working from home.
Experience working with a team virtually: Consider finding out whether your new employee has experience with the specific technology your team is using, and his/her experience working with a team virtually. There may be a need for additional training and support ahead of time, along with accommodation and flexibility around working hours if the new hire has a family at home as well.
Getting up to speed on company culture: How can you make a new employee feel welcome when he or she won’t be meeting the team face-to-face for a while? Maybe you put together a welcome package including a welcome letter and any company branded merchandise you have on-hand. Consider scheduling a few virtual team coffee meetings during the new-starter’s first weeks, as well as 1:1 chats with team members.
Completing HR paperwork remotely: Printing, signing, scanning and sending contracts, handbooks, and other documents remotely can be time-consuming. There are handy e-signature tools such as HelloSign or DocuSign that allow employees to add a digital signature and share documents securely.
When a new remote worker comes on board, we recommend:
Ensuring managers are clear about goals and expectations: It won’t feel great if a new worker has to wait until their manager is online to learn what to do. Ensure managers have a task calendar with defined short-term and long-term goals and work they can share with a new employee. It is also good practice to schedule weekly 1:1 meetings to discuss projects, progress, and to flag and resolve issues that come up.
Arrange trainings for the role: It can be challenging to train remote employees with limited real-time communication. Consider using interactive, virtual training courses or videos, and follow up with the new employee to answer any questions.
Schedule regular calls: Have a dedicated person to touch base during the first few weeks. This will be vital to help you understand whether your new hire is facing any difficulties.
Help with building relationships: Providing a document that maps your organisation’s structure can help initially, followed by individual or team meetings to help your new hire put faces to names. Encourage team members to create time to chat with your new appointee about their roles, how they can help, and to begin building working relationships.
Keep communicating: Working from home our days are still busy. It can be easy for a new hire to feel isolated and siloed without a bit of extra, thoughtful communication throughout the process.
While traditional practice is to hire a new employee only after a face-to-face meeting, current circumstances call for us to adapt and creatively respond to the challenges COVID-19 has presented us. With thoughtful planning, consideration for your organisation’s specific circumstances, and the proper tools and setup, virtual end-to-end recruitment can be successful.
With our global team experienced in working remotely, and aware of the challenges organisations face when it comes to remote work, SRI Executive can support our clients with a hiring solution that suits their needs. In uncertain times, expertise you can trust is essential. Our global team are working remotely in response to current circumstances, and continue to support organisations in placing exceptional leaders. To learn more about how we can support your organisation, contact us.