With many businesses hit hard by coronavirus and the resulting lockdown, the UK hiring rate is down 40% on last year according to the latest available data from LinkedIn.

But there are now signs hiring is starting to stabilise, while industries like hardware, networking and healthcare have increased recruitment to meet fresh demand.

And, with many businesses quickly adopting remote-first policies for knowledge workers who can do their jobs from laptops, new recruits may find themselves welcomed into the fold without face-to-face interviews, let alone office tours or Friday drinks with their new colleagues.

In short, the risk of a new employee feeling disconnected, disengaged and isolated is higher.

In the current climate, new recruits may not get face-to-face interviews or meet their coworkers in person

According to research by Gallup, just 12% of employees strongly agree their organisation does a great job of onboarding new employees. And that survey was taken during ‘ordinary’ times. Onboarding remotely requires creativity, as much as agility. Follow these eight steps to get it right:

Start early

Research by Aberdeen Group found companies with onboarding programmes that last longer than one month are 9% more likely to retain their new hires for longer than one year, and firms that use “pre-boarding” – and kick off the process before new hires even start – are 1.6 times more likely to have a lower cost per hire than those without. Don’t wait until their first day at work to get a new recruit excited about their new job, and your company culture.

Be organised

Don’t leave new hires to fend for themselves. Get computer equipment sent to them in advance, with your digital workplace and any other software set up and ready to go, and all the proper permissions in place. Sounds painfully obvious, but too many companies get the basics wrong, and the cost of such mistakes is high. A third of new employees will leave within their first 90 days, but a good onboarding experience can significantly reduce that risk, says Gallup.

Design an experience

A good online onboarding experience will make a new employee feel welcome, excited, engaged, included and informed. Ideally, there should be some form of starter interface so they can learn the ropes, and explore a bit themselves. So, create an online portal within your digital workplace, packed with everything a new recruit needs, including team profiles, training videos, HR portal access, company and announcement news, policies, and upcoming events.

Add useful information, like points of contact for different tasks. Personalise the portal with their name, photo, and – to avoid confusion – only include information that’s relevant.

Post a welcome pack

Why not design a welcome pack you can mail to your new recruit? This might include branded stationery, t-shirts, water bottles, coffee mugs and business cards, but the only limit is your creativity, with some of the more interesting packs I’ve seen containing cakes iced with the employee’s name, vouchers for sprucing up home offices, and bouquets of flowers, indoor plants and photo frames for adorning desks.

Inject some fun

To encourage a learning culture, some businesses are ‘gamifying’ elements of training. Ford Motor Company of Canada, for example, created an online learning environment where its workers could win badges displayed in a ‘trophy case’, see their progress on a leaderboard and build their dream car garage. The gamified portal saw a 417% uplift in use and, within five weeks, actions per user doubled.

Include them

A typical first month in an office will involve being shown the ropes by seasoned employees, and meeting dozens of coworkers for coffees, meetings, lunches and after-work drinks. In short, making friends is easy. For remote workers, you’ll need to get a bit more creative.

First, introductions. Get the new recruit to answer a few questions about themselves – where they live, interests and hobbies, family and/or pets, where they’ve worked and studied – and write a bio to post on the company news feed so they can be welcomed by the whole team.

Encourage everyone to make contact with their new colleague within their first week at work. If there are team chat threads running, loop them in. Host a quiz in their honour. Don’t let your new recruit experience any feelings of loneliness or isolation.

Assign buddies

Buddy up your new recruit with at least one other staff member who can check in daily and be their port of call for answering questions and explaining how things work. This person should not only be a friendly mentor, but a source of practical information on all those things new people never know how to do, from submitting expense claims and annual leave requests, to dealing with tricky clients and colleagues. It can be really helpful to pick one buddy from the new recruit’s own team, and another from a different department to break down team silos.

Ask for feedback

Improving your onboarding experience relies on honest feedback from those who’ve been through it. Ask them what worked and what didn’t, see if they have any ideas of their own, and let them know when you make changes based on their recommendations.