I was speaking with a niece who’s a school teacher. She is entering the school year with a challenge she hasn’t faced. Her school district will, through at least several months, be teaching virtually. We talked about her biggest concerns:

“Last year, when we shut down classrooms in March, I had been working with my students for the entire school year. I knew each of them, I knew how to reach out and engage them, so the challenge of remote teaching wasn’t that bad. This year, I have 120 new kids. I don’t know them, I don’t know their strengths and weaknesses, I don’t know how to engage each one–and I won’t be able to connect with them F2F for at least several months…..”

I reflected on my conversation with Lindsey, thinking about new people we are onboarding in a “virtual environment.” Perhaps the most important part of the onboarding process is not teaching them about our products, tools, processes, markets. Perhaps the most important part of onboarding, often done informally, is understanding what it means to be part of the company/organization. What are the values and beliefs? How do we hold each other and our customers? How do we get things done? Who can people reach out to for help?

So much of what happens in onboarding is not what we formally train people on, but it’s what happens to make them feel “connected” with the company, it’s values, beliefs, and others who work at the company. This seldom happens in training workshops, but happens in the “spaces in between.” The breaks, the side discussions, the social interactions that surround the formal onboarding process. It’s the informal relationships that are formed that are so important to

Feeling “connected” with the company is perhaps the biggest challenge everyone faces in the world of WFH. Those that have worked “in the office,” or have had the opportunity to connect in various ways with their peers, company leadership, struggle with remaining connected.

But how to we “connect” the people who are new, who don’t have those informal mechanisms to become part of the organization. I think we are still figuring this out, but some ideas:

  1. Managers will have to reach out more frequently for loosely structured 1 on 1’s with new people to make them feel more connected and engaged.
  2. More frequent, informal team meetings to build relationships with their peers.
  3. Executives need to be engaged with all groups, reinforcing the values, vision, mission, beliefs, with Q and A sessions. Periodic “all hands meetings,” can help everyone be more connected and engaged.
  4. Connecting new people with people outside their teams, for example, marketing, customer experience, even product managers so they can begin to know other people. The agendas for these meetings should be relatively loose, but helping the onboarding people know other people and their roles in the organization and how they might help.
  5. Assigning a peer mentor to help them better understand how to get things done and how to become “connected” within the organization.

What other ideas do you have that help onboard and connect new people in this new world?