Getting onboard the digital recruitment era

It is likely over the last 16 weeks that you have navigated the largely unchartered waters of virtual recruitment, but what next? What are the considerations when ‘onboarding’ new starters in a virtual world? Early indications show that many workplaces will not fully go back to office-based working and this could impact significantly on the onboarding process. In local government where a range of stakeholder relationships are key to success, how can a traditional induction and onboarding process be replicated effectively in a virtual environment?

In many organisations, over recent years there has been a slow but definite move towards digitalisation. With efficiency and cost savings influencing many decisions in local government, a good number of organisations have at least started to move systems and procedures online. Onboarding is no different; there are a range of technology solutions on the market which promise to cut time and cost as well as improve customer journey and consistency across large organisations. For example, Publica, which is a service delivery company wholly owned by Cotswold, Forest of Dean and West Oxfordshire DCs and Cheltenham BC to deliver local services on their behalf, have recently introduced an online on-boarding process. With four sites and four sets of officers and elected members to take into consideration, the time and cost savings they have experienced have been significant.

This said, even for those organisations who had fully transferred their on-boarding process online prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the last 16 weeks of lockdown will no doubt have thrown up unforeseen complications. At Solace, we have started to notice some blind spots, particularly around the effectiveness of virtual training in some instances and the lack of opportunities for new starters to take in information about the wider business while simply sitting within a team in a co-located working environment. Becoming aware of these issues has led us to investigate this topic further.

Tech company Data Trust recently released a report on lessons from lockdown. They interviewed 58 leaders and managers over a six-week period during quarantine and found, among other things, that there was a growing level of concern around a number of issues relating to the onboarding process. They identified that it may be more difficult to use culture as a means to attract and integrate new team members if teams are physically together less. They also discuss the diminishing opportunities to learn from leaders and peers by simply sitting within a team in a shared office environment (or ‘osmosis’ as they call it). Similarly, they identify that opportunities for organic knowledge sharing and generation of ideas could be dampened by reduced co-located working.

So it would seem that we are not alone in the issues we have experienced at Solace and it would be fair to say that building an awareness of some of these blind spots into your virtual onboarding process will prove useful longer term. The good news is that many organisations are already ahead of the curve on some of this learning, having shown a great willingness to experiment and an openness to new ideas and technology.

As an example, at Essex CC the OD team (prior to lockdown) were part way through implementing an online recruitment, onboarding and learning system following extensive research undertaken last year. This process was accelerated in March and the team quickly created a detailed, interactive online guide, including video links to meet the top team, links to documents, guides, websites and policies. The information they offer as part of this process is designed to excite, engage and inform the new starter as they move through the onboarding process. Specific to the COVID crisis in particular, information has been included on effective remote working and supporting remote teams (for leaders) as well as enhanced information on health and wellbeing, provided through a wellbeing portal. Research indicated that the ‘boring’ parts like policies and procedures were likely to cause a new starter to disengage, so these parts are kept to the very minimum.

As an example, how are Essex CC addressing some of the concerns picked up in the Data Trust research? For them it is all about providing a virtual environment that is enriching and supportive. Detailed information on culture and values is included in the online pack and brought to life by a number of schemes designed to help new starters feel connected and engaged.

New managers are encouraged to connect to, or set up, a Microsoft Team. A buddy scheme is provided and new starters are advised to arrange a ‘virtual coffee’ within week one. Participation in a range of employee communities is also encouraged. Furthermore, experimentation with technology platforms is championed and tools like Miro and Mural are now being used to enrich the collaboration process and replicate an environment that fosters innovation.

Clearly, given the speed with which some of this has been pulled together it is still very much a work in progress, but anecdotal feedback has been positive so far, with more than 2,000 views of the document already. Early indications are that consistency across the organisation, in onboarding terms, is greatly increased.

There are many success stories across local government over the last 16 weeks, where people, policies and processes have been moved, changed or amended to suit the circumstances brought by the global pandemic. At this point in time, where many things are new and untested, the sector must share knowledge and move forward as one.

If you are a HR or OD professional in local government/public sector and would like to share knowledge and expertise on this subject please get in touch with me at Jessica.mullinger@solace.org.uk to join our HR/OD community on Microsoft Teams.

Jessica Mullinger is head of interim management at Solace

Jess - Solace

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