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Blog | 7 December 2020

How to onboard teams and build strong connections with distributed working

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In the first of our new blog series, Senior Director of People, Leigh-Anne Jansen van Rensburg, explores the ways in which Healx has adapted its onboarding processes to offer a fully digital experience to new starters and help them build important connections when working remotely. 

The last year has shown us that remote and distributed working is here to stay. Businesses have had to adjust to a new way of working, and with many realising the benefits of this new approach, it’s unlikely we’re going to revert back to the office life we once knew – even when the pandemic is over! Indeed, with more flexible working hours and the ability to hire talent beyond the traditional commuter range, it’s no wonder that companies are expecting approximately 40% of their employees to make use of a remote working model in the future.

With this shift in mind, organisations are re-evaluating many of their traditional processes to reflect this new model. At Healx, we believe that one of the most important team processes is that of onboarding new employees. After interviews, it is the first time new employees see the company culture in action and it is a critical moment to bring people on board, and up to speed. We’ve learned a lot over the last few months about how to onboard people remotely and how to build a digital programme that engages, empowers and educates new starters – ensuring that they can hit the ground running and make a difference as quickly as possible. 

In this blog, we have outlined ways in which our onboarding processes have evolved over the last few months and the top ways you can make the process a success for your business, whether working remotely or in the office. 

Shifting processes to accommodate change 

At Healx, like so many other companies, our onboarding processes have had to evolve to accommodate remote and distributed working. We’ve had to think more creatively about how we introduce new joiners to our culture and help them build lasting relationships within the team. It is with this in mind that we switched from an individual induction programme to a cohort-based programme. People are inducted at the same time each month, and each cohort takes all of their induction sessions together, helping to create an instant bond between them. In order to fully immerse themselves in Healx’s culture, new hires take part in multiple sessions over the course of a week, from values and mission talks, to team lunches and virtual yoga. They’re also assigned a buddy to help guide them through their first few weeks and be on hand to answer any questions that might arise during the induction process. Every joiner also has a Zoom lunch with our CEO and founder, Dr. Tim Guilliams. While this is all taking place virtually at the moment, our onboarding process has been developed to ensure our new hires feel fulfilled within their roles and connected to their colleagues, despite not being in the same physical location. 

Retaining communication, at work and beyond 

Remote working is unlikely to be successful in the long-term unless there is effective and transparent communication across the business and among peers. When distributed, setting realistic expectations and being open about availability helps the whole workforce, as well as new employees, to understand what their teammates are working on and where their attention is focused. As well as implementing Slack as our single platform for conversation around work-based matters, regular meetings allow everyone to remain updated. For example, we have a weekly ‘all hands’ on company-wide announcements and virtual ‘team weeks’ where all colleagues come together for a week of bonding, collaboration and strategising for the next quarter. 

As well as encouraging a culture of communication and transparency through regular conversations, the culture of connectivity cannot be overlooked. We encourage our teams to learn more about each other by participating in casual coffee chats via a Slack extension called ‘Donut’. This allows people to connect on a more personal level, so water cooler moments can be recreated at home and new hires can get to know their co-workers as people, not just colleagues.

Education is the key to success

Since March, Healx has hired and onboarded 22 new employees. This scale would never have been possible without thorough investment of time and money into the right training and tools to support our team and leaders to grow. We have used a wide range of resources, to provide new joiners with as much knowledge as possible in their first few weeks and empower them to educate themselves about our work and culture. Lessonly has been one of the most helpful tools in our tech stack, helping teams build out self-curated mixed-media online lessons so that new joiners can learn at their own pace.

One of our new members of the team is Sunny Sandhu who joined Healx in November as a Product Manager, and had to onboard completely remotely due to the pandemic. Reflecting on his experience, Sunny said: Onboarding onto any new position or company can be a mix of emotions at the best of times — usually excitement with a little apprehension. Healx’s approach made me feel welcome before I had even walked through the door (or in my case, flipped open my laptop). The People team stayed in regular contact with me over the weeks leading up to my start date, meaning that I felt equipped with the right tools and supported before my first day. My highlights from the first week were having coffee with the Exec Team, playing two truths one lie with the CEO, and the thorough team inductions!”

Without the help of technology and an emphasis on education, we never would have been able to onboard new joiners like Sunny as seamlessly and thoroughly as we have succeeded in doing.

Looking ahead

Although remote working has required a shift in most day-to-day business operations, it has also empowered companies to take a step back and identify which processes can be adapted to provide a better experience for the entire company. At Healx, we take pride in our onboarding process –  although we know there is always more to learn and do! Whether it’s circulating information to the wider team to keep everyone up to date, or encouraging a ‘no meetings over lunch’ policy, we have undoubtedly experienced learnings that will be implemented for the long term. By reshaping how we onboard people, we have helped to educate our new hires and fully immerse them in Healx’s culture, giving them an experience that has been positively adapted, rather than tarnished by remote working. 

Below are some tips on how all businesses can succeed to onboard new joiners, even when remote. 

5 top tips for successfully onboarding during distributed working:

  • Don’t be afraid to tear up the rule book and evolve processes as needed
  • Over-communication and transparency is key
  • Don’t compromise on culture
  • Invest in the right technologies and training 
  • Immerse new joiners in key company values