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Integrating Newcomers Into Company Culture From A Distance

November 08, 2021, 5-min. read
Integrating Newcomers Into Company Culture From A Distance

Good onboarding is key for engagement and performance, but also future loyalty of new joining employees. That’s an indisputable fact, proven by numerous studies. And that’s all well and good, but what can you do when the newcomer, their colleagues, as well as their higher-ups all work remotely? How can you ensure that the newcomer will feel welcome in the company and soak up the company culture from a distance?

Companies already know how to give the newcomer sufficient information they will need in order to understand their role, tasks, and goals. They can easily provide them with information about the company, strategy, internal organization, processes, or rules. They can guide the newcomer to where important information can be found and where it should be saved. When it comes to information, there’s nothing better than using information technologies. But how should we transmit something as soft as the company culture as we don’t have any cultural technologies at hand…?

Building and Thriving Remote Culture

In classic “offline” onboarding, meeting people, communicating with them, as well as shadowing and inadvertent observing all play a large role. A newcomer has many opportunities to witness various events and interactions; they might not be actively involved in them but they will still reveal a lot about the company’s culture.

To summarize, it’s not difficult for newcomers to figure out what (what they need to be doing, what the goal is), but it’s much more difficult for them to figure out how. That is, for example:

  • How things are done, what is allowed, what is in accordance with (even unwritten & unspoken) rules vs. How things are not done, what is not allowed or is considered against these rules
  • How things are said vs. How things are not said

If the newcomer doesn’t know this, they will be fumble, test the waters, and remain uncertain. And again, if he or she is physically present at the workplace, they will get immediate feedback – they can see how people around them react to their behavior and methods and even if they don’t receive direct feedback, they will be able to tell from the expressions and gestures of their colleagues and higher-ups whether they’ve made a mistake or not. However, they have no chance to see such reactions if they work remotely.

What is more, onboarding is not just about handing over a “technical manual” regarding what and how the company does. It’s also about building relationships and trust. And none of that is easy over video. The reason is not just the medium itself, but also the fact that videoconferences typically have a specific purpose and goal which is typically work-focused. There usually isn’t much space in them to share about personal or informal topics as well, the same way people can do during work breaks or around the coffee machine in the office.

The first conclusion to derive from this is therefore that during online onboarding, getting used to company culture will definitely take longer than in person. Easily up to twice as long; it’s also possible that one day when the newcomer transfers back to the physical workplace, they will go through something like re-onboarding. That’s because integrating with colleagues only on the basis of online interactions can be quite different from how he or she will perceive them after spending an entire day in their actual presence.

Integrating Newcomers Into Company Culture From A Distance

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When thinking about how to integrate a new employee into the company culture, it’s helpful to realize where the culture is most prominent. Experts agree that these areas are:

  • Symbols
  • Rituals
  • Role models

So, try to figure out which symbols represent your company and how you could pass them on to the newcomers. Also, try to create new rituals, perhaps within the framework of remote working, and make it possible for the newcomers to virtually meet not just their closest coworkers but also those who are role models within the company.

Key activities

The above stated leads us to the conclusion that the foundation of good online onboarding lies in regular and frequent communication (both formal and informal). You can start by planning a welcoming videocall for the newcomer, in which you will introduce him or her, welcome them to the company, and let them meet the team. Don’t be afraid to set aside the time and space for this. You need to take the first step towards building relationships and trust, and it will not happen on the side. Liven up mutual introductions by adding personal information (how I relax, favorite film or book, something I’m looking forward to this month…). But you should definitely not stop there. Plan individual meetings with colleagues and key personnel for the newcomer, put a regular one on one meeting on the calendar in order to evaluate his or her progress and to plan further steps, offer them the option of virtual shadowing, or assign a “virtual friend” to the newcomer so that he or she has someone to turn to with any questions they might have.

You can start by planning a welcoming videocall for the newcomer, in which you will introduce him or her, welcome them to the company, and let them meet the team.

In order to prevent faulty interpretations and unrealistic ideas, always communicate clearly formulated expectations to the newcomers. When working remotely, you cannot presume that they will somehow understand everything on their own from the context. Describe the company culture and expected methods of working, discuss issues, ask the newcomer about their first observations, tell stories. Connect their work and their role with the overall vision, goal, and mission of the company.

Support, provide, and make possible intensive feedback for the newcomers. At first, everything will be new to them, they will make mistakes, try things out, look for possible paths. And they need to receive immediate feedback in order to anchor the behaviors and methods which correspond with company expectations and, on the other hand, to find out in a timely fashion when they are not meeting such expectations. At the same time, they need to have the chance to give you open feedback as well. This way, you will achieve harmonization and even though not everything will function at 100 % right away, you will know about it and have it under control.

Something extra

If you stick to what we described above, you will make the adaptation process easier for both the newcomer and yourself. However, if you want to achieve true excellence, we have more tips for you regarding further things which might make the adaptation process significantly easier and therefore shorter:

  • Offer the newcomers tools they can use to request feedback in areas where they need it

  • Create a one-stop shop where communication and sharing can take place among remote teams. Ideally, this should include an internal social network or chat where the newcomer can talk to colleagues in real-time and where everyone can see what the others are working on; especially for younger people it’s natural to build new connections and relationships via social networks and online media

  • Regularly ask newcomers about their level of job satisfaction, engagement, motivation, or what they might need; process the acquired data not only on an individual level but also on a system level.
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