The new normal: Onboarding from your sofa

Starting a new job can be exciting and daunting in equal measure. But what about starting a new role in lockdown? How has this rite of passage changed?

Making the round of introductions – learning how to use the coffee machine – getting the hang of the filing systems. The banal realities of beginning your new role. But what happens when you must complete this process virtually? Granted, it makes learning the coffee machine easier as you’re probably quite familiar with the one in your kitchen already. But what is it like to learn a new way of working, and get acquainted with new colleagues without ever seeing them face to face?

This might be old hat to the freelancers, contractors, and digital nomads of this world. But for the vast majority of workers who aren’t au fait with flighty millennial working styles, remote working is an entirely new experience. It’s long been claimed that much of the workforce was due to transition to flexible working schedules, but the ongoing Coronavirus crisis has dramatically accelerated this.

Our induction process

At Saffron, onboarding is something we take particularly seriously. It sets up the new team member for a comfortable and productive tenure, helping them to feel confident. Moreover, it provides a chance to embed the company’s deeply rooted principles and procedures. It’s these carefully planned processes that allow us to respond so fluidly to shock events like the CV19 pandemic. Our business continuity plan, which is covered in depth as part of the induction, allowed us to continue to work uninterrupted without compromising our business or safety.

Other key aspects of onboarding include dedicated training to our systems, including DOVICO and SVN. We’re linked with a mentor, and given access to the full range of Saffron’s Point of need tools to complement this support. There’s a dedicated calendar that sets out precisely how the induction process will bring the new starter up to speed, letting them know what to look out for, and what’s expected of them. There are opportunities to meet the team, receive formal instruction and training, as well as independent learning. Gradually they are able to incorporate normal working tasks as they feel comfortable until they are in full command of their role.

Of course, training doesn’t stop here and there are regular check-ins with their mentors and skill updates. Furthermore, at the end of the initial induction process, there is a chance for the new Saffronite to present their experiences and highlights, as well as offering personal feedback on the induction itself. This feedback loop offers us a chance to continually refine and adjust the induction process to make it as effective as possible.

Given that we’ve recently recruited two new Saffronites just after lockdown started, we thought we’d catch up with them about their experiences joining the crew. We spoke to Emily Dunne, our new resourcing manager, and Lauren Savill the newbie Instructional Designer and Project Lead.

How has your induction process been overall?

Lauren Savill:

Doing my induction from home has worked well for me as I do enjoy working autonomously, reading and figuring things out independently. Having said that, I am looking forward to being able to work in the office as I don’t think I can get a real sense of company culture when working from home.

              – What is your impression of the company culture currently?

Creative and sociable, quite a chilled team atmosphere- not a competitive culture amongst employees.

Emily Dunne:

Surprisingly enough, my induction process has been the best I’ve ever experienced when joining a new job despite the difficulties posed by lockdown. Everything has been very organised in terms of my induction calendar and the whole team have made a real effort to make me feel welcome (we’ve even played a few lunch break games!) My mentor and members of the team have constantly made time for me to run through any queries I’ve had as well as any induction meetings I’ve booked in despite some very busy schedules. Overall, I’d say it’s been a very successful start!

Have you ever worked from home before?

Lauren Savill:

Yes, but not full time. I generally worked from home when doing freelance writing work.

Emily Dunne:

Yes, although not as often as I have been recently! I have had the option to work from home before at different jobs so it is certainly something I am used to.

How important is socializing at work to you? Do you think ‘virtual’ socializing could ever replace the real thing?

Lauren Savill:

Socializing at work is very important to me. Working from home has compromised the social aspect of starting a new job as my internet connection struggles with video calls and I hate small talk over instant messaging. I don’t think virtual socializing could ever replace the communal atmosphere of a shared office.

Emily Dunne:

I would describe myself as a very sociable person who would usually try to find as much time as possible to spend with friends and family before lockdown. So, being able to socialize and get to know my colleagues at work in a face-to-face setting is important to me. I would categorise myself as an outgoing person who would jump at the chance to take part in any social activity during or after work and loves a good chat during a tea break!

I do feel that there are some positives that come from ‘virtual’ socializing; the most important being that it allows people to communicate with others when, a few years ago, this would have been impossible. However, in my opinion, nothing can ever replace a round in the pub after work with your friends!

Do you prefer working from home or in the office? Do you feel like you can be productive at home?

Lauren Savill:

I am undecided. In terms of atmosphere and socializing I prefer working in an office, however working from home has allowed me to re-purpose 3 hours of my day during which I would normally have been commuting, so I have enjoyed the flexibility and convenience of working from home.

Emily Dunne:

Although working from home has its merits and allows me to focus more, my role at Saffron makes it necessary for me to reach out to all members of the team throughout the day to check on their progress and their projects. So I do feel that it is easier for me to be in the office where I can easily ask questions to other colleagues without finding a time in their diaries to give them a call on Teams.

What were you most nervous about before starting?

Lauren Savill:

I don’t get nervous about work.

Emily Dunne:

I think I was most nervous about starting in lockdown. It played on my mind a lot that I probably wouldn’t meet any of my colleagues for a while and I was definitely worried I wouldn’t feel as included as I would want to be because I was new. It’s a lot more difficult to introduce yourself to someone who is new when they aren’t a few steps away at the desk opposite! However, after my first week, this was no longer a worry as I was able to access all systems almost immediately, had appropriate training on my first few days and even had ‘icebreaker’ meetings with both teams in London and India before I’d really had a chance to worry about being left out further.

Do you feel you’ve been able to start to get to know your colleagues, and the company culture?

Lauren Savill:

Yes – to an extent. I have enjoyed having time to chat to everyone and get to know different personalities. However, I feel like I communicate a lot better in person and online video calls aren’t a substitute for face to face conversations.

Emily Dunne:

Yes absolutely! I’ve already had a few work-related and social catch ups with multiple colleagues which has made it easier to settle in. I do think this is something that will take time as I take on more and more of the role, however I do feel I’ve made a good start in getting to know people. I also feel like I’m starting to get a good idea about company culture in that I have learnt that everyone has a voice and an opportunity to change and improve processes and transparency is key throughout the company.

What would you do differently if you were responsible for onboarding someone new now?

Lauren Savill:

Maybe prepare more extensively for technical problems as my induction calendar has moved around a lot due to internet connectivity issues in my local area.

Emily Dunne:

There aren’t many things I would change about onboarding at Saffron as I really enjoyed the process and found it extremely thorough. The only aspect I would change would be to allow for more time to take in information presented during the first week.

I did find there were a lot of meetings in which I would note down new pieces of information about company processes and my job role but would not necessarily have enough time to read through my notes. Therefore, I would probably schedule in this time in the calendar and move other meetings to the second week if possible.

What has been most challenging about starting for a new company totally online? How do you think this would have been different in person?

Lauren Savill:

I have definitely missed the social side of working in an office, but overall, I have been surprised by how well working from home fits with how I like to work. I have probably had to work more autonomously and therefore picked up certain things faster as nobody is physically there to help you do it. It suits my style of learning well as I quite like being left tasks to get on with independently, however someone who prefers to learn through demonstrations and coaching may have found virtual onboarding very challenging.

            – Did you have the option of using your mentor for coaching and demonstrations?

Yes my mentor put in plenty of time to guide me through anything I was confused about.

Emily Dunne:

The most challenging part for me has been working out when people are free to have a chat or clarify something I am unsure of. Although people are always happy to help, when they are not physically visible, it can be very difficult to tell whether they’re available to help or in the middle of a piece of work with an imminent deadline. Once we can return to the office, this will be much easier to work out.

The new normal: not quite the same

So there you have it!  The social aspect of onboarding remotely just isn’t the same. As Saffronites, we are pretty social animals. Pizza and beers in the office on a Friday to celebrate the week’s successes is common. This is an aspect that quarantine quizzes, group online art classes, and digital group games just haven’t been fully able to breech. Human interaction that is face to face is still important and can’t be easily replaced with even the best conferencing tools. We’ve also learnt that it takes a lot to make Lauren nervous!

But perhaps most importantly – working and onboarding remotely is perfectly viable. However, it is a fraught and labour-intensive process for managers and can leave the starter concerned about the support that’s available to them. This points to the importance of digital tools that will be just as vital in the onboarding process as messaging software or cloud storage.

Point of need tools offer deeper support, guidance, and digital mentorship that can remove the stress of onboarding, and continue to be a vital asset throughout the duration of a role. They can allow starters to hit the ground running and maintain strong productivity with little stress. This leaves all the more time to crack the problem of after-work drinks with no pubs open!

As you can see, we’re super keen on all things inductions and training. Feel like you might be missing a trick? Get in touch and we can talk it out.