by EMMA COLEMAN | Published on April 15, 2020

Having just onboarded a new starter, and obviously experiencing recent changes to my own working life, I can’t help wondering if technology is really the whole solution to onboarding a living breathing individual, or if we should utilise its advantages to create a truly integrated experience?

Yes, it was a quandary and a challenge to try and ensure that our new starter had access to all drives and equipment (and believe me some of these challenges still haven’t been solved completely!) but don’t lose your head, and definitely don’t just throw technology at the problem — we are sociable animals and regular communication via video conferencing can go a long way to substitute face-to-face contact!

Work closely with your HR Manager, as early as possible, and have regular calls with your new starter. Get to know them and understand what some of their concerns and fears are — they will probably be worried they will have their offer negated, that they won’t be able to get as involved both in commercial projects or with the team, and they won’t even know what they will need access to.

Talk through these worries; establish if they are isolating alone or with others, have a defined work space and adequate Wifi. If you can deliver a laptop or technology to your new starter, be clear as to when this will arrive and set up a time and date that’s convenient for your IT team to liaise and walk through how to set up various drives and address any issues or challenges.

Discuss expectations, is there an onboarding training programme you can work through with them via video calls? Can you schedule a first ‘week’ by introducing new starters to main players within the business remotely? Can you still provide a ‘buddy’? Is there a daily video call with your team that the new starter can join? Is there a work in progress document on Slack or Trello that can provide an overview of live projects your new starter will need to be involved in? And, almost more importantly, do you have any social events you can invite your new starter to (don’t underestimate these as they provide a chance to get to know your new starter, where you can ask those questions you might otherwise have done over a cup of coffee, and for them to get to know their colleagues). We had a team quiz, as I am sure many are doing, over a glass of wine and it provided a great ice breaker. 

Try to ease anxiety by thinking about all of the questions you might be asked, or those that you would want to ask yourself if you were starting a new position, and answering them in advance. These might include: Who do I need to speak to if I have an IT query? What about my contract and the training I need to complete as a requirement when I join? What clients will I be working on? What work is currently live with them? What’s the process I need to follow? Who are my team? What are they working on?

As a line manager, I needed to make sure I gave a substantive overview of Havas, as well as Havas People, our history, our different businesses and departments, our objectives and USPs, alongside updates on how we are managing the new working environment. In life before lockdown, we were working in a super-spangly purpose-built office (that all seems like a distance memory currently as I sit huddled over my kitchen table), but Havas is making sure that, short of providing gourmet lunches, we have everything we need — from Hiit classes, meditation to training and mental health programmes — and I wanted to ensure my new starter had access to this from their first day.

Don’t just end your conversation after the first week, make sure you have daily, and then weekly, catch-ups, allow them to have clearly defined channels to contact you on and, if required, allow them time to plan for your calls and talk openly about any concerns. Be clear that both parties know this is the opportunity to ask for clarification or answers to any questions they may have.

In summary, technology does play a vital part in facilitating an onboarding process via virtual platforms and access to drives and business process, but communication is vital in an orderly and informed way. Set time aside for social calls and regular catch-ups. An onboarding platform can’t substitute ‘face-to-face’ communication, but it can enhance the overall experience and help make it as pain-free as possible to reduce anxiety and ensure business continuity. It’s still early days (and I am not going to answer for my new starter) but so far I think we are doing okay and, if nothing else, being part of Havas People has ensured that we have the best in class experience to lean on when developing this process!

If you do want to talk about your onboarding experiences then do please get in touch (— I’m happy to walk through my learnings and all those little things that I would have done better or know we could improve on in the future. Just in case this situation is here to stay for a while…