The New Normal for Hiring and Onboarding

For associations that are still looking to fill job roles, especially in the C-suite, different rules apply. It's a time for distanced interviewing and “culture buddies.”

The “new normal” at associations means that though they still have to go about the business of hiring and onboarding new employees, they have to do it in a virtual environment. As I write this, a fifth of the jobs posted at ASAE’s Association Career HQ allow telecommuting, and all of them, at least in the short term, will require an unprecedented level of comfort with managing and collaborating with colleagues virtually.

Do you understand the advantages and disadvantages of joining a distributed team?

Those challenges, combined with a major economic downturn, can make C-suite hiring unusual for both employers and candidates alike. According to a recent report at Fast Company, employers are learning to address questions about their organizations’ financial stability when reaching out to potential hires, and the perks packages are changing as well.

“Explain in job postings things like mental health days, expected hours ‘on-screen,’ stipends during work from home, equipment, or other related benefits,” one HR manager explained. Some companies have gone so far as to limit hiring to referrals only, according to the article, for fear that it’s too hard to get acquainted with a candidate you can’t meet in person. But companies have found ways to get to know a candidate remotely, according to Fast Company, whether it’s through social-distanced interviews or short-term projects that help candidates and employers get to know one another.

But the challenge doesn’t end with hiring. Even if that process goes smoothly in the new environment, onboarding is going to have to look different as well. The kinds of in-office check-ins that managers are used to won’t be as common or organic as they once were, which has led to some new technological approaches. According to a recent CNBC article, the consulting firm Genpact has been using chatbots to keep tabs on its 95,000 employees, asking questions that produce “mood scores” that are sent to managers.

I get that employers, especially large ones, need to do what they must to manage from a distance, but chatbot management feels a bit more HAL-9000 than I’d like. Smaller organizations can still do remote onboarding in ways that feel human and nuanced. Earlier this year I spoke with a handful of companies that work mostly or entirely remotely—and had been doing so before the COVID-19 pandemic hit [PDF]—and I gleaned a few helpful lessons from those conversations.

First, understand that organizations have cultures, even virtually, and provide orientation to newcomers to help communicate it. The company Buffer, for instance, has new hires spend their first 90 days assigned to a “role buddy” related to their department and a “culture buddy” to guide them through the “how we do things around here” stuff.

Second, know that different people have different approaches to virtual meetings, which can be especially acute with international organizations. Willis Turner, CAE, CEO of Sales and Marketing Executives International, says that because SMEI has employees with different comfort levels with English, he allows plenty of time for staff to prepare for meetings, and that there’s more “air” in the virtual room for them to speak. That’s valuable advice even if there isn’t a language barrier: New employees need the opportunity to feel comfortable with the particular virtual environment your organization is cultivating.

Third, know that remote work requires a certain kind of temperament, and employers need to support it. Cynthia Chand, HR generalist at the tech firm Harvest, said it helps to develop employees’ self-awareness about their needs. “Do you know yourself well enough to understand the advantages or disadvantages that you might have in joining a distributed team? Do you understand your work style? Do you know when to reach out for help?”

Transitioning new employees into an office that isn’t a physical space isn’t easy. But a clearer sense of potential hires’ needs—and the organization’s—can reduce anxiety.

If you’ve hired employees in recent months, what has that process looked like for both employees and managers? Share your experiences in the comments.

(sorbetto/DigitalVision Vectors)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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