The Way We Work

Traditional hiring is an expensive process. It takes time, money and effort to winnow through a potential candidate list, conduct the needed interviews and then finally train the new hire. And according to the figures, all that input could be for naught: 46 percent of new hires wash out in their first 18 months, according to CoreCentive.

Hiring online can reduce much of the upfront investment required to bring on a new team member, but if you truly want to make sure they are positioned for long-term success, you should take a look at how you train and integrate new hires—a process often referred to as onboarding. When done right, onboarding is a powerful tool. But when the process is given only a hasty, cursory nod, consulting firm Egon Zehnder International notes, companies can lose up to 50 percent of their new talent.

A New Approach

“I’ll invest my money in people” – W.K. Kellogg

If you’re like many clients, you probably have some sort of orientation process—maybe a brief one- or two-day training session and a Google Doc manual to read. According to the Wynhurst Group, you should take it one step further. They point out the need for an extended process, saying that “22% of staff turnover occurs in the first forty-five days of employment.”

One reason the basic orientation process often falls short is that it merely introduces the new team member to your business. For long-term retention, your new hire needs to be integrated. Your goal should be to transition them, starting on day one, from being a team outsider into a team insider. For this to work, they need extended help navigating both social relationships and team culture.

After the orientation, what should come next? We spoke with Darleen DeRosa, a managing partner with OnPoint Consulting and co-author of Virtual Team Success: A Practical Guide to Working and Leading From a Distance. She’s seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to the onboarding process. According to DeRosa, successful onboarding is really about good coaching.

“Virtual team leaders need to consistently monitor progress and provide frequent feedback and coaching,” she stated. While this may sound like a tall order for your already busy schedule, it’s not impossible. You can start by implementing the following four basic strategies:

1. Prioritize Relationships
Distributed teams don’t have built-in opportunities for socializing. And for a somebody new, it can be a bit awkward to know how to interact with other team members. Add to that, they’re often lost about who to turn to for help and how to properly interpret communication from other team members.

That’s why DeRosa says the onboarding process must prioritize relationship-building. “A common pitfall is where leaders focus on the task and neglect helping the [new] team member build relationships and foster trust with the other existing team members.”

She recommends that from the very first team meeting, managers work to integrate the new team member. “The majority of the agenda items should be directed toward helping team members get to know each other better, building a sense of community/team, and clarifying when collaboration is needed and what it looks like when it is,” she said. A creative use of “always-on” technology is another important tool to help ease new hires into the social landscape of your online team. (For more on this, check out another oDesk post, “The Power of Relationships.”)

2. Share the Big Picture
A new hire who knows how his or her job is advancing the bigger picture is more engaged and motivated. DeRosa noted, “Having a sense of purpose and a clear understanding of how the virtual team contributes to the organization’s overall goals helps build a sense of unity and provides direction and motivation…These matters should be communicated early and often while a team is working together.”

3. Recognize Achievement
The newbie on your team will likely have a hard time discerning whether or not they’re living up to expectations. Without feedback, they can become demoralized and start to disengage. That’s one reason DeRosa emphasizes recognition as part of the onboarding process. “When virtual team members are consistently recognized and rewarded for their achievements, their commitment to the team and organization is reinforced and they stay motivated.”

4. Provide Constructive Criticism
All feedback is important, both positive and negative. If a new team member doesn’t realize they’re regularly breaching team protocol, how are they ever going to change? “Provide constructive criticism to improve performance by citing specific examples of what the person did and did not do versus your expectations in specific situations and by describing the impact of his/her behavior. Agree on next steps for improvement and a time for a follow-up conversation,” DeRosa advised.

Online Onboarding In Action

Wondering what those strategies look like for an online team? John Mertic experienced a well-thought out onboarding process when he was hired by a San Francisco Bay Area company in 2007. Based out of Ohio, Mertic was several thousand miles away from his team. But the distance did not put him at a disadvantage—thanks in part to the coaching process the company employed.

Mertic was assigned a mentor, someone to help him integrate into both team culture and workflow. From his experience, he outlines what makes a good mentor: “One part teaching processes within the team, one part learning the personalities of the team members, and one part (which I consider the most important) showcasing to the greater team the value of the new team member.”

For Mertic, the need for companies to provide long-term coaching for new hires is absolutely essential. “It’s hard to join a new organization,” he said. “But having that person there to guide and support you is essential to your happiness and wellbeing on the team.”

Now it’s your turn. Have you experienced a great onboarding process? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

Julia Camenisch

Contributing Author

Julia Camenisch is a freelance technology and business journalist. She also works as an editor and copywriter for a wide range of clients, including national magazines, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Julia brings to Upwork a passion for empowering small businesses through the innovative use of technology.