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Remote Recruitment and Onboarding

We are currently living and working in a new world. A world where we are reliant on computers and remote interactions to meet, collaborate and operate our businesses. We know that in order for a number of companies to operate they still need to be able to recruit the staff they need. 

The thought of undertaking recruitment remotely is daunting to a number of us, but at Wired Sussex we have heard from a number of our members who have successfully navigated this process. Here, we have drawn together advice and tips to help you.

Remote Recruitment

What are the key challenges of completing the recruitment process remotely?

Many stages of the recruitment process are usually done remotely via online applications, email and telephone or video screening calls, so the real change is when it comes to interviews.

Interviews are crucial for assessing suitability for the role. Employers are looking to create a rapport with the candidates, portray the culture and what it feels like to work in the company, which becomes much harder without face to face meetings.

Many employers are turning to Zoom or Google Meetups to move interviews online and retain as much of that face to face interaction as possible. An initial challenge here is ensuring candidates are familiar with and able to access whichever software you choose and have a sufficient internet connection that it can run smoothly.

Sometimes the technology lets us down, someone's wifi cuts out, or there are video/sound issues. We have to ride these out usually and continue without someone which isn't ideal. Luckily, we haven't lost a candidate yet!
- Alex Southgate, Human Resources Lead,

It is also quite daunting for a candidate to see three, four or five faces on screen and harder for all parties to read body language or assess how things are going. Also, discussions may take longer than they do in person as it's harder to chip in with a comment or interrupt someone on a video call.

With the current COVID 19 crisis, it's also important to be aware that recruits may be nervous about the future of the company and answering questions on that is hard when there are still so many unknowns.

A question every applicant has around the interview stage is 'What's going on in our future, what's the plan?' Giving clear answers on that has been hard. When uncertainty is an issue, you can't go too far wrong if you respond with honesty, authenticity, and a strong vision of what you're doing.
- Sam Fenton-Elstone, CEO, Anything is Possible

Recruiting online means you may need an extended probation period. Be honest about the increased importance of this probation. There is no doubt that it is harder to make the right recruitment choices virtually, and if everyone is upfront about expectations from the beginning, it is easier to talk about if it is not working out.

How can you solve those challenges?

Adapt the interview process but take care not to lose any key elements. For example, you might still have a two or three-stage process with different people involved in the interviews, but you might need to replace complex assessments done on-site with a presentation prepared in advance. But it's still important to be clear on the skills and experience required for the role and make sure you get thorough information on the candidate's abilities in these areas.

Ensure you are using a sound piece of software and that staff and candidates can use it. Ask the candidate to log in early with you so you can test the software and get their minds at ease. It also gives time for a bit of reassuring conversation before the interview to share experiences of lockdown and establish rapport.

To give candidates a taste of the company culture, you can extend video chats to include other members of the team, perhaps describing their roles, describing the culture and having some stories/examples to hand to bring it to life.

It's also useful to have video content to send out as part of the recruitment process that helps describe who you are as a company and what it feels like to work with you.

Are there any benefits of recruiting in this way?

It's been fascinating to hear from our members that there are also many benefits to virtual recruitment.

A key benefit is how quick the process can be online. It's easier to find an hour in people's diaries when no travel is involved, and the gap between meetings can be shorter. Additionally, before and after the interview, there is no need for meet and greets, tours or having to entertain people if they arrive early.

Our last recruit went from the first interview to induction within a week (she attended the first interview on Wednesday, second interview on Friday and started with the company the following Wednesday!)
- Caroline Collyer, Head of People, Bright

Another time-saving benefit for the employee is that using video software, allows the relevant group to stay on the call after the candidate leaves to discuss immediately, rather than wait for the end of the day which leads to quicker decision making. Once you have chosen a candidate, you can move on to virtual onboarding!

Watch... Remote Recruitment: Advice and insights from Anything is Possible

Watch... Inclusive Remote Recruitment: Advice and insights from Diversity & Ability

Remote Onboarding

What are the key challenges of completing the onboarding process remotely?

When someone joins a company remotely, they immediately lose the personal touch of being introduced to people in person, shaking their hand or taking a tour of the surroundings. Leaving a new starter to their own devices off video call may lead to confusion or demotivation, so it's essential to think through the whole process before from their point of view.

In an office environment, a new person is often sat near to team members and so able to ask questions organically. You often learn sitting next to someone, walking you through processes or team meetings/company updates or generally just overhearing things at the pub on a Friday night. Those gaps need filling on top of a structured welcome and onboarding programme.

Any new role requires establishing trust before you have a track record of delivery, and not being able to have informal coffee chats with my team, and my peers have slowed that down.
- Sophie Davies-Patrick, Chief Technology Officer, MPB

It can also be challenging to get up to speed on a company's product or purpose. In an open-plan office environment, you pick up a lot of information from the conversations happening around you. That isn't there when you are working at home, so it will inevitably slow down learning.

It's difficult to bring people into a collaborative environment and start working the way we would normally. But it's pushed us into thinking seriously about the kind of workplace and the kind of organisation we are.
- Sam Fenton-Elstone, CEO, Anything is Possible

How can you solve those challenges?

We have had loads of ideas and suggestions on overcoming some of these challenges from our members.

Firstly you need to make sure they have all the equipment they need to work remotely. IT solutions should be organised and set up in advance of their start date so that they can be fully operational from day one.

Communicate with your existing team that a new employee is joining the team. Encourage them to introduce themselves, use video where possible, and invite the new team member to any meetings it might be useful for them to shadow. Reiterate the importance of using each other's name on those calls to make it easier for the new starter to learn who everyone is.

As always, have a good onboarding plan and induction pathway. But, be prepared to flex it more than you usually would in response to that fact that these are still pretty strange times.

Remember to also signpost new starters to where they would find all the information they would need. To build trust and autonomy, be clear from the outset what you expect from the new starter and let them know where to find the right resources, tools, training videos etc. 

It's essential to keep in regular contact. Daily morning and afternoon video catch-ups with the new starter's line manager over the first week are beneficial to ensure things are running smoothly and everything is clear. You can then add in extra calls with people from other teams. Know in advance who will complete all induction/onboarding tasks and ensure they are organised and in the diary

Another suggestion is to team every recruit up with a buddy. Link them with someone that they can have a virtual coffee with who can answer more informal questions. Ideally, this would be someone outside of their immediate team so they can quickly get to know the company and how we work together. It's great for camaraderie and breaking down any silos too.

Keep checking in on them, keep them engaged and above all, ask them how it's working for them. Don't assume they're okay - make sure new recruits are comfortable to reach out. And thank them - recognition of their achievements is really important too.
- Hanna Smith, Chief People Officer, Futrli

It's okay that a lot of these new processes are mostly a trial. Don't worry if it doesn't go exactly according to plan. Planning an outline of expectations for each week or month is an excellent starting point, and then you can iterate throughout the first few weeks and adapt.

Asking for feedback from the new employee is a great way to improve the process for the next person you hire.

We recently brought in Motivii to encourage reflection and feedback. We use it across the business, but we found that new starters are using it more assiduously. It takes maybe just five or ten minutes a week to complete, but new colleagues find that the space to consider and share their thoughts offers something valuable to their feeling of being embedded in what they're working towards.
- Sam Fenton-Elstone, CEO, Anything is Possible

Are there any benefits of onboarding in this way?

One benefit is that there is much less focus on the 'new starter' which can be intimidating for people joining the company. The process also gives the new starter a sense of autonomy. It makes the existing team more accountable and proactive in helping them settle into the role— a great time for employers to observe who rises to these challenges.

We have recently recruited a new member to the team and this process was carried out remotely.  Zoom was used for the interviews and the technology was impeccable. As with any Zoom meeting it is important to ensure that one person controls the dialogue and the pace of the meeting to avoid everyone speaking at once. The Zoom interview process worked well and our new assistant manager has already started!
- Chris Morey, Director, Plus Accounting

Being forced to rethink all of these processes and workflows has also made companies act quickly to make changes and address where there have been gaps. Refining the recruitment process and onboarding process could remove barriers to being a more inclusive employer, and that's a big win in our book.

It's helped us develop a new understanding of what our teams look like, how they can overlap, share work and collaborate in unexpected ways, and it's also led us to rethink the use of physical space in our business.
- Sam Fenton-Elstone, CEO, Anything is Possible

Watch... Remote Onboarding: Advice and insights from Futrli

Watch... Remote Recruitment – The Employee Perspective: Advice and insights from MPB

If you're a Sussex business looking to hire for a digital, media or tech role, then our sector-specific Jobs site is the perfect place to start. You can add your job ad here or give us a call (01273 692888) if you have any questions.

About the author

Rebecca Groves

Hi, I'm Wired Sussex's Skills and Talent Strategy Lead. I oversee our skills and talent strategy for the regional digital sector. This includes the delivery of activity which addresses this strategy, such as our annual Talent festival, and working with members to help them benefit from our initiatives.

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