Finding Creative Ways to Train and Integrate New Team Members While Working Apart
As the end of my Mechanical Engineering program came, I eagerly awaited the “Iron Ring” ceremony, a ritual which is the calling of the engineer. My big day came on March 7th and was followed by several big parties. But one week later, the province was locked down. The rest of my classes would be completed online and my in-person projects and graduation ceremony were cancelled. Instead of a graduation ceremony, my diploma would be emailed to me after watching an online video of the Dean’s pre-recorded speech along with a scrolling name of graduates including my own. It wasn’t what I imagined, but during a pandemic, nothing is the usual. Starting a new job in a pandemic can be a challenge for the new employee and employer. For new employees, there’s no chance to meet in person. For employers, on-site training and supervision are more challenging. But since the pandemic started, many companies have quickly adopted the technology needed to keep their team connected and maintain productivity.
Starting a New Job During a Pandemic
I started working full-time at Aercoustics just days after I graduated. The lockdown meant I didn’t have to leave home or sit in rush hour traffic to get to the office. I just had to log into the company provided laptop. Everyone welcomed me with an email or message and it felt good. I wasn’t completely new since I had interned at the company and worked part-time during school so I already knew a lot about the company and its culture. But for students coming in fresh and starting a new job, not meeting anyone in person can be nerve-wracking.
Here are a few things that have helped me get settled:
1) Seek out a mentor:
At Aercoustics, all new hires are matched with a mentor. They are given a checklist and every week they review the checklist with me to ensure I am learning. They ask if I have been given enough work to do, if I need any help and if I’m settling in ok. Every six months, we move to a different sector of the company but our mentor stays the same. If you are not assigned a mentor, seek one out and always ask questions. Identify someone you can go to with questions and who can help you learn.
2) Be open-minded:
While it’s not ideal to be away from the entire team, look at the positives. Starting a new job during the lockdown gave me more time for training, allowing me to learn before applying my new skills to an on-site job. Take advantage of opportunities to learn about your colleagues and the company culture by participating in any online social events. Get out of your comfort zone to get to know people. It will help you to grow personally and professionally.
3) Establish a routine:
While we don’t commute into the office right now, set a schedule to get up, get ready and be at your desk to start the day. The lockdown will eventually end so it’s best to maintain somewhat of a regular routine so it’s easy to transition back when the time comes.
How to Onboard During a Pandemic
For employers, hiring and onboarding employees during a lockdown has its own set of challenges. Having a solid onboarding and training plan will ensure your culture is preserved even when everyone is out of the office, which is key to welcoming and retaining new hires.
Here are some tips to include in your training process to help integrate new employees into teams working remotely:
1) Set-up for success:
Most first day issues are setting up the system and computer. Delivering a ready-to-go computer set-up makes for a quicker start on the first day and is a huge help when it’s not possible to call over the IT expert to your desk.
2) Find creative ways to train and support:
Training used to mean sitting with someone side-by-side. Now, we schedule a one-hour video call, usually three times a week using tools such as a virtual white-board or MS Paint. We have fixed, scheduled times to connect and be available for questions. It may mean a meeting every day before reducing it to twice a week as new employees get settled. This is an opportunity to review work, teach and answer questions. Knowing they have a fixed time with the undivided attention of a more senior team member helps employees feel like they are part of the team. Assign readings and specific training exercises to complete to help them understand the concepts since they don’t get experience in the field right now. For example, one new employee was asked to calculate the room modes of his bedroom and measure the Reverberation time. The goal is to help them continue to learn and be ready to work when we return to the field.
3) Maintain your corporate culture even while apart:
We have found new ways of doing things and using technology to connect. We used to gather in our kitchen to socialize and have a drink. Now we have a virtual social hour on Fridays where we log in to socialize with colleagues. Every Principal reaches out over video to introduce themselves and we encourage everyone on the team to do the same.
Training Tools to Last Longer than the Lockdown
Everything is different but eventually, we will return to the office. We will return to job sites and projects will continue. It may not seem like a great time to onboard a new hire, but it is a great time for them to learn and prepare themselves so they are ready when we head out again. From an organizational level, moving your training resources to be online and self-service friendly will also build your capacity to train people on their own time and at their own pace once things return to normal. Trust your new hires to learn the ropes and get creative with training. Welcoming and integrating a new team member while working remotely will allow them to experience your amazing culture before we return to the office.