With companies gearing up for office returns — as best they can, at least, given pandemic planning constraints — droves of workers are finding themselves in a historically unique position.
It’s been months or, for some, upwards of a year since they’ve joined their company. And yet, returning to the office will mark the first time many of these workers are meeting any of their colleagues offscreen. While a lot of folks are eager to get out of their homes and back into offices, if only on a hybrid schedule, the uncertainty of an adjustment window still looms. As a friend who joined her company in January recently put it to me, “It feels like I’m starting this job all over again.”
And it’s not only workers who’ve changed jobs during COVID echoing these thoughts. Even for those who’ve been at the same company since before pandemic times, mass turnover — first with COVID layoffs, then with Great Resignation exits — means that the makeup of their team may have changed completely. For these veteran employees, the office and attendant culture they’re “returning” to feels markedly different from the one they left.
“These upheavals mean that even long-time employees — who have spent years building their reputations within an organization — may now feel they’re starting from scratch,” The Harvard Business Review reported. “That has enormous implications for performance, innovation, and well-being.”
Because of this, strategic company leaders today are adopting mini “re-onboarding” programs to help workers — whether they’re new or legacy employees — adjust to yet another round of change. Done correctly, they’re a great way to reengage workers with your company’s mission, reduce isolation and combat additional turnover. But if your re-onboarding program is actually going to work, there are a few things it must include.
Below, we heard from leaders in HR and other executives about the eight components of an effective re-onboarding initiative, so that you can start planning your company’s program today.
The 8 Steps to an Effective Re-Onboarding Plan
1. Refer to your organization’s original onboarding plan.
For workers who joined your company during COVID, reshare them on the onboarding materials they originally received and use that as a jumping-off point for identifying knowledge gaps, Mike Nemeroff, CEO of Rush Order Tees, said. “Get the employee to note what they’ve fully mastered and only need a short refresher on, what they’d like to relearn, and what fell by the wayside originally,” Nemeroff said. “Compare this against their manager’s thoughts and opinions, and discuss any disconnects.”
2. Communicate clearly, including about re-onboarding itself.
Effective re-onboarding can’t happen without clear, transparent communication, Samantha Moss, Editor at Romantific, said.
“Re-onboarding is crucial for everyone, not just the new hires,” Moss said. “Be consistent with sending out information regarding the re-onboarding process. Relay to workers what they should expect during the process and what the company expects of them.”
Setting expectations that reflect your organization’s current priorities is key, Shawn Plummer, CEO of The Annuity Expert, added.
“Leaders need to set expectations about the working environment, culture and structure going forward,” he said. “For example, leaders might want to foster greater cross-departmental collaboration now that people are back in the office, and that should be communicated, planned and implemented.”
3. Spell out health and safety protocols.
Today’s safety protocols will take some adjusting for workers who haven’t stepped foot in an office since March 2020. Make these protocols as clear as possible, and ensure employees are shared on them well before they’re back at their desks.
“Leaders must train employees on the new health and safety measures the company will implement,” David Bitton, CMO of DoorLoop, said. “These will include mandatory health screenings upon their daily arrival at work, tighter rules covering mask-wearing, and social distancing measures.”
4. Bring in the right tech tools.
You’ll want to keep the process “simple and efficient,” and certain technology can help with that, Mykola Tymkiv, COO of MacKeeper, said.
“Forget about the manual methods; be smart about it,” Tymkiv said. “Create presentations with slides, quick videos — you can use software like Loom — and documents that make all vital information easily accessible. Gather all the information in one place so it’s easy to revisit and study.”
5. Plan out your physical office tour, COVID edition.
Show employees, both new and old, how their work space is going to practically function today, Dan Close, CEO of We Buy Houses in Kentucky, said.
“Demonstrate common areas and the expectations for how they’ll engage in those areas,” he said. “Inform them about office traditions that haven’t changed, such as civility, collegiality and teamwork. Also, walk them through more casual office protocols, like break room etiquette and how to use office supplies. Less formal information should be included, too, like the best spot to grab coffee or lunch and where to drop off dry cleaning.”
6. Make it personal.
Thoughtful “welcome back” touches go a long way, Jason McMahon, Digital Strategist at Bambrick, said.
“Consider leaving something personal for employees at their desk, such as a handwritten letter, corporate swag, or another little gift,” McMahon said. “This is a thoughtful gesture that will help people feel cared for and recognized. Also, make sure that remote hires’ desks are situated in an area where they will be able to clearly engage with other colleagues.”
7. Build in new ways for colleagues to collaborate.
Re-onboarding programs should afford no shortage of team-building opportunities for employees who’ve spent months interacting only over screens. But don’t leave out those who are still working remotely, Bartek Boniecki, Head of People at Passport Photo Online, said.
“Help coworkers meet each other,” he said. “You can encourage employees to get to know each other by simply using Donut, a Slack extension. This app randomly joins people for ‘watercooler’ meetings, like virtual coffee. It’s great for teams working remotely.”
Beyond the re-onboarding period, you can create new, ongoing ways for workers to collaborate, too.
“Make it easier for your employees to interact across teams by creating opportunities within their daily responsibilities,” he added. “When your employees are assigned tasks that require the aid of a member of another team, they become more open to collaborating naturally.”
8. Develop a buddy program.
An established buddy system is especially important for companies where large numbers of workers will stay remote, Sarah Jameson, Marketing Director of Green Building Elements, said.
“Remote hires should be paired with long-term employees who are familiar not only with the physical workplace but also with the culture,” Jameson said. “Assigning remote hires to two mates is a good idea. One would be a member of their team — someone who’s familiar with the remote hire’s responsibilities and management. The other would not be on their team, which helps remote hires expand their internal network.”
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