Revolutionizing Onboarding in Hybrid Work Environments

Revolutionizing Onboarding in Hybrid Work Environments

The workplace landscape has shifted profoundly throughout the course of the pandemic. Thanks to the rise of remote and hybrid work models, traditional face-to-face onboarding processes for support services are no longer the norm. Integrating new employees into existing teams has become a formidable challenge, prompting a return-to-office movement driven partly by the desire to improve the onboarding process.

In this blog, we’ll delve into the innovative strategies adopted by successful companies to not only prepare new hires for their roles, but to make them feel valued. Join us as we explore the world of onboarding in the era of hybrid work environments:

Challenges of Traditional Onboarding in a Hybrid Work Environment

It should come as no surprise that traditional onboarding methods are facing unprecedented challenges in the modern hybrid work world, as they rely on face-to-face interactions. Let's explore why these conventional approaches may no longer suffice:

  • Difficulty organizing group training: Traditional onboarding often involves face-to-face group training sessions, which are invaluable for learning and building relationships. However, in remote or hybrid settings, the logistics of organizing such events become increasingly complex.
  • Limited opportunities for shadowing and reverse-shadowing: The organic processes of shadowing (observing an expert) and reverse-shadowing (performing under expert guidance) are hindered in remote work scenarios. These activities require deliberate planning and intentionality.
  • Challenges with technology-dependent learning: Shadowing and reverse-shadowing often rely on technology, which can sometimes impede the sharing of immediate feedback—a critical element in the learning process.
  • Reduced serendipitous learning: In traditional workplaces, new hires can often overhear and learn from interesting discussions happening around them. Remote or hybrid work environments can curtail these serendipitous learning opportunities.
  • Cohesion among new hires: Building new hires into cohesive cohorts becomes more challenging when they do not have daily in-person interactions. This can impact team dynamics and collaboration.
  • Limited interaction with senior colleagues: New hires may find it more challenging to develop meaningful bonds with senior colleagues when their interactions are infrequent and often occur virtually.
  • Assessment of readiness: Assessing the readiness of new hires becomes harder without the ability to observe them repeatedly in a traditional office setting.

Faced with these challenges, support services organizations are reimagining their onboarding strategies to ensure that new hires are set up for success, regardless of their work environment, with various innovative solutions.

Winning at Onboarding: Strategies for Success in Hybrid and Remote Work Environments

In remote and hybrid work environments, successful support organizations are rising to the challenge by implementing a range of strategies to ensure effective onboarding. Here, we present six key strategies to help you excel at onboarding in this dynamic setting.

1. Structure the Onboarding Sequence

To thrive in hybrid and remote work settings, onboarding must become intentional and well-planned. Start by organizing a clear sequence of activities to guide new hires to a state of readiness by keeping these principles in mind:

  • Embrace minimalism: Recognize that new hires, especially in remote self-learning formats, can only absorb a limited amount of information at a time. Define the essential knowledge and skills required to handle cases, avoiding overwhelming them with an information overload.
  • Diversify learning formats: Go beyond traditional formal training methods. Consider utilizing knowledge base documents, hands-on coding, and reviewing existing cases as additional learning resources. This approach is cost-effective and allows for more flexibility.
  • Holistic approach: Blend product training with customer skills and process training. Equip employees with the tools to effectively and empathetically handle customer interactions.
  • Location-proof design: Ensure that the onboarding sequence accommodates remote work scenarios, making it possible for new hires to complete all components, regardless of location or office access.
  • Early exposure: Provide new hires with exposure to customers and support cases within their first month. This early experience helps them better organize their learning journey.
  • Personalization: Allow new hires and their managers to tailor the learning sequence to their needs, enabling them to skip portions they already know.

2. Assign a Mentor

Navigating the onboarding process can be overwhelming for new hires. Assigning a mentor can bridge gaps in the learning sequence and foster progress by:

  • Answering questions
  • Providing assistance with learning tasks
  • Offering shadowing and reverse-shadowing opportunities

For optimal results, organizations should strive to match mentors with the same focus areas and work hours as new hires, and acknowledge their contributions appropriately.

3. Use Testing and Certification

Determining when a new hire is ready to handle cases in a hybrid or remote environment can be challenging. Employ testing and certification as valuable tools.

  • Leverage existing certifications: Utilize technical and product certifications as a foundation, even if not an exact match.
  • Implement simple tests: Create quick multiple-choice tests that can be administered online or overseen by mentors. Use formal or informal testing to gate each step in the onboarding sequence.

4. Ask Managers to Oversee Onboarding Progress

Avoid delegating the onboarding process solely to the onboarding team and, instead, involve managers. Encourage managers to meet with new hires at least weekly to assess progress, understand their experiences, provide necessary resources, and make improvements. Utilizing certification or testing programs can streamline progress tracking.

5. Build Community

While mentorship and managerial oversight are valuable, fostering a sense of community among new hires is equally important. Consider the following community-building strategies:

  • Cohort creation: For organizations with high hiring volumes, form cohorts of new hires who start on the same day, allowing them to progress through the onboarding sequence together, including group training.
  • Online communities: Provide a platform for new hires to connect, facilitating peer learning and offering a support system as they adapt to their roles.
  • Virtual team building: Organize virtual team-building activities such as coffee breaks, online games, or other engaging experiences to help build rapport among new hires.

6. Learn from Each New Hire

Glean valuable insights from new hires who have completed the onboarding program. Conduct debrief sessions shortly after they go “live” to identify enhancements to the onboarding program. This goes beyond traditional course evaluations, focusing on what truly aids new hires in performing their roles effectively.

By implementing these strategic approaches, your organization can excel at onboarding in the hybrid and remote work era, ensuring that new hires are well-prepared and empowered to succeed. 

Embracing Change for a Thriving Workplace

As we navigate this hybrid era, it’s evident that traditional onboarding methods are no longer a one-size-fits-all solution. To thrive in the landscape of hybrid and remote work environments, a paradigm shift is essential. In conclusion, let’s recap the key takeaways:

  • Intentionality and flexibility: The “new normal” demands an intentional and well-planned onboarding process adaptable to various work scenarios. Recognize the importance of flexibility in accommodating remote and hybrid work models.
  • Empathy matters: A successful onboarding strategy goes beyond knowledge transferral. It extends to creating an empathetic and supportive environment where new hires feel valued and included, even from a distance.
  • Continuous learning: Embrace a learning mindset that allows new hires to adapt and grow in their roles over time. Leverage technology to facilitate ongoing skill development.
  • Community building: Foster a sense of community among new hires, connecting them virtually and enabling peer learning. Building relationships, even in remote settings, contributes to a positive work culture.
  • Feedback and adaptation: Stay open to feedback from new hires and managers, continually refining the onboarding process based on real-world experiences.

So, what steps have you taken to ensure that onboarding works effectively in a hybrid or remote work environment? Stay tuned for the next installments in this three-part blog series as we collectively embrace the changing work landscape and chart a course for a more productive and inclusive workplace. Together, we can shape the future of support services onboarding in any workplace setting. 

About the Author:

In 1998, Françoise Tourniaire founded FT Works, a consultancy firm that helps technology companies create and improve their customer success and support operations. Her expertise includes designing customer journey maps, process streamlining, support website design, customer skills training, and creating effective metrics and dashboards. She is the author of "The Art of Support," the industry guide to running customer success and support organizations. She is a frequent contributor to industry conferences and publications and has been a TSIA partner for many years.

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