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Where do new hires fit in a remote work world?

New to the job? Integrating new hires needs to adapt to a remote-work world

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Heather McCartin works from her home in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 13, 2020, amid growing fears over COVID-19.

Heather McCartin works from her home in Salt Lake City on March 13, 2020, amid growing fears over COVID-19. Remote work has changed how new hire training and integration works, but there are new ways to make new hires feel included in the virtual office.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

The pandemic changed the way we work. Many employees no longer commute to an office every day. Fully remote and hybrid work environments are here to stay. How, then, do companies need to rethink their integration strategy to best integrate new hires for long-term success? 

Today’s new hires grapple with far different circumstances than they did pre-pandemic — from creating functional home offices that invite colleagues into personal space to the juggle of a hybrid schedule in which there’s inconsistency surrounding where you work from one day to the next. There are more complexities when it comes to training, developing and engaging new talent. Companies must replace the one-size-fits-all onboarding approach that worked before 2020 with an updated program centered around today’s challenges and opportunities.

At Overstock.com, where I have worked for the last 20 years, our state-of-the-art campus is largely empty. We have found a remote/hybrid environment works well for most. Our teams remain focused and productive. And most find they can maintain an improved work-life balance.

To develop the careers of new employees and inculcate them into the culture effectively, we’ve had to adapt the way we onboard and integrate them — and then continuously assess and make changes as we go.

Some ideas and practices we’ve found success with at Overstock include the following:

Mentoring. Mentors have been crucial in my personal career development. In fact, I know I wouldn’t have the job I have today without a host of mentors that have helped and guided me over the years.

At Overstock, we pair each new employee with an onboarding mentor to help guide them through their first 90 days. The mentor may be a peer or a more senior colleague and is generally a member of their team outside of their direct reporting structure. 

After that period, we ask new employees to identify career mentors to meet with for advice and guidance on goal setting, decision-making and professional development and growth. New employees — especially those new to the work force — can benefit immensely from a formal mentorship program that creates a support system that extends beyond their team. These mentorships create a quick and meaningful sense of belonging that, in a remote/hybrid environment, is more important than ever.

Cross-functional relationship building. To foster a greater sense of personal belonging and to ramp up productivity, I’ve found it necessary to get to know people at the company beyond my immediate responsibilities. Sometimes this happened through sharing lunch in the cafeteria or running into people in the halls.

At Overstock, we proactively work to identify opportunities for new employees to interact with individuals and teams beyond those of their day-to-day tasks. Without the natural relationship-building that occurred when we were all regularly in an office, purposefully planned in-person and virtual meetups are a must to help employees build their network.

Learning and development. New employees in today’s working world don’t have the same benefit of learning through the daily chatter and quick feedback loops as in a pre-pandemic office setting. 

Companies must remain committed to helping their employees become their best selves. That includes incorporating learning opportunities and professional development into required training sessions. It also means thinking about how in-office behaviors and expectations are now different for those in a work-from-home environment. 

Listening and discussing. Good leaders actively listen to understand. They also engage in open and active discussion. These are two of Overstock’s leadership principles that allow our employees to share their perspectives and ideas forthrightly and better consider others’ perspectives.

Active listening and open discussion, which are easier when in person, become more important when we work remotely. If leaders don’t listen to and engage in discussion, the fresh and innovative ideas that new employees bring go missed and the organization loses. They may also miss uncovering what’s working and what’s not so companies can course correct in real time. 

Two of the tools that Overstock uses are “brown bag” lunches executives hold remotely with small groups of employees who can share thoughts and express concerns and “office hours” I hold weekly where any employee can join me for lunch. What I hear and learn during these meetings, along with the improved relationships I’ve developed, have significantly impacted my leadership.

The influx of remote and hybrid opportunities over the past two years has transformed the business world in many ways. To best engage employees, revamping strategies and tools are necessary. Companies that carefully consider how best to integrate new workers in this environment will be better able to attract and retain great employees that, ultimately, have greater impact on their business. 

Jonathan Johnson is the CEO of Overstock.com.