A new colleague has joined the team and is now getting settled in the company as quickly and efficiently as possible these days. There are countless blogs and guides out there that outline strategies for practical and effective communication, but generally, they all contain for key concepts, like “confirmation,” “welcoming,” “familiarization,” and “employee retention.” But what happens when a pandemic suddenly transforms the daily work routine and turns this planned onboarding process upside down? As a new employee in the vjoon marketing department, I would like to share my first-hand experience of the onboarding process during the COVID-19 crisis.
Most of us have probably experienced it before. The excitement increases as the first working day in a new company approaches. What will my colleagues be like? Am I up to the task? Have I made the right decision? Normally, these concerns are already addressed via several personal interactions, emails, and welcome events even prior to starting the position, helping to put the company and new employee at ease.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, however, different questions suddenly arise: Do I even still have a job? If so, how and where will I start? I received an email from vjoon a couple of weeks before my first day, which reassured me. Confirming that I was healthy, they assured me preparations for my start were still going according to plan, albeit a somewhat alternate concept of this plan. Most importantly to me: The staff was still looking forward to meeting me, which allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief.
A few days before my start I got another email with my training agenda. There were 2-3 days planned in the office, and everything else would be done from home, as a majority of the company – including my entire department – were already at the work-from-home stage. Despite its simple message, it was very reassuring for me that my colleagues took the time to put this schedule together, helping to create a positive and encouraging environment for me.
Suddenly, here it was: my first day with vjoon. Usually, this day would include getting to know colleagues in the office, setting up your workspace, attaining the necessary technology and equipment, as well as meeting with any relevant supervisors and the departmental team.
In the current situation, however, everything was different. I was welcomed by my department manager in a nearly deserted office building and guided to what would later become my new workspace along with a pleasant surprise – a small welcome gift. Taking notes in my company-branded notebook, and enjoying a tea from my new vjoon mug, there was still something a bit spooky about the whole process. Instead of being able to shake hands and greet others with a nervous “Hello, I’m the new girl,” I only met 5 others. They were spread all over the building in different departments, affording each a huge amount of personal space. This made it a lot easier to remember names when I met so few people in person. I was also provided my own MacBook, fully equipped, configured, and customized for me.
What followed was two days of intense one-on-one training; by the end of the day my head was spinning and my brain tired from processing so much information. After all, so much of what normally would be done over a course of days had to be condensed into just a few hours. We were able to check off several points on the onboarding plan, which I continued to study independently from the team. I used the days in my home office to strengthen my understanding of what we went over during the intense training, taking considerable notes so I could ask questions upon my return to the office. Knowing this was not ideal, we all tried to make the best of it.
The product- and department-specific introductions, and (lest not we forget!) the social integration into the team is usually the third phase of the onboarding process. With the aid of an established orientation plan, this helped lay the foundation for long-term and productive collaboration. During the first weeks, I read a lot and familiarized myself with various marketing tools relevant to vjoon. I also participated in many online meetings, including department heads, HR, and the managing directors, all of whom helped me gain a deeper insight and understanding of the company, departments, products, and processes. These online meetings also had a significant and positive outcome: I was finally able to get to know my colleagues!
This helped me a lot personally, meeting online, “virtually,” I was at least able to meet people face-to-face, which allowed me to overcome some of my nervousness about the situation. Instead of feeling isolated at home, our daily morning Skype calls within the marketing team made what could be a somewhat uncomfortable situation so much easier to bear. Although the water cooler talk was gone, for the time being, our ability to meet online allowed us to keep in constant contact, stay up to date with one another, and allow me to get to know my colleagues a bit better. This virtual setting has now even transitioned to a virtual lunch break once a week.
I have the feeling of gaining my footing now, slowly but surely, and I’m looking forward to the time when things – both in and out of the office – can return to somewhat of a normal routine. Until then, I’ve been so pleased just to start with vjoon, knowing there is so much uncertainty, but being privileged to be able to work from home as needed. It’s not all bad either, as in some ways, it gives me more time to familiarize myself with certain intensive topics while allowing me to pursue small tasks without being distracted by interruptions and new introductions.
The plan is to continue on with the familiarization period for a few more months, where we’ll move on to the employee retention period. This transition will take place through regular meetings during my probationary period while we address any issues, suggestions, or problems in a mutually responsive manner.
COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the onboarding process, as the switch to more virtual and digital communication channels makes it more challenging to integrate with the team. Social distancing is the new norm, and it takes additional effort to achieve productive communication while including me and keeping day-to-day operations running smoothly. Nevertheless, with great teamwork and a healthy dose of dedication, I think we’ve successfully mastered the first phases and I’m excited to work with my team at vjoon!