Q&A: Tools and tips for successful remote onboarding of new staff

Aleasha McCallion is the Operations Manager at Monash Sustainable Development Institute (MSDI) in Melbourne, Australia. She has many years of experience in onboarding new staff, both in person and remotely.

The following is a Q&A with Ms. McCallion discussing how she facilitates successful remote onboarding of new staff at MSDI.

How have you developed your onboarding program?

Our program and process were developed out of a need identified by our team, during an all staff retreat, to assist new staff in getting up to speed with all the work our institute does across our multiple teams and locations. The new staff needed to hear stories from our people about the work, the programs, the research, and our overall approach.

We went with simple online tools and systems, as well as, basic in-house filming and editing work for the onboarding program. For the front-end view we use an internal blog platform called Blogin to house the induction material, such as, videos, detailed pdfs, links, and organizational charts, in addition to blog posts from all staff that include their photos and profiles. In the back end we coordinate across operations team staff with the use of Trello to ensure that standard and detailed checklists are completed for each new team member.

What is your biggest concern when remotely onboarding new staff?

The biggest concern is ensuring new staff feel connected to their team and colleagues in a meaningful way, both through the appropriate work meetings and tools, as well as, socially. We tackle this several ways, including invites to afternoon coffee catch ups, lunchtime video conferencing chats, and even after-work-virtual-drinks. We did this before the pandemic for team members who work remotely in different cities (by strategic design), but now it is an important and ‘normal’ way to ensure all staff have face-to-face time regularly with a range of colleagues.

What digital tools do you use in your onboarding process?

Our Blogin (a blogging platform for internal teams) dedicated Induction/onboarding page includes a step-by-step process that links a new team member with the following:

  • A short 8-minute video message from our Director, sharing the history and beginnings of the institute, what we are working on now and where we are headed;
  • Up-to-date PDF of our whole organizational chart;
  • Fine detail induction checklist;
  • Induction manual with links to the larger University onboarding material in an integrated manner; and
  • A checklist of meetings for the new staffer that get them engaged and oriented across the organization.

Our Trello board checklists are really helpful when we have a high level of new recruits across a number of teams all starting around the same time (which sometimes feels like all the time), as we’ve grown from a staff of 60 to more than 120 in the last three years. The Trello board enables various team members to support the new employee across all areas of expertise including office orientation, systems access, and OHS. It also ensures they’ve been connected with the various teams to create potential collaborations and shared learning across disciplines.

What is a key component of your onboarding process that you would recommend to other companies?

The round table coffee catch-ups with the Director of the Institute. This provides an opportunity to meet and discuss the newcomer’s area of expertise and strengths with the Institute Director. This is an important ice breaker to support the sharing of ideas and opportunities at whatever level of the organization they appear.

How do you assess if the onboarding process has been successful?

Often, the new staff member will mention how organized we are, which is always nice! But truthfully, I look for smooth transition indicators, such as:

  • Computer and equipment have arrived;
  • Timed their training well, so they are actively engaged;
  • They’ve been well introduced across a range of recent meetings; and
  • Virtual coffee catch-ups get scheduled.

Another great indicator of success is if the new staff member reaches out for help to move forward anything we may have missed. This means that they are feeling comfortable in the organization, have the tools, and know the channels for communication.

Has your process changed, or are you facing additional challenges, due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Our process has definitely adjusted, but it has been easily adaptable given we’ve generally managed it over multiple workspaces and cities prior to the pandemic. Some of the obvious impacts are providing tours and face to face greetings, including desserts and afternoon tea or coffee, as well as, basic handshakes. We’ve been adjusting as the pandemic evolves, so that part is a bit more visible. We schedule virtual coffee catch ups to ensure of casual connections despite the physical distancing. We do love our coffee down under! A few additional challenges are more technical given that deploying equipment has more inherent risks for exposure to the COVID virus. We are working through this carefully and always have the safety of our staff as the priority.

What is your advice for companies doing remote onboarding for the first time?

Map out the journey you’d like your new starter to experience in the first instance. Then set up a system that choreographs support for this journey. All the layers should be considered from first impressions, first day, week, month, and three months. I usually hold in my mind the idea that we want to get them happily embedded in doing their work and contributing in a positive and productive manner as soon as possible, with a good understanding of the organization and culture. The sooner and smoother this can happen, the better.

About the Author

In her role as Operations Manager, Aleasha works closely with, and provides high level operations and project support and strategic advice to, the Chief Operations Officer to support and ensure the effective execution of services and initiatives delivered by the MSDI Operations team. Aleasha plays a central role in the operations functions of MSDI, proactively supporting the Institute’s strategic goals and initiatives through project and operational planning, as well as, systems, facilities and administration and talent management.

Aleasha’s background is in operations management and she brings experience in end-to-end delivery of projects, including financial and strategic deliverables, within education and policy institutions. Prior to moving to Australia in 2012, Aleasha worked within Student Development & Services at the University of British Columbia as Manager of Workplace Learning, and Operations Manager of Access and Diversity. In Australia, prior to MSDI, Aleasha has also worked with the Accounting Professional and Ethical Standards Board and Ethical Clothing Australia.

To learn more about Monash Sustainable Development Institute (MSDI) follow them at @MonashMSDI and check them out on YouTube.

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