Hiring a new employee in a remote work environment is an unusual challenge for both the employer and the employee according to our clients’ experiences this past year. We agree. To support you through this critical phase, we have designed a new onboarding coaching program to help you and your new employee succeed. As you read on, the relevance of this new offering should come as good news to all.
Trust, Support and Diligent Observation
You’ve completed your selection process. You are now convinced that you’ve hired the best candidate and anticipate an exceptional performance from him.
You therefore begin his onboarding process with confidence. This is a good thing as it is essential to build your new hire’s own confidence, allowing him to display openness, curiosity and a desire to contribute to the best of his ability. You also intend to be present and caring, observing and guiding his progress with attention. Of course, you will also support his learning. All this to be able to make the right decision at the end of his probation period. Under normal circumstances, this process last 6 months or so and is sufficient. Will this plan hold up in today’s remote work environment?
The Virtual Context Issue
One of the main aspects of remote work is that you don’t “see” your new hire other than virtual team meetings. You do not benefit from random informal meetings with him throughout the day, nor do you see him interacting with his colleagues.
Is that a problem? Potentially. The reduced frequency or even deprivation of personal contact represents a significant loss of opportunities to get to know each other better, to create a sense of togetherness on both sides and to anchor mutual trust. Unless intentional actions are taken to remedy this gap, interpersonal chemistry is less likely to develop. Yet it is part of every successful partnership.
Furthermore, the reduced amount of observation and information points while working from home can negatively impact the quality of your judgment of the new employee’s contribution. Here’s why.
Our Subconscious Biases Play Tricks on Us
We all have deep-rooted beliefs that are not easy to dislodge. A recent Harvard study found that 38% of leaders in 24 countries in a variety of industries believe that employees perform less well at home than at the office. If you are one of those people, you will find it difficult to deliver the trust and support discussed above. We also have perceptual biases that, unbeknownst to us, cloud our judgment. When we lack information (lack of interaction, lack of testimonials from other individuals, etc.), the following biases arise:
- The negativity bias: We remember unpleasant or negative events more easily than positive ones;
- The recent event bias: We consider a recent event as frequent because it is readily available in our memory;
- Confirmation bias: We look more favourably at information that confirms what we already think.
If an event involving your new employee has provoked a negative reaction from you, your biases could start to play against him, causing you to question your choice prematurely. These biases are likely to be much more pronounced in the absence of a social bond that would have likely developed had you been in the physical presence of each other. So what can you do about it?
How Can You Make Up for It?
Since the social bond is typically more difficult to establish in a virtual environment, it is possible to compensate by creating this bond intentionally. To do so you must:
- Be readily available;
- Increase your meetings’ frequency, virtual or otherwise, and listen attentively during these meetings;
- Invite your employee to be intentional and proactive in creating connections with the people around him as well as invite others to get to know the new employee;
- Make time for frequent informal one-on-one meetings, such as morning check-ins to get an overview of the situation and wish each other a good day.
Furthermore, if you want to compensate for the lack of information points and the resulting perceptual biases, here are a few things to be mindful of:
- Assist him in learning about his new environment and role by considering mentoring. Assign him one or two mentors who will provide concrete support during his first few weeks on the job. These mentors will serve as ambassadors and will be your partners in helping you recognize and reduce your biases;
- Offer him onboarding coaching, which will also be an indication of support and a winning strategy for starting his new position. Such coaching is often a significant driver for progress. It allows the new employee to avoid typical pitfalls and take responsibility for the success of his integration. In the context of remote work, it is also perceived as an additional means of support for which they are always appreciative.
Finally, we can no longer ignore the fact that the current hiring context is different. Adapting to this new reality and modifying the way we operate is necessary. For the employee, being supported in this process by a structured coaching approach allows him to develop a sense of belonging and accelerates his learning, giving him the opportunity to deliver on the performance you initially and rightfully thought him capable of.
 Parker, Sharon K., Caroline Knight, Anita Keller. Remote Managers Are Having Trust Issues. HBR, July 30, 2020.
 Mackenzie, Lori, JoAnne Wehner, Sofia Kennedy. How Do You Evaluate Performance During a Pandemic? HBR, December 7, 2020.
 Schmouker, Olivier. Comment bien accueillir un nouvel employé… à distance? Les Affaires, 16 décembre 2020, citant Florian Pradon : Réussir son Télétravail (Les Éditions Transcontinental, 2020).