Guest Commentator: Kristin Austin, Sr. Director of New Student Programs, West Chester University of Pennsylvania @WCUofPA

Maybe your typical welcome for a new employee is a colorful greeting card left on the new person’s desk. Maybe you celebrate a new person’s first day with a small party! Either way, making a new team member feel welcomed is an important part of employee satisfaction, retention, and productivity (Isic, 2020).

Unfortunately (or fortunately), COVID-19 has challenged the typical welcome for new employees who are unexpectedly working remotely (Rodeghero et al., 2020). If you will be managing a new team member who, under typical circumstances would be working in-person, consider the following tips to help your new team member feel close, even from a distance.

Firstly, and most importantly, this list is suggestive, not prescriptive. Engage your new teammate as an individual by asking them exactly how they prefer to be welcomed, introduced, or appreciated. Some people will prefer to be left alone and are overjoyed to work remotely. Others may long for a microphone and stage. I offer the following suggestions as a professional who recently relocated to assume a new management role, remotely, at the height of the pandemic.

Normalize introductions in virtual meetings: at the start of a meeting, ask if there are any new folks. If so, ask the new person to introduce themselves in the chat or by unmuting. Then, ask that participants on the call change their screen name to include their department (i.e. Michael Scott, he/him, Sales)

Mail a welcome kit: I don’t know anyone that doesn’t love gifts! Branded swag is a great way to decorate one’s home office, while connecting to the other “home” office. A welcome kit might include a list of recommendations and tips authored by colleagues, rain check coupons for “when we return to the office,” desk supplies, and a magnet of frequently called or emailed departments. To promote inclusion, I would caution against sending a t-shirt, or food, as either could be incompatible with their needs.

Describe the culture: Is Monday a terrible day to contact IT? Does the supervisor love cats? Does the culture support work-life balance? These seemingly innocuous office “norms” are easily absorbed in-person, but can be invisible in-remote. Within my first couple of months I unknowingly committed a grave faux pas  simply because I was not clued in to a particular norm of my new employer. Also, ensure diverse identities are sharing tips and norms, because what is the norm for one, could be invisible to another.

Learn their favorites: create a Google form that collects the new team member’s favorites. This could include favorite season, sports team, treats, hobbies, music, appreciation language, and more. This information should be engaged in many ways as time goes on.

Check in: Once a week or so, send an email asking how they are doing, if they have any unmet needs, or unanswered questions. Being new, you don’t know what you don’t know, and sometimes there is reluctance to speak up. A manager should initiate space for this to lessen the burden on the new employee.

Celebrate their work anniversary: “Happy 1 month!” “Happy 8 weeks!” Acknowledgements like this help the employee feel visible, while also reminding them they are making progress!

Send pictures: of the/their office! I wanted to buy a carpet for my new office but had no idea of the dimensions. Pictures or video of their eventual office may help them feel connected.

Encourage peer contact: Ask different peers to sporadically reach out to the employee via email and to include a fun photo (Zoom photos aren’t usually representative), along with some “about me” facts. Often, there is positive outreach in the first week, but that tapers off and loneliness can set in.

Provide an org chart: A handout of who is who and who reports where is invaluable as a new person settles in! It’s like having a map of an amusement park!

Make sure hiring processes are electronic: I almost had my start date indefinitely delayed, which had numerous implications, due to some processes requiring ink signatures. During a pandemic, the last thing you want to tell a new employee is, “I’m sorry, we don’t have an e-form for that. You must complete this in person.”

Ask what would support their comfort: New employees may be afraid to ask for a chair, or a white board, especially without knowing the office culture around ordering.

Explain events or traditions: If you plan to continue traditions virtually, explain what they are so the new team member feels prepared.

Offer a proper closing: At the end of meetings, ask if anyone needs anything clarified. In an effort to prevent Zoom fatigue, many virtual meetings move quickly, and are full of pre-context and abbreviations. As a new and remote employee, this can be overwhelming. A clarifying pause at the end of a meeting can benefit new and existing employees.

Strategically suggest involvement: Offer your new employee chances to join committees and planning teams that are cross-divisional. This gets them exposure to new relationships and functions within the organization, and communicates your confidence in them.

As we continue growing the talent of our teams, so must our practices also evolve. While a cheery welcome card was acceptable in the original 2020, this is 2020 2.0, which calls for a new set of muscles.

Isic, N. (2020). Reimagined onboarding process as a tool to avoid attrition of Millennials and Gen Zs in companies in Finland

Rodeghero, P., Zimmermann, T., Houck, B., & Ford, D. (2020). Please Turn Your Cameras On: Remote Onboarding of Software Developers during a Pandemic. arXiv preprint arXiv:2011.08130.