Leadership clinic: "How do I successfully onboard my staff remotely?"

Karen Blackett OBE, UK country manager of WPP, Group M UK CEO and a former MT 35 Under 35 winner, answers questions on navigating the tricky world of corporate leadership.

by Karen Blackett
Last Updated: 13 Jul 2022

Q: After a drawn-out recruitment process, I’ve found a great person to hire for my team. But we are still only in the office two days a week. How do I onboard my new employee in the best way possible to set us all up for success?

Karen Blackett says: "I am sure this question is pertinent to a number of leaders in organisations today. It is tough building relationships and chemistry in a virtual world, as we all know how important face time is to the health of any relationship.

You need to get to know the new hire personally, as does their new team, and the new hire will need to understand your company structure, processes and people. So take the time to really plan the onboarding experience. Create a roadmap for their first 45 days – this starts at least two weeks from their actual start date, so that on day one of the new job, they already have some knowledge and familiarity.

A pre-joining survey about them helps breaks the ice and can be shared among their team: why they were keen to join the organisation, their go-to snacks when 3pm munchies hit, what they are most excited about in their new role, their favourite TV programme, names of kids or pets, proudest achievement in previous role etc.

This works both ways, and a short five-minute bio of their team members and a useful organogram sent to them before day one, along with any team KPIs, always helps.

Time with you as their manager will be critical during the first 30 days. The frequency of meeting is down to you and your new hire, but they really need that face time with you to help set them up for success. This has to be more than once a week. It can be a simple end-of-day catch-up, a virtual working lunch over your laptops or a more structured meeting, but your time is needed. Both of you need to be clear about what you expect in their role and the measures of success.

Finally, plan their stakeholder induction sessions over the first two weeks to help them navigate the company – little and often in a virtual world, as staring at a screen is tiring, and absorbing so much new information also needs to be considered.

While there are constraints to the onboarding process when we are all working remotely, remember that we have all successfully learnt to adapt and that actually there are some benefits to remote working, especially for onboarding new team members; notably, we now have the privilege of entering (virtually) into people’s homes, and this added insight into people’s lives can often add depth to colleagues’ relationships."

Karen Blackett OBE is UK country manager of WPP, Group M UK CEO and a former MT 35 Under 35 winner