Founder and Author The Accountants Millionaires' Club
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How to onboard a new team member when working virtually


Heather Townsend shares what works when bringing a new team member on board when everyone is working virtually.

29th Jun 2020
Founder and Author The Accountants Millionaires' Club
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For the last three years, our business has worked virtually. And in the last four months, we’ve seen most accounting firms temporarily join us in this way of working. 

As you would expect, in this time we have seen some team members join. Surprisingly, we are hearing that many firms are needing to recruit right now. And wondering how to onboard these new team members when working virtually, particularly when the whole team is regularly working from home.

Why is onboarding a new team member virtually so much harder?

It’s important to quickly integrate any new team member. This means helping create strong trusting bonds between them and their team members. 

This is exactly the same whether you are all working in an office or from home. But, when you are all working in the same office this is so much easier. For example, you can all chat over lunch or a coffee break.

But it’s not only getting the trust between new team members which is much harder virtually. What also needs to happen is to help the new team member ‘get’ the company culture ie how things work around here, which is so much harder when the new team member isn’t immersed in the firm’s office and team members for eight hours every day.

What will be the same when onboarding a new virtual and a new office-based team member?

It’s very easy to get into a position where you throw your hands up and go ‘woe, is me, it’s impossible to onboard a new team member virtually’. Plainly speaking, this attitude isn’t going to help your firm while we are in lockdown. 

Whether we like it or not, we’ve just got to get on and make things happen at the moment. Fortunately, many of the onboarding tasks are exactly the same whether the team member is virtual or based in the office. 

All you need to do is figure out exactly what those tasks are, and the best way to do these virtually. The rest of the article will give you some hints, tips and ideas about these tasks and how they can be done virtually to the same or better effect.

1. Set expectations

Hiring a new team member is one of the most expensive tasks any accountancy firm can do. Particularly if the new team member doesn’t work out for the long run. This means it's important to do the right things when a new team member joins. Not leave it to chance. The expectations, that you set with your new team member, are similar regardless of how or where they are working. For example:

  • What they are there to do, eg their responsibilities, the targets you expect them to achieve and the procedures/processes/systems you expect them to follow
  • The firm’s values and how these play out for individuals in the firm
  • The firm’s why, strategy and short term plans and projects
  • How to communicate and work with their virtual team members, eg how and when to use the firm’s chat channels.

2. Make the new team member feel welcome 

Starting with a new firm is always daunting, even for the most confident person. In their first day or week you want to make sure that your new team member really feels welcome. These first few days can make or break how well they fit into your firm. For example, how about:

  • A gift or welcome pack sent to their home address?
  • Giving them a ‘buddy’ to make sure they are feeling looked after?
  • Making sure their login details are set up ready for when they arrive?
  • Making a big song and dance about them joining the team on the firm’s chat channels?
  • Sending them a PDF with pictures and contact details of all the staff in your firm. Included in the PDF is a map of where everyone lives/works
  • Organising a virtual team social for their first day. Even though it takes a bit of organisation, how about arranging a nice lunch, sent to everyone’s home address? The team can then eat together on camera.

3. Create a training and development plan for the new team member

This training and development plan should be set up for their first few weeks. Ideally it will include:

  • Daily time with their line manager until they are finding their feet. This is likely to be multiple conversations a day during their first few days.
  • 1:2:1s booked, within the first few days, with all the people they will interact with regularly.
  • Training sessions on all the firm’s key systems and processes. Eg how to set up a Microsoft Teams video call.
  • Where the firm’s Chat Channels are, and what each one is used for. 

4. Integrate the new team member into their team

It’s very tempting on your first team meeting with the new team member, to just adhere to the normal team meeting agenda. It’s more important in this meeting to kickstart the team bonding process. For example, how about getting everyone to introduce themselves, but also answer these questions:

  • This is what I am like at my best
  • This is what happens when I get stressed out or overwhelmed
  • This is how my personal values show up when I work
  • This is what makes me smile at work
  • This is what can annoy me at work
  • And then… this is what I am here to do.

In summary

The tasks to onboard a virtual team member are 95% the same, regardless of where they work. What does take a bit more time with a virtual team member is helping them bond with their new team members and ‘get’ your firm’s culture.

In the launch episode of Refocus, Replan, Rebuild on Wednesday, 1 July, Heather Townsend talks to Lorna Leonard of Leonard Business Services. Lorna will explain how she has built up a virtual team to support her with the advisory work her company offers. Register for the session.

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