What a difference a year makes! Thinking back to March 2020, our country was in the initial phase of addressing a highly contagious global pandemic. Most U.S. businesses, government agencies and schools were closing, and moving to remote work and learning. Today, it’s clear that telework isn’t going away.
Having frequently worked from home instead of the office, our Resigility team was prepared to make a seamless transition. However, our seventh employee, Sean Bailey, was starting March 18 – our first onboarding of a new employee in an all-virtual environment. Sean also would be only our second teammate that had no previous work experience with any staff members before joining the company.
A great addition
Meeting Sean during our in-person interview, I knew he would be a great addition, yet I was concerned about him joining remotely and in such unprecedented times. Recognizing that virtual onboarding wasn’t just about providing equipment, I worried: Would Sean perceive that he’s part of the team? Could we ensure he doesn’t feel all alone? Will Sean know where to find information and who can answer questions? Could we develop a rapport and know if he’s okay?
More broadly, I also feared other impacts on our entire team working online all day, every day:
How would teleworking affect each of us individually and our sense of community?
Could we continue effectively servicing our clients?
Was it possible to maintain teamwork from seven homes in our two locations (Washington, D.C., and Atlanta)?
Overcoming telework obstacles
I believe we made some good decisions to overcome telework obstacles. For example, our CFO/CIO Jeff Anderson personally called each member of the team every week, checking in to see how folks were doing or if they felt stressed. Jeff also sent emails highlighting offbeat, silly and obscure monthly observances, for example National Candy Month or National Aquarium Month. This prompted me to send gift baskets related to that month’s theme, such as candy and small plastic fish.
While you can never replace office hallway conversations and face-to-face interactions, the personal calls, emails and gifts helped maintain our esprit de corps and injected a bit of virtual office fun. I recently asked Sean if he felt part of our community in those early days and his reply made my day. “Your efforts really worked,” he said, “because, at no point in time, did I ever feel like I was on an island or there was not someone I could reach out to for whatever. I think the other thing that helped was that I had worked with [our client] before … I knew where to look for things.”
More lessons learned
That raises another lesson learned: Hire go-getters who are willing to seek the information they need. Especially in the remote work world, it’s critical to find talent that’s comfortable interacting with colleagues and customers online and taking the initiative to get what’s required to do the job.
Perhaps my most important teleworking and onboarding lesson: Stay true to your company culture. In an office environment, culture comes somewhat by osmosis. Conversely, in the virtual scenario, leaders must invest time to maintain the desired culture, which is so critical to achieving or furthering success. My advice:
Be extra deliberate in responding to your team.
Ensure everyone understands the organization’s values.
Create an environment where each person feels like they’re part of the team.
Demonstrate that every employee is valued as a human being and worker – and we’re all connected to each other.
We’re extremely fortunate that Resigility’s business has grown over this past challenging year. Since Sean joined, we have doubled our staff to 14, with one more professional coming aboard soon. Our onboarding approach has become more methodical. We make a concerted effort to explain acronyms and offer insights about client projects, missions, objectives, history and more.
As a result of Resigility’s growth and success in navigating the telework world, we’re able to expand support for our D.C. and Atlanta communities. Another sign that Sean is fully integrated into our team: He led the way in identifying a deserving Atlanta school where we donated headsets to enhance remote student learning. While virtual onboarding and telework can work, I must admit, I would love to see our people in person at both our D.C. and Atlanta offices!