If you spend time with us at ConvergenceCoaching, then you know that we are big fans of remote and flexible work programs. We’ve been 100% remote and flexible for 20 years and are certain that you can do almost anything remotely that you can do in-person. We often meet leaders who feel trapped inside their in-person paradigm and struggle to see how certain business processes can be converted to remote. One by one, we’re examining those issues to help our accounting and consulting clients break down the barriers to support a more successful remote and flexible workforce.

One big area firm leaders are facing right now relates to the interns and new hires starting this fall and winter. How will firms get them trained and up to speed in a remote fashion? How will the trainees form relationships with others when they aren’t spending time together in the usual 3-D manner? Can new hire training and onboarding systems be successfully converted to a remote format? We believe the answer is “yes”!

Even before COVID, larger firms were scrutinizing their onboarding budgets and processes, because it is expensive to create in-person onboarding experiences across multiple offices. Many of those firms are using this crisis to achieve their onboarding “next better” - developing a robust remote onboarding program to leverage during this crisis and beyond.

Based on our experiences onboarding remotely, we’ve outlined this 15-step process which includes 15 “principles” for rapid and successful remote development below. I encourage you to review the list and see which of these ideas could enhance your onboarding process, whether in-person or remote.

  1. At ConvergenceCoaching, we prepare ahead for a new employee’s start date. Equipment is shipped to the new team member, so they are ready to go day 1. Ahead of the start date, we discuss their planned workspaces and work schedule. We strive to be crystal-clear with our expectations right from the beginning so the new hire can be maximally productive out of the gate. All trainees are assigned a clear point person to drive their onboarding and development (indicated as Supervisor in this blog).
  1. We are in constant communication with our new hires before they start and then once they are in place. A new team member might hold daily check-in meetings with their Supervisor, at least for the first two weeks. The Supervisor continues to offer multiple touchpoints per week during the new hire’s first 90 days.
  1. Our onboarding process starts with providing the trainee a detailed excel checklist of actions to complete during the first 30 – 90 days (see our sample version here). The first tab maps out the administrative items that every employee will need to learn or complete, along with an “owner” or “teacher” of each task and a by-when date to drive accountability. We create additional tabs to map out actions and training that are specific to the trainee’s role and responsibilities.

Pro Tip: In our experience, a remote process requires more planning and coordination. Ask your new hires to keep a list of suggestions that would make the remote onboarding process work more smoothly and incorporate their suggestions into your next version of the checklist.

  1. While our checklist suggests a by-when date for each action, we recommend that the new hire take responsibility for scheduling remote meetings with the various trainers at their joint convenience. This allows the trainee to take ownership for their training program; additionally, it gives us insight into how they can manage their very first project, which is driving their own training program. Trainees receive training but also start to form relationships with the various trainers they are scheduled to interact with.

Pro Tip: Encourage trainers to take a few minutes to connect personally with trainees before diving into the training.

  1. For the training sessions, we use a variety of mediums to connect and collaborate. We love old-fashioned phone calls and find they work well for spending time together and sharing information. The training call might start by phone, during which we find ourselves saying “should we share screens on Teams?” It’s quick and easy to send a sharing request and after 10 seconds, be looking at the same screen, just as if we were sitting side-by-side at a desk. We use Zoom for planned, group meetings, giving us the option to use video or share desktops, when needed. Pro Tip – record Teams or Zoom training meetings so the trainee can return to the recording for assistance as they get started, and so you can leverage the videos to train others.
  1. We ask trainees to shadow work we’re doing like remote workshops, webinars, strategic planning team calls with clients, sales calls, and more. The goal is to provide them exposure and another opportunity to learn what we do so they can better participate in or support that work. Our goal is to quickly get them contributing during their shadowing experiences.

Pro Tip - If you find it hard to picture having someone shadow you remotely, imagine these examples. Instead of having them pull up a chair to your desk, ask them to call you and use screen sharing to display your screen. To loop them in on a client phone call, conference them in and tell the client you have brought along a recap writer. Add them to your referral source Zoom call and even ask the contact to bring along one of their young staff. There has never been an easier time to get your team members plugged into the work you’re doing and there is no geographic limitation. Try it yourself!

  1. We follow the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model to transition knowledge, a methodology that was detailed in this article. The process unfolds like this: 1) Trainer does, Trainee watches. 2) Trainee does, Trainer helps. 3) Trainee does, Trainer helps. 4) Trainee does, Trainer watches. We like to share the article with the trainee and the trainers at the beginning of the training process, and we encourage both parties to talk about where they are in the four-step process as they move through the first 90 days.
  1. Our training checklist includes self-study and reading material to help the trainee become familiar with ConvergenceCoaching. The Supervisor or point person for that aspect of the trainee’s learning is responsible for checking in on what they got out of the materials.

Trainees are encouraged to alert the team when they run out of work. While they wait for us to figure out the next thing to give them, they can plug into one of their scheduled self-study activities. We consistently maintain a list of “important but not urgent” projects to shoulder if there isn’t an obvious front-burner project to assign.

  1. We carefully avoid assumptions about what the trainee knows. To assess progress, we ask lots of qualifying questions. For instance, we might say “Tell me what you’ve learned so far about our tools and resources.” From the answer, we can gauge whether our discussion needs to focus on the high-level purpose of the tools, the storage location, the process to update them, the details of the tools, or something else entirely.

Pro Tip: Great coaches and trainers ask and listen more than they tell. Great remote coaches and trainers use video to listen to the trainee’s words, read their body language and assess non-verbal cues that speak volumes on how the coachee is doing.

  1. To help us gauge the trainee’s capacity, we ask them to create a weekly work-to-do outlining what they plan to get accomplished during the week. In addition, the Supervisor checks in regularly on how “full” the trainee feels. This question often leads to a conversation about prioritization and ensuring the most impactful projects get handled first. If the trainee feels “light,” the Supervisor can point the trainee to others who are overloaded or send a message to the team alerting them that the trainee has capacity to take on more. Our trainees have shared how refreshing it is to have such transparent and open conversations about their capacity.
  1. We encourage our trainees to document what they are learning. A few years ago, we were onboarding an employee who was overwhelmed by all the acronyms we use in our business (TLP, GTG, NASBA, LOL!). She built an excel file of acronyms that has been used by two subsequent hires since then to come up to speed more quickly as a result.
  1. To stay on the same page and drive more action and decision-making, we write brief recaps of our training calls and delegation. One of the first duties assigned to a trainee is recap writing, because it encourages them to listen carefully and summarize.
  1. We assign a Remote Buddy to the new employee, usually someone close to the trainee’s level or in a similar role. Trainees are told to “call this person anytime about anything and nothing is off-limits.” During the first 30 days, we encourage the Buddy to reach out weekly if they haven’t heard from the trainee, then monthly through the end of the 90-day training period.
  1. We hold a remote check-in meeting at the end of the 90 days. Selected team members are asked to provide feedback on the trainee in a Keep, Stop, Start (KSS) format. That feedback is compiled and summarized for the trainee. We also ask the trainee to KSS their first 90 days with us. The format gathers information on what either party should:
    • Keep doing that is going well or provides great value (keep asking good questions, keep scheduling weekly check-in meetings with me)
    • Stop doing what isn’t as valuable or isn’t working (stop staying silent in our monthly team meeting, stop using your own format for the weekly work-to-do email)
    • Start doing what you aren’t doing now (start sending the recaps directly to the team vs having me review them, start scheduling a bi-weekly check-in with Jane, too).

Pro Tip: Ask feedback providers to include an assessment of the trainee’s success at working remotely as they are generating their KSS feedback on the first 90 days.

  1. The training doesn’t stop after the 90-day deadline. At ConvergenceCoaching, we always ask “what’s next”? When we embark on the 91st day with a new hire, the Supervisor assesses the logical next steps for the trainee using the KSS feedback, the trainee’s outlined role description and the current needs of the team. The Supervisor asks the trainee what they think is next and incorporating that into their own planning, outlines new expectations for skill-building, experiences and growth.

We’re heartened by the hard work and thinking that is being invested into remote onboarding programs around the country, and we believe the innovation being sparked will make these programs stronger and more robust for the pandemic and beyond. As firms strengthen their remote muscle, they see myriad opportunities to expand outside their traditional and in-person paradigms to access talent (and clients) no matter where they reside.