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Onboarding during Covid: ‘Starting work remotely was less daunting than in person’

Companies need to make sure that new remote workers feel included

The recruitment and onboarding process was fundamentally altered for many people and organisations during the pandemic. Companies had to adapt very swiftly to the new situation and figure out ways to hire and onboard people in an entirely virtual environment. Employees also had to adjust to the new arrangements.

“Starting work remotely was less daunting than in person,” says Ryan Donoghue, a software engineer with customer experience and contact centre solutions specialist Genesys. “Meeting people in person is always going to be a little more stressful than virtually. Any fears of being ‘lost’ on my first day from not having someone physically beside me were dispelled by the communication I received before my start date. My first-day itinerary was communicated well in advance, and at no point did I feel that I didn’t know who to reach out to if I had any questions or didn’t know where to find resources. A memorably nice and empathetic gesture was the welcome I received from the entire Irish office in an internal chatroom.”

He describes the entire onboarding experience as very easy and supported, with any number of people ready to help at any time. “Having a remote team lunch further helped me feel very connected even if I was at home.”

Karl Fagan, a senior business continuity analyst with cloud data management company Informatica, prefers the in-person experience, however. “From a personal point of view, it’s not ideal as my preference is to be in person, face to face,” he says of the virtual onboarding experience. “Interactions in person are, well, more personal. From a logistical point of view, it’s easier because it doesn’t involve travelling or commuting, but it’s a trade-off between making that first initial point of contact, in person, versus online over a video call.”


There are advantages to the remote process, of course. “As it was done virtually, it was seamless,” says Fagan. “It also meant added flexibility to complete, I wasn’t restricted to a set time to complete any of the usual onboarding orientation tasks. I also partnered with a co-worker in a ‘buddy’ system whom I could contact any questions or queries. That was a huge help.”

Audrey Bleach joined the site leadership team at Cisco Galway in July 2021 as a site engagement manager. “Joining a new company and understanding its culture can be daunting especially when fostering and driving culture is a big part of the role, however my experience of starting at Cisco remotely was hugely positive,” she says.

Feel connected

“Part of my responsibilities are to ensure employees feel welcome and excited as they join Cisco, as well as feel connected to our company’s vision, strategy, brand and culture,” she continues. “I felt supported and included right from the start of the hiring process and could see that Cisco is unique in that it’s built on a foundation of inclusion, authentic leadership, and connection. My previous hiring experience gave me a great understanding of how I should approach my own responsibilities.”

Looking ahead, she believes choice and flexibility will be key to future working arrangements. “As restrictions have eased, we are beginning to split our time between working remotely and going to the office. Cisco are fully embracing hybrid work which will redefine what’s possible – bringing out the very best of how people work by empowering flexibility, choice and inclusion. We offer options such as remote and hybrid work models, which offer employees more autonomy and choice.”

Fagan believes balance is crucial. “It depends on your industry and location. Personally speaking, I prefer a hybrid. It offers flexibility whilst maintaining the in-office connection that is important for collaboration, innovation and insight.”

Donoghue agrees: “I believe the hybrid workplace is the future. I work hybrid now and found that returning to the office after two years of full work from home had a very positive effect on my productivity and mood.”

But these things need to be approached with care, according to Claire McGeever, client success manager with Great Place to Work.

“Going back to the office is a key milestone for the whole workforce, but an even bigger one for these employees who have been joining organisations remotely for the last two years. They are now facing not a return to the office, but an immersion in a totally new environment, meeting their teams, managers, superiors and offices for the very first time.

“Workplaces should embrace the fact that they don’t have all the answers and approach the change with a learning mindset.”

Barry McCall

Barry McCall is a contributor to The Irish Times