Hiring continues during the COVID-19 pandemic, as some companies need to bring new employees on board to serve customer or product development needs. With states and even counties and municipalities taking different approaches to preventing the spread of the coronavirus, employers are finding themselves addressing a variety of employee needs and concerns.
In an environment of confusion, mixed messages and fear, what should employers be doing during the talent acquisition and onboarding processes to ensure that prospective and new employees feel confident and comfortable?
Consider the Need for Different Skills
With employees working in offsite locations and in different ways, it's important for organizations and their HR leaders and managers to consider additional skills that might be needed now, said Clay Kellogg, CEO of Terminal, a San Francisco company that helps build remote engineering teams for startups.
For those who will be working remotely, even temporarily, he said, "It's important to screen for skill sets that will make them successful at remote work." This may seem obvious, but don't leave it to chance. "Hiring managers should ask questions about a candidate's resourcefulness, autonomy, self-motivation, proactive collaboration, and written and verbal communication," he said.
Be Attuned to Concerns over Physical Contact
Even as some states ease restrictions related to the virus, some prospective and new employees may be concerned about physical proximity during the interview process and their early days or weeks on the job, said Christine Snyder, an attorney with Tucker Ellis in Cleveland. It's important to help make these individuals feel more comfortable and safer in the workplace.
"To the extent feasible, the interview and hiring process should be handled remotely," Snyder suggested. Interviews and new-hire training, she said, can be done through platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. If applicants and new hires must come into the workplace, she recommends interviewing and onboarding them "in a location that allows for adequate physical distancing between the individuals involved and for minimal contacts."
Once on board, even if employees are located in the same physical space, Snyder recommends that they communicate via phone, e-mail, text or other means that don't require physical interactions.
Manage the Pace of Onboarding
Onboarding will likely be different for many new employees and will often be conducted remotely. "Remote onboarding requires much more than attending virtual training and sharing a digital copy of the company handbook," said Jim Link, chief human resources officer at Randstad North America. Onboarding should always be paced, he said, and this is even more important with remote workers to avoid overwhelming them. "Space out virtual training and exercises and give new hires some free time during the day to absorb the information and ask questions."
Take steps, as well, to ensure that the company culture is adequately conveyed through virtual onboarding. "For example," Link said, "companies with a more formal culture should avoid setting the wrong tone with comedic training videos."
Create Opportunities for Social Interaction
Even—perhaps especially—with employees working in various offsite locations, the need for interaction is paramount. Employers should be proactive and prescriptive in creating and managing opportunities for new employees to make connections with their colleagues, wherever they may be located.
"Maintaining and sharing your company culture with new hires is more important than ever before," Kellogg said. "Companies should encourage teams to find creative ways to connect like daily standups, remote happy hours, book clubs and online fitness classes." These virtual connections will help to build relationships and provide a sense of belonging for new employees, especially those who are working remotely.
"Setting up new hires to have virtual coffee meetings with various staff members or hosting social activities via Zoom with small groups can also help new employees feel more integrated with the rest of the team and give existing employees a chance to get to know and feel more comfortable with their new colleagues," Link said.
Respect Employee Privacy
Safety is on the minds of most people right now, although levels of concern will vary among employees. Employers need to be focused on easing fears, and this includes protecting employees' private health information, Snyder cautioned.
Even though the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has cleared the way for employers to take employees' temperatures, inquire about symptoms and require COVID-19 testing, maintaining the privacy of employee medical information is still a mandate.
"Employers who are conducting permitted screenings should think through how they can do so in a way that protects individual employees' results and prevents the sharing of that private information with other employees," Snyder said. For instance, employees could go to a private area one at a time for screening so others aren't alerted to any symptoms they're experiencing, she said.
Employers should also be cautious about how they communicate information about positive tests to employees. "While employees should be informed generally of any potential exposure to the virus, employers should refrain from identifying infected or potentially infected employees," Snyder said, adding that employers are able to share that information with public health agencies.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.