When it comes to employee onboarding, the buddy system is one of the most reliable tools HR has at its disposal. Done well, it facilitates an immediate personal connection between new hires and the wider organization, and in the long term it can help drive employee engagement and improve time-to-productivity metrics. Such measures are especially critical in a work environment shaped by COVID-19, with many new hires spending their first days and weeks isolated at home.
Unfortunately, most buddy systems are not set up to support the current work-from-home reality. So what can HR professionals do to adapt their existing programs for remote hires?
HR must set clear expectations for current staff members who will be paired with new hires. (This is important for any buddy system, but especially so when dealing with remote workers.) To be effective buddies, those current employees need to know exactly where their responsibilities begin and end, as well as where they can go when they need more information or assistance. Any ambiguity here could lead to a new hire being neglected in the crucial early stages of their onboarding.
To define those expectations, HR should provide the current employee with answers to the following questions:
- When should I reach out to my new-hire buddy?
- How often should I connect with my new-hire buddy?
- What is my new-hire buddy’s first-week schedule?
- Who is responsible for setting up my new-hire buddy’s laptop and other technology?
- Whom should I contact if I have any concerns about my new-hire buddy?
- When do my buddy duties conclude?
Connecting buddy pairs before a new hire’s first day helps them be fully prepared to hit the ground running. Having the opportunity to ask any pressing questions and get the “lay of the land” before starting work is particularly helpful in the current climate, when many organizations find themselves in a state of flux. During the preboarding phase, current employees should aim for three check-ins with their new-hire buddies.
Plan the First Day
A strong first impression sets the tone for a new hire’s time at the company by introducing them to the organization’s culture and making them feel like a valued addition to the team. Three buddy check-ins, spaced throughout the day, can help ease the new employee’s transition:
- Start-of-the-day sendoff: A short (approximately 30 minutes), informal video call gives the buddies time to chat about the new hire’s first-day schedule, address any questions they have, and just generally prepare them for the day ahead.
- Lunchtime check-in: During this midday catchup, the buddies can touch base, discuss any additional questions that have come up, and also “course correct” if anything has gone awry.
- End-of-day wrap-up: Bookending a new hire’s first day with check-ins gives both buddies a chance to assess whether the day went as planned and strengthens the buddy relationship
Check in throughout the First Week
Ask the current employee to write a short end-of-day report for each day of their new-hire buddy’s first week. This will help HR get a clear picture of how things are going and identify any points of concern that might require an intervention.
During the first week of new-hire orientation, the current employee can play an important role in engaging the new hire by facilitating icebreaker games, organizing group activities, and providing introductions and connections. For example, using some (or all) of the following strategies, a current employee helps their new-hire buddy adjust more quickly to their new workplace:
- Quickfire Q&A icebreaker: Organize a small-group video call (with the new hire and some of their colleagues) in which participants ask each other unconventional icebreaker questions.
- Virtual happy hour: Wrap up the new hire’s first day (or first week) with a virtual happy hour. One fun option is to create a custom cocktail recipe and have the ingredients delivered to the new hire’s home.
- Self-introductions: Help the new hire film and share a short self-introduction video by quizzing them over a recorded video call, then uploading the video to the company intranet or Slack.
Maintain the Connection
Many new-hire buddy systems don’t extend beyond the new employee’s first week at the organization. That might be sufficient in a regular office environment, but it’s doesn’t quite cut it in a remote setting. Ask buddy pairs to continue scheduling informal, 30-minute catch-up sessions each week for the new hire’s first 90 days. This consistent connection will help the new hire get better acclimated and let them know that there is always someone there for them.
The buddy system is a tried-and-true element of HR practice, but it needs some tweaks-clear expectations, an early start, and creative thinking-to make it work well in remote settings. Consider incentivizing the process to get buy-in from existing staff, and be sure to provide a feedback mechanism so HR can have some oversight. Consistent implementation and attention to detail will help ensure that new hires don’t slip through the cracks!