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Four Crucial Tips for Onboarding New Talent Remotely

July 14, 2023

best practices legal talent talent management

With legal talent, selection – whether a contractor or permanent hire – is only half the challenge. As important is ensuring they integrate with your team, organisation, and ways of working and making sure they feel connected and engaged. This is especially true for the growing numbers of remote legal professionals in our post-pandemic world.

My Elevate colleagues and I have a unique perspective from our extensive work with flex remote talent before, during, and after the height of COVID and the rise of the work-from-home paradigm. In Part II of this series, I will discuss key points about engagement, but before that, here are four crucial steps when onboarding remote talent:

Sort out IT access and training ASAP!  Thankfully, the time taken to issue laptops and software to interim Talent has markedly decreased and is far less problematic than two years ago.  But room for improvement remains – especially with IT training.

Yes, IT instruction is now ‘slicker and quicker’ but this should not lull hiring managers into complacency about how crucial it is to begin IT training as soon as possible. Delays in learning about using systems and software hamstring the productivity of new team members.  Your standard onboarding procedure should ensure IT training aligns with start dates. Prioritise mandatory (e.g., cybersecurity) and mission-critical topics for the first week. Less urgent ones should occur within a month of the start date.

Clarify common goals and purpose: High performance requires that everyone work towards shared objectives and a common understanding of how their work advances those goals. Context is everything and scene-setting is crucial in getting a new arrival up to speed. Even if your organisation’s goals and purpose seem self-evident, it is unlikely a new arrival grasps them as completely (along with organisational jargon and acronyms!).

Reserve time to explain the organisation’s overarching structure, what teams and departments do, and how they work together to reach common goals.  Also, clarify dependencies between individuals, teams, and projects so new team members understand how their work contributes to the overall success of their team and department. This helps new arrivals properly prioritise work, allocate their time, and collaborate as appropriate. They should also understand to whom to reach out and who is impacted by delays in work.

Set clear expectations: Remote work requires trust and accountability. Set specific expectations for performance, outputs, outcomes, and behaviour, and hold each team member accountable for meeting those standards – including deadlines, communication protocols, and escalation matrices).  Otherwise, confusion and problems are inevitable. With new team members, do more than communicate expectations – allow them to ask clarifying questions and have them confirm their understanding of your expectations. These two steps may seem overkill, but clarity minimises misunderstandings – and their impact.

Resolve ‘where and when’ issues beforehand: With many teams now global, issues may arise that are absent with single-site organisations. From the outset, explain colleagues’ work hours, locations, and – crucially –  time zones. Otherwise, co-dependent and inter-dependent teams cannot develop workflows (e.g., review cycles, document iteration, etc.) with sufficient time to meet deadlines. Relatedly, new arrivals need to know from Day One your organisation’s policies and their Team’s standard practices concerning response time for emails and other communications.

Burnout and disengagement affect both onsite and remote workers, but special issues arise with the latter group. Remote work unavoidably blurs the line between professional and personal lives. Minimising burnout and disengagement requires demonstrating to new remote talent that you are sensitive to the challenges unique to remote work. Actively encourage talent to maintain a healthy work-life balance and discuss ways to ensure that balance is sustainable.  You must normalise taking breaks, setting boundaries, and prioritising self-care and well-being.

Finally, it is wise to re-examine how you view flex and remote work. Does it matter when and where work gets done if quality standards and deadlines are met? If remote talent’s performance meets stated expectations, why should you hold remote team members to a higher standard or heightened monitoring than onsite colleagues? Remember: allowing people to manage their own time is empowering, and empowered individuals work harder and better than micromanaged employees. Treat your remote team members (and your onsite ones, too) with respect and trust, and you will reap what you sow.

In Part II of this series, I will share guidance about the ‘Engagement Equation’ and how to ensure remote talent remains actively integrated into your team. Meanwhile, if remote hires are on your horizon, now is an excellent time to start putting the tips described above into action!

Onboarding new talent is as important as the decision to hire a particular legal professional. With the continuing growth in remote legal talent, now is the time for four steps to lay the groundwork that will help to ensure new arrivals make maximum impact as quickly as possible.

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