Remote Onboarding: Lessons From the Virtual Classroom
By Laura Meredith |
I started my new job at Construct in July when South Africa was in Level 3 of our lockdown. By that time, most businesses had moved to a fully remote setup. I had spent more time talking to my plants than other humans, and I hadn’t met anyone new in months. The thought of being introduced to a whole new company was terrifying! Did I still know how to act like a human? Where should I set up my desk to still come across as a professional person among the debris of everyday lockdown life? Why does it feel so weird to wear normal work clothes in my lounge?
Day one at Construct rolled in at superspeed, and my sparkly new work inbox quickly filled up with calendar invites. The first thing my inner introvert rejoiced at was the clean calendar space in between sessions. In previous new jobs, I had had my first few days stuffed full of information sessions and introductions, and by the end of my onboarding, I was so confused that I needed a holiday. Construct’s approach was to give me resources to work through and set me up with people who could give me context on what I was learning and figure it out on my own within the broader framework they provided for me. And it worked well!
“I had spent more time talking to my plants than other humans, and I hadn’t met anyone new in months.”
It seemed very brave to give new joiners this much autonomy and trust that they would transform into full-blown Construct family members. Still, all around me, I saw people who hadn’t been at the company very long going about their work with confidence, kindness, and a willingness to share their experiences (surely the signs of a successful onboarding!). My curiosity is always piqued when people do things well, so I tried to unravel Construct’s approach. Then I remembered that I had applied to work at a company that specializes in digital and remote learning, so of course, they would understand how to help their people learn well, regardless of whether they were physically in the office or not!
Here are a few examples of things that worked well for my own onboarding and that I strongly suspect came straight out of Construct’s online learning pedagogy playbook:
One of my onboarding tasks was to set up meetings with some key people throughout the company. I even got some suggested topics for discussion (another internal introvert celebration for that!). The one topic that I think ended up having the most impact was the one that seemed the least life-changing on the surface and went something along the lines of: ‘Introduce yourself and give a little background on how you ended up here.’ That one forced me to think about how I had ended up as a Project Manager and why I had chosen Construct as the place to perform that role. If I hadn’t been prompted with this question, I might never have considered it, but that made me set my intentions early on, and now I come to work (OK, to my lounge) with purpose.
The other important bit here is that I didn’t only meet people I would be working directly with. I met with other Project Managers; people from the Learning Design, Learning Technology, and Production teams; and with people from the broader Construct leadership team (that last one was a little scary for me but is also a sign of good company leadership, 10/10 recommend where possible!). This gave me a good big-picture view of the company and its culture and goals, which shaped how I later approached my work.
In an online course, learners are often encouraged to introduce themselves in a forum or group setting where both the instructor and other learners will interact with that information. Encouraging connection creates an opportunity for learners to reflect on what they want out of the learning experience, which helps them set intentions that will carry them through the course. Forums also remind learners that they collaborate with other humans who have similar hopes and fears. That fosters connection, takes a big chunk of potential anxiety away from a learning experience, and creates a space for deeper learning to happen.
Encourage Real-World and Big-Picture Learning
While my projects were still kicking off, and I had some extra time on my hands, I was included in some project scoping calls with potential clients and partners. I didn’t need to do anything except listen while an Account Director explained our work and approaches to online learning design to clients, which was a nice break from all the introductions I mentioned above. In my opinion, this one was Construct’s onboarding masterstroke. In these meetings, I got the opportunity to see what clients and partners wanted, how they respond to our work, how we envision ourselves as a company and in the broader marketplace, and what exactly we offer people. Now, if I hit a stressful or frustrating work moment, I can zoom out to see the bigger picture and focus on how exciting and valuable the work we do is and it motivates me to push through.
In an online learning environment, tying your content to a real-world situation is a no-brainer. Just like I get to remember to think about the bigger picture in my day-to-day work, doing this for learners takes them away from their screens and allows them to apply their learning directly to the situations for which they need that information. This is the kind of long-term thinking change that I consider ‘real’ learning.
Provide Continuous Onboarding
The final puzzle piece to successful onboarding is to understand that learning doesn’t stop. We are all continuously learning, even if we have been in our roles for years. We can always do things at work and in a virtual classroom that encourage people to keep learning and engaging with each other and the topic they are learning about.
As part of Construct’s remote work strategy, they already had some measures in place to keep their culture alive and make sure that new joiners were quickly welcomed to the company. Things like:
Virtual Coffees: This is where you are randomly paired up with someone else in the company and get to have a not-work-related chat. During these chats, I’ve had good laughs, received some truly excellent music recommendations, realized that I share mutual friends with many of my colleagues, and generally just had the chance to make some human connections and switch my brain off from full-work mode for a little while.
Weekly Learning Lunches: These land somewhere between being formal and informal and are aimed at giving people the chance to talk about something they find interesting, present something they are working on, break out into smaller groups, and connect with people they would probably never have met otherwise. Most importantly, to see that they are part of a bigger group of people all working toward the same thing.
Stretch Projects: Construct also encourages employees to take part in projects that fall outside of their usual role. For example, they could have paid someone external to write this blog, but then I wouldn’t be able to ramble about talking to my plants, and you wouldn’t be reading about what it’s like to join Construct. Instead, I get the chance to reflect on my experience so far, consolidate what I’ve learned, and take that into my work. And I can say that I’ve written a blog!
In a virtual classroom, we can do similar things. Setting learners up with groups of other learners or having live sessions where they can ask questions or present on interesting topics is an easy way to foster a collaborative and positive learning experience. Similarly, creating opportunities for reflection (both on learning content and a personal level) and giving people stretch projects helps deepen learning and connection, especially in a virtual setting.
These are just a few of the things that helped create a warm and fuzzy work environment for me and gave me the tools I need to do my job with confidence, kindness, and a willingness to share my experiences. I still talk to my plants sometimes, but I’ve also made some good friends at work, and now I get to talk to them, too! And because I was allowed to do most of these things on my own terms within Construct’s onboarding framework, my brain got tricked into thinking that I’m the one that made it all happen. How’s that for a successful learning experience?
Project Manager at Construct