With uncertainty making its way into just about everything we do at the moment, Mental Health Awareness week is more important than ever
Remote onboarding & mental wellbeing at Equalture
Equalture founder, Charlotte Melkert, discusses the importance of mental health at work and how they manage remote onboarding and employee wellbeing.
Emils, our International Business Developer, has been a part of our amazing team for 9 months, and has spent his time working remotely from Latvia (Equalture office is located in the Netherlands) and hasn’t been able to meet anyone in person, yet. Regardless of that - last week when we were catching up, he said the following to me:
“I feel like I've been a part of this team for years - and I mean it in the best way possible”.
Even though this is absolutely amazing to hear, unfortunately, it isn’t like this in every single company.
In this blog, I’d like to explain why the mental wellbeing of employees is so important and tell you about how we are doing this at Equalture, especially when onboarding new team members remotely.
New beginning or ending?
Starting a new job can without a doubt be a nerve-wracking experience at first - for both the employee and the employer. However, it should also be fun, as starting a new job goes hand in hand with new opportunities such as going to the office for the first time and meeting and getting to know your new team. At least, that’s how it used to go, up until last year. With remote working being the new normal over the past year, remote onboarding is something that some companies may never have dealt with before, while its impact on employee happiness and success is enormous. So, how do you ensure efficiency but also happiness throughout the onboarding process?
Sadly, over the past year, I’ve heard many different stories from friends of mine about their experiences regarding this. Most of them, fresh out of university, were about to start their first job and looking forward to embarking on a new adventure - taking a step into the adult world and starting their first serious jobs. And then the pandemic hit. All that excitement about being able to experience what it’s like working in vibrant office spaces, chatting with coworkers, and having the occasional vrijmibo (famous Dutch expression for “Friday work drinks”) - was shattered. Just like that. They were now forced to have their first day of work from home. Hey, that can’t be that bad can it? Well, unfortunately, human interaction was now being replaced by long impersonal emails that consist of static onboarding checklists. And most of these enthusiastic young adults that were so eager to show the world their ambitions and potential, were now reduced to merely a CC in an email chain.
Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way. And as time went on, the longer we were (and still are, hopefully not for long) stuck in this pandemic - the more companies started reshaping their onboarding process and adjusting it to ensure the happiness and wellbeing of their new team members. As well as trying to maintain a human-like connection with current team members, at least as much as possible through a laptop screen.
Why mental wellbeing in remote onboarding is so important
Being nervous or anxious on the first day your job is a totally human feeling - everything is new, unknown - and that’s what makes it scary. We humans fear change and the unknown because it places us out of our comfort zone. That is why it’s so important to have an onboarding process that reduces these feelings of fearing the unknown.
So, why does mental wellbeing matter? Well, that’s simple. Ensuring the mental wellbeing of the people (both new and team members that have been there since the start) in your team when working in a remote setting allows your team to thrive. Thrive in a positive working environment where they feel free to be themselves, feel free to ask questions and express opinions where they are not afraid to speak their mind.
Exciting, personal, interactive and full of laughter and jokes. That is always what the first day of every new team member that joins the Equalture team is like. It’s always exciting to have a new person join our team and help us take our rocket ship to the moon - so that’s why we try to make the best out of it. Even if due to Covid-19 we may not be able to meet and do the onboarding in person, we try our utmost to make the onboarding experience within a virtual environment as close as possible to the real thing.
So, how do we do it? I’d like to share with you how Equalture made the best out of remote onboarding and how we are making sure that our team members, even those who we’ve only met in a virtual environment so far, feel like they are part of the Equalture family!
Welcome to the team you’ve never met: 3 principles to keep in mind
Starting to work together with people while everything takes place in an online environment is an interesting challenge to tackle. People that have never stepped foot in the office or have never gotten the chance to shake hands with their new co-workers, let alone to meet those people in person. Everything, and I mean everything, has to happen virtually. You are welcoming each and every new team member into a company - from the familiarity of their own home. So how do you make them feel welcome and a part of the team?
There are three principles that I think are important to keep in mind to ensure the wellbeing and happiness of your new employees (as well as current ones):
Principle 1. Stay connected
Connect with the new hires and current employees as regularly as possible. In these times, it can make someone’s day if you reach out to them and ask how they are, even if you are not particularly close with them. Human interaction is still crucial.
Principle 2. Keep listening to your team!
Employees, both current and new hires, should know you’re approachable and willing to listen.
Principle 3. Don’t forget about the social aspect
Within a remote working setting you miss out on all the aspects that make working from the office a social experience - try to find other ways to establish this social connection between your team members!
Now that you know the principles we follow, let’s dive into the four things we do to put these principles into practice!
How do we stay connected with each other?
Often people say that technology has made us feel like we are connected, when in reality we are as disconnected as ever. I think this might be true when it comes to excessive social media use, yet when it comes to remote work - without technology, we would not be able to connect and stay connected the way we do. It goes without saying that staying connected with your team is the most important thing when it comes to ensuring their mental wellbeing.
This is how we stay connected with each other:
- How about a virtual coffee?
Obviously, it is needless to say that within a remote working setting you miss out on all the aspects that make working from the office a social experience - no more elevator interactions, passing each other in the hallway, or eating lunch together. Since having these real social interactions together in the office is not possible, we were quick to adapt and connect current employees with new team members - through virtual, individual coffee chats. Having a coffee chat, a virtual one of course, with each and every team member is the first step of everyone's onboarding process. This is super important as integrating with and feeling part of the team is the pinnacle of building long lasting relationships within the workplace and increasing employee wellbeing. From my own experience - this is what really allowed me to understand the company culture, as well as connect with everyone in the team on a personal level.
- 15 mins check-in & check-out
We have daily check-ins and check-outs amongst each of the different teams in which we discuss what our plans are for the day, as well as reflect upon how the day has been. Most times these short calls are filled with some jokes here and there, and that’s what makes it great as it’s not all about graphs and data. It’s about being human and having that virtual social interaction with one another. Sometimes these meetings end up being casual conversations that allow us to bond with one another and form more meaningful relationships.
- Bi-weekly 1-on-1s
Something we’ve also made a standard practice is bi-weekly 1-on-1s with each new hire. I truly think that this allows our new team members to flourish. This is especially crucial for new hires - the goal of these bi-weeklies is to not only collect feedback on their overall experience with the company, but address any additional concerns that may have arisen. And then work together on tackling these concerns.
- Our version of a vrijmibo
Remember I mentioned the famous Dutch phrase earlier - vrijmibo (having after work drinks with your co-workers on a sunny Friday afternoon)? We found a way around this, and don’t worry it’s completely safe - every 2 weeks we try to arrange a time on a Friday afternoon where everyone joins a shared Google Meeting. Sometimes we play games, sometimes we just talk, sometimes we go to the virtual Mibo Island. In Mibo, you decide what conversations to join and where to hang out - all with your team. It feels like being together.
Honesty and directness as the cornerstone of our culture
Remote work can be difficult, yet it’s only as difficult as you make it to be - try to stay in touch as much as you can with your team, establish and build relationships with your new colleagues and don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re going through something tough. A company culture that values openness, directness and honesty is a company culture that cares about their employees’ wellbeing. After all, without these three components I think it’s nearly impossible to ensure not only that a team is collaborative and efficient, but also that everyone at any point feels like they can be their absolute true selves.