Create a handbook and integrate AI to onboard remote employees

The pandemic has forced organizations across the globe to shutter the office environment, and take up a remote-first strategy. Through necessity, professionals have adapted to remote working. But the systems they use are still playing catch up.

One area less readily accommodating to the remote environment is the onboarding process. Given that it is the first sustained contact that a new starter has with a company,  a remote-first strategy is dependent on its success. When looking to onboard new employees, the luxuries of first-day meet and greets, in-person hardware setup, and a team lunch are no longer available. From interview to offer-letter and beyond, any new hire’s early journey is critical to their life at the company, their job satisfaction and ultimately their productivity. The remote induction must be a smooth process, and so needs a thorough rethink.

A cultural shift in the company may be necessary. Organizations need to embrace knowledge-sharing and collaboration, by turning to a “handbook first” approach. A few simple steps can lead them there. Companies also need to analyze their workflow. Are the right systems in place to ensure the seamless flow of both tacit and explicit knowledge?

Perhaps most importantly, artificial intelligence can help transform a clunky old onboarding process into a sophisticated, smooth journey. Naturally the best AI models to use will depend on the business, and department in question. However, with a few pointers business leaders can carve out a path to AI integration.

Let’s dive into the specifics that can transform the remote onboarding process, for the benefit of both the company and the new starter in question.

How to handbook

This is arguably the most important piece of the puzzle when it comes to ensuring newcomers are able to access the right information at the right time; it’s also the most difficult to get right. It is for workers at all levels of an organization to think about how knowledge is shared between teams, and the processes which surround that interchange of ideas.

What is most important is that everyone in an organization prioritizes documentation; exactly how they do it is secondary. You can spin up plenty of free and paid softwares to start creating a handbook. Anything cloud based is suitable, with more sophisticated paid options recommended to keep things easily searchable with documentation sorted into well defined hierarchies, rather than losing those nuggets of information in a sea of folders.

However, this systemic challenge is best addressed from top down. The process should include some checks and balances, with permissioning crucial for parts of the handbook which should remain static, like policies and SLPs. Other parts of the documentation should be kept flexible, like processes and team level knowledge. The majority of the handbook must be democratized as far as possible.

Gitlab, an all-remote company, first coined the term “handbook-first.” The DevOps software provider acts as a great example of a company that lives and breathes through documenting and codifying internal knowledge. Everyone within the organization buys into the mantra of documenting what they know, with subject matter experts assigned to manage knowledge base content. Keeping company documentation up to date is a collaborative task, considered paramount to the company’s livelihood. Softwares give a helping hand, nudging contributors to keep information up to date.

Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab, says that their documentation strategy, twinned with a cooperative approach, helps to build trust with new starters. “When everything a new hire needs to know is written down, there’s no ambiguity or wondering if something is missing. We couple documentation with an Onboarding Buddy – a partner who is responsible for directing key stakeholder conversations and ensuring that acclimation goes well.”

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