Julie Chipman: 5 Ways to Cultivate Culture while Onboarding Employees Remotely

Julie Chipman is director of talent development with Embrace Home Loans, Middletown, R.I., where she is unlocking human capital through creation of structures that allow humans to connect and learn in meaningful ways. Prior to joining Embrace Home Loans in 2016, she served as the executive director of champion development at the Young Presidents’ Organization, where she was responsible for recruiting, educating, recognizing and retaining the 10,000+ member volunteers. She can be reached at jChipman@embracehomeloans.com.

Julie Chipman

As companies were forced to transition to a remote workforce earlier this year, human resources teams were challenged to find ways to build their companies’ culture, particularly when onboarding new employees. In the very recent past, culture and values were largely developed through interactions at the office. Cultivating culture in a remote environment isn’t necessarily as easy. For example, when our entire workforce at Embrace Home Loans went remote in April, we faced the challenge of how to help make new employees feel welcome and part of the team. We’ve learned that managers are one of the most effective resources for building company culture. And this holds true not only for mortgage companies, but for most other industries as well.

Here, we present five ways that managers can continue to foster a positive company culture, even when workers are remote.

Utilize Videoconferencing
Engaging with new employees is certainly more of a challenge in remote working environments. One way to overcome this obstacle is to encourage videoconferencing to create a sense of connection. Not everyone is naturally comfortable with videoconferencing though, especially new employees.

It’s important for managers to realize this and build up confidence by having some simple, get-to-know each other conversations between new and existing employees. While getting someone new up to speed is important to business, it’s equally important to have the person feel comfortable with the team and to reach out with any questions. Videoconferencing is great for this as it not only puts faces to names but provides an opportunity to learn more about team member personalities. Starting with light and easy conversations will go a long way in helping someone new ease into their new role and learn the ropes.

Establish a Working Relationship
After some introductory conversations and clear guidance on operations, establishing a working relationship is important. But not everyone is the same when it comes to communication styles, managing challenges and adapting to work-from-home environments. Good managers will understand how to best communicate and motivate employees, especially when it’s someone new to the team. Having a remote workforce makes this challenging as well, but a conversation where both the manager and the new employee answer some questions such as the following should help:

• How would you describe your communication style?
• What mode of communication do you prefer? E-mail, phone or IM?
• How often and for how long do you prefer to check-in with each other?
• Do you have other responsibilities at home that may need to be accommodated?
• What does your daily schedule look like?
• What is the best way for me to confront and/or challenge you?
• How do you want to be recognized, acknowledged for your work?
• What challenges do you expect when working from home?

Make Time for Meaningful Work
It’s natural for new employees to feel like they need to respond immediately to messages and emails. They are the new person and likely will want to show how attentive they are. However, a manager should understand the importance of focusing on work and tasks at hand. Take the time to discuss this with new employees and agree to set boundaries to allow for uninterrupted focus on work. Provide enough time for them to be successful and complete whatever needs to be done. And work with the new employee on setting goals to reach in the coming months. This will vary by company and position, but set 30-, 60- and 90-day goals so they can manage their workload accordingly.

Help Build their Network
To help a new employee begin to settle into the day-to-day operations and feel more comfortable with others in the company, not just their team, managers have to get creative. After all, in the mortgage business, many people in various departments are integral to the success of a company. New employees, such as loan officers, should get to know more internal people in different departments such as human resources, processing and marketing.

Consider asking five employees outside of your department to schedule a 30-minute coffee break with your new employee. Encourage them to welcome the new employee, share what they love about working with the company and task them with finding something they have in common so that the coffee break becomes a conversation about connecting and getting to know people in the company.

This is something we’ve been doing and have found it does wonders to build relationships across Embrace Home Loans. Our new employees really appreciate it when someone outside their team or department reaches out to schedule one-on- one time to really get to know the employee better. They feel valued and will want to add value to a company that is behind them on both a personal and business level.

Create an Onboarding Cohort
How about quickly instilling leadership skills in a new employee? For example, suggest the new employee create an informal group of other recently hired employees. Recommend the cohort meet monthly for an hour or so for the next six months. Have the new employee encourage each member of the group to share challenges and success stories. In that way, each person can become a resource for the others to help navigate the company.

Not only does this form a group of colleagues on a similar footing in the company to assist one another, but it builds the self-confidence of the employee that created the group. It will instill a sense of responsibility and importance and motivate someone new to lead more projects. They may even feel inspired to develop more teams for things like philanthropic events outside of work. After all, great managers create great leaders.

Times have changed and due to the current pandemic, they changed rather quickly. For those of us that continue to recruit and hire, it doesn’t have to be difficult to onboard new employees, even when doing so remotely. It may take a little creativity and out-of-the box thinking, but that’s where good managers can shine. They will find the right ways to motivate and instill company culture and values, whether in an office or a remote setting. And happy and productive employees are well worth the effort!

(Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect policy of the Mortgage Bankers Association, nor do they connote an MBA endorsement of a specific company, product or service. MBA NewsLink welcomes your submissions. Inquiries can be sent to Mike Sorohan, editor, at msorohan@mba.org; or Michael Tucker, editorial manager, at mtucker@mba.org.)