Onboarding New Employees Remotely With Purposeful Virtual Interactions

Onboarding new employees remotely is challenging for many organizations due to the absence of physical and in-person interactions.  

As the chief operating officer at Portfolio Creative, a staffing and recruiting agency, Kristen Harris breaks the barrier of non-physical interactions in the remote onboarding process by creating avenues for virtual engagement.  

Kristen Harris is the guest in this episode of the Process Breakdown Podcast. She speaks with the host, Chad Franzen, about establishing impactful virtual engagements in onboarding new employees remotely for efficiency. 

Listen to the audio interview

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Show Notes 

[0:26] Intro     

  • Chad Franzen mentions some of the past guests who have been on the show including David Allen of Getting Things Done and Michael Gerber of the E-Myth.  
  • Chad Franzen introduces SweetProcess, a workflow tool that helps businesses to streamline their operations even in life-or-death situations.     
  • SweetProcess offers a 14-day free trial without a credit card.   

[1:24] Chad Franzen introduces the guest, Kristen Harris.  

[2:00] Kristen talks about what Portfolio Creative does. 

  • Portfolio Creative is a staffing and recruiting agency based in Columbus, Ohio. It connects businesses to creative talents.  

[2:59] What’s involved in Kristen’s day-to-day role as a COO? 

  • Kristen manages the day-to-day internal operations and human resources in the organization. 

[3:55] Kristen explains how COVID-19 has impacted the operations at Portfolio Creative. 

  • Although the organization had some of its team members working remotely before COVID-19, it became fully remote with the start of the pandemic.  
  • The company still has a physical office in Columbus for team members to use when necessary. 

[6:30] What are the challenges of onboarding new employees remotely?  

  • Onboarding new employees remotely is one of the biggest challenges for many organizations.
  • Kristen advises businesses to prioritize communication in onboarding new employees remotely. 
  • In the absence of in-person physical interactions during onboarding, you need to be deliberate in creating virtual interactions.  
  • Ask other employees to join in, welcome the new staff, and make them feel at home. 

[9:16] Kristen points out the difference between physical and online interactions during employee onboarding.  

  • Although having established employees interact with their new colleagues virtually during the onboarding process helps, it’s not the same as physical interaction.  
  • The first day and first week can make or break your relationship with new employees—make them count.

[10:19] What’s the employee onboarding process at Portfolio Creative? 

  • The organization has a 90-day onboarding process for new employees.  
  • New employees may not become fully competent in the 90 days, but they get to learn the important things that they need to be efficient in their jobs.  

[13:27] Kristen talks about how the team at Portfolio Creatives helps its new employees to learn new software. 

  • The organization uses third-party software with effective learning and training, so it’s easier for new employees to learn how to use them. 
  • As a small business, the organization leverages existing services to save costs of creating things from scratch. 

[15:35] How can people find out more about Portfolio Creative? 

[16:14] Kristen shares insights into how organizations can be more efficient with onboarding new employees remotely.  

  • Creating an effective plan for the first few weeks has a huge impact on the employees.  
  • Engage new employees on what their roles are, who they’ll be working with, and other aspects of their jobs.  

[17:26] Outro

About Kristen Harris 

Kristen Harris of Portfolio Creative

Kristen Harris is the chief operating officer at Portfolio Creative. With more than thirteen years of experience as a designer, art director, and creative manager, she’s passionate about creative people. 

A certified staffing professional with the American Staffing Association (ASA), she shows her support for the creative community in working with various organizations. She also serves on the ASA National Board of Directors.  

Transcript of the Interview

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Process Breakdown Podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks, and giving your employees all the information they need to be successful at their jobs. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Chad Franzen: Chad Franzen here, co-host of the Process Breakdown Podcast. Where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks, and giving your staff everything they need to be successful at their job. Past guests include David Allen of Getting Things Done, and Michael Gerber of E Myth, and many more. This episode is brought to you by SweetProcess. Have you had team members ask you the same questions over and over again and this is the 10th time you spent explaining it? There’s a better way and a solution.

Chad Franzen: SweetProcess is a software that makes it drop dead easy, to train and onboard new staff and save time with existing staff. Not only to universities, banks, hospitals, and software companies use them, but first, our government agencies use them in life or death situations just to run their operations. Use SweetProcess to document all the repetitive tasks that eat up your precious time so you can focus on growing your team and empowering them to do their best work. Sign up for a 14 date free trial, no credit card required.

Chad Franzen: Go to sweetprocess.com, sweet like candy, S-W-E-E-T process.com. Kristen Harris is the COO and co-founder of Portfolio Creative, a staffing and recruiting firm that helps clients find, hire and manage top marketing and creative talent. With years of professional design, marketing and leadership experience, Kristen and her partner, Catherine Lang-Cline, have leveraged their creative backgrounds and practical business experience to build an award-winning, women-owned business that connects creative talent with companies that need their talents and skills. Kristen, thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?

Kristen Harris: I’m great. Thank you.

Chad Franzen: So tell me a little bit more about Portfolio Creative.

Kristen Harris: Yeah, so we’re creative people at heart. My business partner and I had careers in marketing and design roles. And at some point into those careers just realized there was not a great way for companies and creative talent to connect with each other, frankly. Like we were either trying to hire people or be hired or both. And it was just a very grassroots at best kind of process. And so, we decided to create a business that would help solve that challenge.

Kristen Harris: And at some point found out that it was staffing and recruiting is what we were building, but it’s always been about the creative people. It’s always come from the point of connecting creative people into great careers, and connecting clients with great talent, that’s always our passion.

Chad Franzen: So you’re very involved in the hiring and joining these two people together. What is involved in your day to day role then as COO?

Kristen Harris: In my day to day role, so yes, our company is very much involved in the hiring, putting those two sides it’s matchmaking really, it’s professional matchmaking. And so my role is COO, I’m running more of the day to day internal operations for our business. So my partner and I often refer to ourselves as the inside voice and the outside voice. I think that’s the perfect explanation. So she focuses much more on the outside world, marketing and business development and promotional kind of things. And I focus much more on the internal managing our day to day processes and operations, HR. I make a good spreadsheet, and all that kind of thing.

Chad Franzen: How have you guys had to adjust business over the last few years because of COVID and the way COVID has changed the way we all work?

Kristen Harris: Yeah, it’s been really interesting. So, we’re a relatively small company and even before, I felt it’s like the before times and the after times. In the before times, we had an office space, and we’re located in Columbus, most of us were here. But we did already have a couple of employees that were in other cities. They were people that had worked with us and for life reasons were moving and we wanted to keep them as part of our team. So we already had some experience working with people remotely which was a great benefit when COVID hit. So we really quickly moved to working fully remotely.

Kristen Harris: And we still had our office space for a while, but at some point we decided to scale down. So I called our home base, but we still have a location where people can go and we keep some important files and things there. So we have a home based office, but most of our team is working remotely even if they are in Columbus. And then that’s our internal team. And then from the point of view of the people that we have placed with our clients, our talent that are working for us with our clients. Before COVID, I think creatives have always been into this idea of working remotely and flexibly and freelancing and all of these things.

Kristen Harris: And our clients were never going to go for it, it just was not going to happen. We work with a lot of larger corporations and companies like that. And they are like, no, we really would like to see you five days a week being in our office. They were forced to send everyone home which included contractors and people placed through staffing firms and so on. And those people efficiently all of this time remotely. And so, a lot of them still are, and now we’re seeing a lot of the new roles that are being opened with our clients are either remote or hybrid or some type of flexibility.

Kristen Harris: Candidates are expecting some flexibility I think, they feel like they’ve proven themselves. But companies are really seeing like, oh, yeah, this could work. They were forced to do it, but now there’s parts of it they do like.

Chad Franzen: Sure. So it’s one thing to have employees who already work there who are already familiar with the system and how everything goes, to start working remotely. That’s got some challenges in terms of switching. But when you hire somebody who expects to work remotely, what are some challenges associated with onboarding in a remote environment?

Kristen Harris: Yeah, I think that has been the biggest stumbling point that we have seen with our clients trying to make this change. Because you’re right, initially it was just sending people home that already were working there and were embedded and understood their job and knew what they are supposed to do every day. And they armed them with a laptop and sent them home. And that’s who it was for a while, was just the people they already had, right? No one was really hiring or adding people to their team. But after a while it was like, oh, okay, we need to start hiring.

Kristen Harris: And especially on the marketing side, some companies really ramped up their marketing. They started to hire a lot, especially more digital people, e-commerce, that kind of thing. And so, that was exactly what you said was kind of the bump people with companies were running into is this like, okay, I could give my personally I had a laptop, but they already knew what they were doing. I have no idea how to hire or integrate a new person into my team. So I mean, there’s a lot of stumbling bucks that we see.

Kristen Harris: I think the biggest thing that we tell people is just the communication, like sending someone some equipment is not onboarding them. And unfortunately, we’ve seen that. Not all with our clients, thank goodness. But people are just like, well, I got a box with a computer but I haven’t heard anything else. And so, really I feel like over communicating, confirming their start date, and then double confirming it and extra confirming it one more time. Putting it on everyone’s calendar on the team so everyone knows that person is starting and can jump on the video call to welcome them.

Kristen Harris: Because you don’t have all of the just casual interaction you would have when someone starts in a new job in an office. You start a new job, you show up at the office on your first day wherever they told you you’d be there. And someone says, "Great, come on in, here’s your desk, here’s the person you’re sitting next to. This person will show you where the [inaudible 00:08:42] is or whatever. And everyone just says, "Hi, welcome." Like you have to purposefully tell everyone, dial in at 9:15 to welcome Chad to the team.

Kristen Harris: And so I think it just has to be so much more purposeful and planned out, because all of the little natural interactions that would have happened just don’t unless you make them happen.

Chad Franzen: Sure. Have you found that to be beneficial or can that replicate the welcome here’s your desk and introducing everybody around the office?

Kristen Harris: It’s not the same, but it’s better than not doing any of those things.

Chad Franzen: Sure.

Kristen Harris: Right? So I think that having a plan for them for their first day and their first week, I just think that honestly, the first day and the first week, or when you either make or break that relationship with that person, right? They are going home their first day like, oh my gosh, I love my new job. Even going home means like they’re walking upstairs, or their first week somebody asks them, "How is your new job?" "I love it." Or they start to really question the decision that they’ve made. And you don’t want them questioning whether they should have taken this job on their first week. So I think that it will not be the same, but it can be as good, if that makes sense.

Chad Franzen: Sure. So tell me about kind of your process for the first day, first week, maybe the first 90 days even.

Kristen Harris: Yeah. So for our internal team and we really recommend our clients do a lot of this too, but obviously it has fit within their process. We build out a 90 day onboarding for our new people and it’s broken into 30, 60, 90 day increments. So that first 30 days is really pretty structured. Like we know these are the systems you have to learn. These are the steps you’ll have to learn to do your job. It’s pretty concrete. And the first week is really structured. You’re going to meet with these people on this day. And then we have set meetings on our team, you’re invited to all of those.

Kristen Harris: As the 60 day and then 90 day increments come along, it gets a little looser because we have to build upon what they already know. So in those first 30 days, you’re learning your softwares and all of the things you need to know, the next 30 days is probably building on those skills and learning more things specific to the role and about the company. And then that third 30 days, the 60 to 90 time period, I feel like a lot of that is like you’re just getting good at the stuff you learned in the first 60 days. So you’ve learned different processes and steps and parts of your job.

Kristen Harris: And some things will be easy and have come to that person naturally, and some things they’ll really have to work on. So in that 90 day, not 90 days or 30 days I guess, it’s like just doing more reps, right? They’re just building experience of doing the steps they’ve done. But like for our team, we really think someone should be fully trained in 90 days. That doesn’t mean like they are fully 100% at the superstar level of their role yet. Like we know people need time to build their skills and get better and better and faster and more confident in some of the things they’re doing.

Kristen Harris: But we feel like we owe it to them in those first 90 days to give them everything they need to be successful. So then they can grow and build on it. If we haven’t given them all of that in the first 90 days, it’s hard to expect them to be successful. We owe it to them. Down the road, maybe they owe it to us to tell us what they need, but in the beginning, we owe it to them to tell them what they need because they don’t know. They’re just showing up virtually mostly, in this new role that they have accepted but they don’t know all the nuance of it, right? We’re the ones who know what it takes to be successful.

Chad Franzen: Sure. I have trained never virtually, but I have trained new employees on how on new software or new something, like new POS systems, things like that. But it’s always been in person, and even that takes a little bit, that’s kind of a challenge. Everybody can learn it, but you’re going in learning a new thing and that’s always kind of a new thing that you’re learning. What are some of the ways that you’ve let employees or help employees learn new software that you know they’ll learn, but it’s still a learning process?

Kristen Harris: Yeah. And this may be different for different companies, but in our situation, all the softwares we use are third party. We don’t have any software we’ve built ourselves. But we use an industry specific software called Bullhorn, we use Google Suite, all the Google tools and a lot of LinkedIn. So, all of those are big companies that have lots of training already. They have made all kinds of training modules and learning courses and different kinds of things that you can tap into. So, I would say some years ago, we tried to put together a lot of our own step by step process guides. And then we realized all of this already exists.

Kristen Harris: The company that made the software already has built this. So we really tap into what already exists, what the company has already created. Sometimes there are good third party training courses. Like LinkedIn is an example, maybe not made by LinkedIn, but made by someone on how to really leverage LinkedIn. So we might tap into some of those, but for software we don’t create our own training courses and videos and things because a lot of that exists. So we have people start with that because it’s like here’s just a basic. Watch these videos and usually it’s kind of interactive. You’re clicking through and doing whatever the person is showing you.

Kristen Harris: And then, you’ll have a base idea of like how the software works. And then we have them start working with someone on our team so they can see maybe how we use it or where we put certain things or whatever. But I think that a lot of it is like what can we tap into that’s already out there? Especially when you’re a smaller company, if you’re a large company maybe you have a whole training department and you want to create your own things. But when you’re a small company, there’s so much out there that you can just tap into that exists.

Chad Franzen: Sure. I have one more question for you but first, how can people find out more about Portfolio Creative?

Kristen Harris: Well, we’re very easily found online. So our website is portfoliocreative.com. We have a blog, we have a podcast too, it’s called Illumination Bureau and it’s my partner and I talking about all sorts of things related to creative hiring, sometimes some small business ownership type topics. We’re pretty active on LinkedIn as well. So we’re just we’re Portfolio Creative everywhere pretty much.

Chad Franzen: Okay, great. Last question for you. This whole onboarding thing remotely is probably something that everybody is dealing with, maybe a lot of people are struggling with. What would you say is like the first step to getting that process a little bit more under control?

Kristen Harris: I think sitting down and creating a plan for your new person, just creating a plan for the first couple weeks can have so much impact. I mean, we have seen things fall apart, we’ve heard lots of horror stories from people coming to us about just like those first couple weeks going poorly. And you put so much effort into finding this person that you think is going to be perfect, don’t lose them the first two weeks. Like if you can just take the time to plan out that first increment of time, what they’ll be working on, who they’ll meet with, what they need to know, who they need to sit and learn from.

Kristen Harris: Whether it’s screen sharing or however they’re going to learn, that can have so much impact on that person being super engaged with you know, confirming their choice to have come work for you, getting them up to speed. Because you probably hired them because you really need them be doing some work like right now yesterday. So getting them up to speed more quickly, just all the things you want can be set off on the right foot with just planning for that first couple of weeks.

Chad Franzen: Sure. Hey Kristen, it’s been great talking to you. I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts and insights. Thank you so much.

Kristen Harris: Thank you.

Chad Franzen: [inaudible 00:17:33] everybody.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the Process Breakdown Podcast. Before you go quick question, do you want a tool that makes it easy to document processes, procedures, and/or policies for your company so that your employees have all the information they need to be successful at their job? If yes, sign up for a free 14 day trial of SweetProcess. No credit card is required to sign up, go to sweetprocess.com, sweet like candy and process like process.com. Go now to sweetprocess.com and sign up for your risk free 14 day trial.

Owen: Hi, this is Owen, the CEO and co-founder here of SweetProcess. If you’ve enjoyed listening to this podcast interview, actually, you know what I want you to do? Go ahead and leave us a five star review on iTunes. That way we get more people aware of the good stuff that you get here on this podcast. Again, go on to iTunes and leave us a five star review. Looking forward to reading your review. Have a good day.

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