How To Bring New Hires Up To Speed At A Social Distance

Johns Hopkins FCU relates the successes and pitfalls of remote onboarding during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Johns Hopkins FCU was hiring two back-office employees when COVID-19 caused the credit union to close its headquarters for a month.
  • Knowing it still needed to bring in talent, the credit union pivoted its onboarding process to accommodate remote work.

CU QUICK FACTS

Johns Hopkins FCU
Data as of 03.31.20

HQ: Baltimore, MD
ASSETS: $490.2M
MEMBERS: 43,433
BRANCHES: 4
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 5.0%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 9.1%
ROA: 1.02%

In early 2020, Johns Hopkins Federal Credit Union ($490.2M, Baltimore, MD) opened a 29,000-square-foot headquarters building overlooking Baltimore’s inner harbor. The new facility allowed the growing institution to consolidate two corporate offices into one building located in a quickly developing area.

Unfortunately, the arrival of the coronavirus made settling into the new facility difficult. Only a few credit union employees were able to move into the space before most of the back-office staff started working from home. The space is mostly empty for the time being, but employees will soon start to trickle back into the new office and acclimate to a new way of doing business surrounded by familiar faces — and two new ones.

Johns Hopkins had planned to hire several positions in 2020, and it started the year strong. In late February, CFO Steve Hudson made an offer to two candidates, one in accounting and one in financial reporting. The new back-office team members were set to start on March 23 and 30, respectively, but the coronavirus pandemic shuttered those plans. 

“We were still hiring these employees,” Hudson says. “But we didn’t know how to onboard them without bringing them into the office, which we weren’t willing to do.”

Reporting For Duty, Remotely

John Hopkins FCU typically completes its onboarding process in person, Hudson says, starting the day a new hire walks into the credit union’s headquarters. 

Steve Hudson, CFO, Johns Hopkins FCU

The human resources department is up first with a briefing on credit union history, policies, and benefits. This briefing requires several hours, and, upon completion, the department releases the new hire to their direct manager. Then, it’s time for logistical and workplace training, which includes running through a basic IT overview of hardware and software, accessing the employee’s email account, showing them how to use their badge to enter the building, and securing a parking pass.

During those first weeks and months, new hires participate in a substantial amount of one-on-one training. They get face time to ask their manager questions, receive specialized training on the systems they’ll use for their job, and socialize with fellow team members. 

The coronavirus shutdown disrupted that process for the two new hires of 2020. Before their first day, each one traveled to the new office to pick up a laptop and meet with their managers, who welcomed them and introduced the credit union in a socially distanced capacity.

“Then, we sent them home,” Hudson says. 

As it became clear remote work would be a monthslong reality, the credit union purchased Zoom video conferencing software and provided accounts to managers so they could connect with their employees. For the new hires, Zoom was a lifesaver.

HR welcomed the new hires via Zoom on their first official day. They also sent the necessary paperwork for the new hires to sign remotely via DocuSign. Managers scheduled Zoom meetings with new hires, sometimes multiple meetings per day, to talk through job responsibilities, tasks, and questions or to simply check in and see how the new employees were holding up. 

“For us, that replaced the one-on-one conversations they might otherwise have had at their desks,” Hudson says. “There was still that high level of interaction, especially in the first few weeks when someone needs time and attention to come up to speed.”

We don’t want to lose a good employee because we failed to invest in them.

Steve Hudson, CFO, Johns Hopkins FCU

Johns Hopkins FCU has also used video conferencing to provide specialized training. In the past, a designated subject matter expert from the credit union would offer informal, in-person courses on how to do things like navigate the core system or payables module. Although the credit union has had to create new training presentations, video conferencing otherwise has allowed managers to approximate in-person training. 

Of course, what even the best video system can’t replace is the social aspect rolled into onboarding. 

Johns Hopkins FCU’s new hires went out on a limb to start a new job, Hudson says. The fact it happened weeks before a pandemic created more uncertainty. That’s why he and his team have been intentional about introducing the new hires to other staff members and include them in departmental culture building across the credit union.

“It’s important for them to build relationships with those outside their department,” Hudson says. “Right now, they’re not really getting that.”

The new hires are still only weeks into their employment with the credit union and are handling the unusual circumstances well, Hudson says. The credit union is still learning how it can improve the virtual onboarding process, especially if remote work continues. 

Recently, Johns Hopkins FCU has allowed employees with prior approval to return to the office to complete specific tasks. It also permits new hires to work from the office, which is set up to meet social distancing guidelines, one day per week. Doing so allows them to meet new co-workers and become more comfortable with the credit union. 

Overall, according to Hudson, communication during those first few remote weeks are the most important. The credit union’s new hires were qualified for their new roles, but there’s more to starting a new job than technical capabilities. And even in a pandemic, Hudson and the team at Johns Hopkins FCU worked to ensure it was meeting the needs of new hires.

“There’s a lot of learning to absorb and connections to make,” Hudson says. “You can’t leave a new employee twisting in the wind. You don’t want them to start a new job and immediately feel disconnected or struggle with something and not know who to ask. We don’t want to lose a good employee because we failed to invest in them.”

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