The Art of Virtual Onboarding in the Insurance market.

Hiring and onboarding a new employee is an important piece of the recruitment process for any insurance company. A new hire is never more vulnerable or dependent on the leadership team in a company than when they first arrive. A traditional part of the welcoming committee might involve a series of one on one meetings, casual conversations and more formal structured learning with a series of key executives and cross functional stakeholders in the business. With the recent lockdown measures imposed resulting in the majority of financial services firms opting to set up remotely, this presented a new complication. How to deal with newly appointed hires whose first weeks on the job would be spent in their kitchens and bedrooms and not in the boardroom?

In light of these circumstances, one of the trends to emerge in the Insurance industry in recent weeks has been the adoption of virtual interviewing, hiring and onboarding. I’d previously encountered video interviewing and virtual hiring – mostly within the IT/Project Management sectors where the appointed candidates were based overseas and could commence working independently on specific projects in remote locations. What would have seemed unorthodox and impractical for the majority of insurance firms just four months ago is now an accepted reality that several have had to adjust to. Many clients have been utilising technology to interview staff for some time but in recent weeks have scaled this up to hire and onboard these staff too, becoming as adept with Zoom, WebEx and video conferencing calls as they have been with Relay and Outlook. With several insurance clients having introduced contingency business continuity plans, recognising the need to have key staff in key positions, they have been busily interviewing and hiring through this medium the people they want to take them to through this pandemic and onto the next level.

One such client hired a new staff member in the days leading up to the lockdown and subsequently found himself onboarding this new member of the team virtually over Zoom. He readily admits that it hasn’t been without its challenges and he believes there is no substitute for learning on the job “in the office”. Part of the onboarding required that he (and others) changed their approach to training and implement a more disciplined training programme. Ultimately he feels the success of virtual onboarding comes down to three things:

  1. Structure – having a fully laid out integration plan is important. This can’t be a “winged approach” or implemented haphazardly. Having the new hires first week/month mapped out before commencement is an imperative as is having regular engagement with specific time slots on a daily basis dedicated to that employee.
  2. Macro view – mapping out for new hires the impact their job will have on the business and imparting what their “value proposition” is to the company. Essentially how will their contribution make or save money for the firm.
  3. Accountability – ensuring that the new hire is fully cognisant of the importance of maintaining productivity, hitting key performance targets in the absence of any physical management and reinforcing the values and culture of the company.

Another client having recently interviewed and appointed a relatively junior hire was similarly faced with the challenge of onboarding them virtually. Ordinarily they could implement their detailed training plan over a stretched period, relying on face to face training being delivered on a variety of industry relevant topics with a number of in-house subject matter experts on site. This traditionally posed challenges such as the constraints of getting meeting rooms available for training purposes and ensuring that a cross functional presence was in attendance for these sessions. A surprising benefit for this firm within the past weeks has been the relative availability of their senior staff and some minor technical issues aside has meant training and onboarding has been seamlessly introduced in a virtual manner.

The success of virtual onboarding is very much dependent on the trainer being alert to any gaps in knowledge, conducting frequent checkpoints with the trainee to test for understanding and relying on the trainee to be sufficiently self-confident to pick up the phone or arrange a call with the hiring manager or trainer to ask questions. Appointing a “buddy” to provide a daily touchpoint for the new hire has also been well received and has taken some of the pressure off senior management in respect of dealing with day to day queries.

This client believes that there are three fundamentals to the success of virtual onboarding:

  1. A clear plan with clear ownership amongst various stakeholders, ensuring they’re engaged and supportive and spreading the learning where expertise lies.
  2. Taking a staggered approach to virtual learning, not overloading the new hire with too much too soon, instead giving them ample time for reflection, informal learning and self-review.
  3. Building clear timelines and checkpoints into the training plan, scheduling them out accordingly.

Speaking with several candidates who’ve attended virtual interviews and have been onboarded in this manner in recent weeks, the overall feedback has been resoundingly positive. Technology once considered clunky and awkward has been adopted seamlessly and many candidates expect video interviewing and virtual onboarding to be the main medium of choice in the immediate future. Given that remote working accessibility means an employee could potentially be located anywhere in Ireland, this makes perfect sense. What does this mean for the Insurance firm? Well for one, it means that the days of trying to find a meeting room for an interview scheduled at 10am are potentially over. The logistical nightmare of ensuring that three or four hiring/HR managers are all available at the same location on any given day is no longer an issue. And candidates are less likely to turn up late for interview because of commuting/parking problems.

One of the potential downsides of this new virtual relationship is that new hires may feel physically and emotionally more distant from the mothership and consequently forming non-professional relationships with their colleagues may be strained. The water cooler exchanges and friendly banter over a coffee, established pillars of office working life are potentially over. Once onboarding and induction have been completed, it’s imperative that there are frequent checkpoints to test for competence, compliance and to ensure that morale and enthusiasm for the task remain high. If an employee’s interest levels wane in the office, it can be addressed on site. This is much harder to gauge if your only contact with that employee has been over the phone or the web.

Whilst it’s still early days, I fully expect that virtual training and onboarding will become an established induction practice right through the Insurance sector and over time will become the norm. We may yet arrive at a point where the idea of conducting a face to face interview will seem archaic and outdated but much will depend on how successfully insurance firms implement the virtual recruitment process.

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