44 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
October 2021 | ISE Magazine 45
The COVID-19 pandemic upended nearly every
aspect of business operations for multiple industries,
from the office to the shop floor. One area heavily
impacted was in hiring new employees and getting
them quickly up to speed, a demanding task under
normal circumstances made even more difficult by
remote workplace requirements.
The hardships companies face in orientation and training
while practicing social distancing measures and working re-
motely has been felt both by employers and their recruits.
“We were able to pivot pretty well to remote work when the
pandemic hit, but the one area that’s still been a struggle is with
onboarding,” Jason Hollan, a design engineering manager at
Lockheed Martin, told ISE. “We’ve worked on developing new
engineer onboarding materials, reference sheets and a rotation
schedule for people to come into the office to help new hires,
but it’s still the one gap that I think will be tough to bridge.
The need to create social distance has made it more difficult
for human resource professionals to maintain the usual high
level of training for new hires.
The challenge is building those personal relationships, those
workplace relationships that develop a connection and rapport
with your co-workers,” Julie Schweber, senior HR knowl-
edge adviser at the Society for Human Resource Management
(SHRM) told Fortune. “Its denitely more difficult.
ISE’s onboarding experience
For many new employees, the onboarding experience included
both on-site and online training. Jennylynn Johnson, an IISE
member who earned her bachelors degree in industrial and sys-
tems engineering from Virginia Tech in May 2021, began work
as a Lean engineer with GE Renewable Energy at LM Wind
Power in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Johnson applied for her
position in July 2020 after serving previous internships with GE
and was interviewed remotely.
“In my summer 2020 internship with GE Renewable En-
ergy, I was in person at their Pensacola, Florida, site working as
a manufacturing engineer supporting the new product intro-
duction for a new machine head,” Johnson told ISE.Working
in person was necessary for my role and extremely beneficial to
building my knowledge of the product and helped me fully un-
derstand the need for a strong communication and relationship
between manufacturing, engi-
neering and sourcing teams to
build a product.
After graduating, she joined
GE and relocated to Grand
Forks for her first of three
eight-month rotations with the
company’s Operations Man-
agement Leadership Program.
“I had an in-person orien-
tation at Grand Forks with
five other people. There were
classes, trainings, activities, and
tours incorporated into the ori-
entation,” Johnson said. “On
top of in-person orientation,
there were online trainings I
completed through GE Learn-
ing, a platform used to educate
employees on various topics. I also spent time on the manufac-
turing floor with the supervisors and those on the Lean Team,
the team I am on, to learn and understand the processes and
product.”
Johnson said that while training in-person, all COVID-19
safety protocols remained in place, including facemasks, social
distancing, hand sanitizers and temperature checks.
HR weighs in
Human resource professionals say the pandemics obstacles re-
quired them to develop new procedures to get fresh employees
into the workow. For businesses still engaged in remote or
hybrid workplaces, the first hurdle was in the interview and
hiring process.
“Weve been interviewing candidates virtually since March
2020,” Lori Purdom, a director of human resources for a non-
profit technical society, told ISE. “New hires go into the build-
ing on their first day to meet with IT – they get their laptop
and applicable training so they understand how they will work
remotely, at least for now. Depending on the position, some
training is done in the building with the new hire’s manager.
But for the most part, it’s all been done virtually. ... Managers
meet virtually with their teams on a regular basis. So new staff
Companies adapt onboarding
to workplace changes
Training, orientation for new hires often conducted remotely during pandemic
By Keith Albertson
T
IISE member and Virginia
Tech graduate Jennylynn
Johnson began work this
year as a Lean engineer with
GE Renewable Energy at LM
Wind Power in Grand Forks,
North Dakota.
46 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
Companies adapt onboarding to workplace changes
are regularly interacting with their co-workers in that way.
Purdom said her company follows a comprehensive training
schedule for all new hires that includes training related to com-
puters, safety, compliance, industry-related information and
specific on-the-job instructions.
Though workers in many businesses have been returning to
the ofce or company site throughout 2021, the late summer
surge in COVID-19 cases forced rethinking by some. Many
kept or reinstated safety policies such as masks, hand sanitizer
and social distancing. Meanwhile, HR directors found them-
selves trying to keep remote workers connected, particularly
those doing so long term.
“Prior to the pandemic, most staff were not equipped to work
remotely,” Purdom said. “Since we have all become remote
workers over the past months, and people have proven they can
do their jobs effectively, we imagine much of our staff will have
some kind of remote work agreement in place even when the
pandemic is over.
Niki Jorgensen is director, service operations with Insperity
and specializes in employee onboarding, human capital man-
agement and HR infrastructure. She wrote for the Forbes Hu-
man Resource Council on the need for companies to continue
to follow safety protocols while taking liability precautions.
As business leaders transition to a hybrid work model and
handle the ongoing responsibilities of operating a business, they
should be vigilant about avoiding employment-related liabili-
ties that can derail their efforts,” she wrote. “With a focus on
employment legislation, updated employee handbooks, payroll
compliance and workplace safety, employers are better posi-
tioned to manage risk, avoid pitfalls and move their companies
forward to achieve greater success.
Tracy Brower, a sociologist, author and Forbes contributor,
stressed the need for human connections with co-workers, su-
pervisors and mentors to make the process smoother.
Overall, getting people connected is what will help them
get a jump-start on success, and youll need to be intentional
in providing guidance and venues for those connections,” she
wrote. “Connect people with others who are new. Help em-
ployees find other new employees with whom they can ex-
change stories and develop a community. When companies
do this well, people say their relationships with their ‘incom-
ing class’ or ‘cohort’ last for the long term because they form a
unique bond based on coming onboard together.
Jessica Aguilar, vice president and head of talent acquisition
for Zurich North America, urges companies to view virtual
onboarding as part of an ongoing strategy, not merely a work-
around during the pandemic. To help new employees make
human connections remotely, Aguilar says Zurich assigns two
colleagues to serve as a “New Joiner Buddy” for social interac-
tion and a “Welcome Colleague” to serve as a mentor.
“Remember, remote workers dont have a desk to lean over
and quietly ask an awkward (to them) question,” she wrote on
zurichna.com. “Buddies arent there to train anybody, but rather,
to be a ‘safe-space person’ they can go to, where no question is
too trivial.
Aguilar also urges employers to prioritize outfitting new hires
with the information technology and equipment needs and ef-
fectively communicate the company’s culture and policies.
Even as many companies returned to working in person with
safety measures, it became clear that remote work was likely
to remain in play to some degree. Data from Software Advice
showed that of the 82% of office workers who transitioned to
remote work during the early peak of the pandemic, only about
half had a timeline for returning to the workplace as of August
2021. The ability to avoid long commutes and similar inconve-
niences has led many workers to seek such flexibility.
“Remote work turned out to be much more effective than
a lot of management believed it would and it was very much
enjoyed by the staff,” Hollan said. “Not having everyone on-
site helps with parking, traffic, conference room availability and
overall crowdedness. Long term, we plan on utilizing a mix of
on-site and virtual.
Keith Albertson is managing editor of ISE magazine. Contact him at
kalbertson@iise.org.
Onboarding tips for employers
Reach out to new hires before their start date
Make their first day memorable
Keep their schedule tightly structured (at least to start)
Form a cross-departmental onboarding team
Spread out the paperwork
Get the whole company involved
Set expectations early and often
Allow new hires to give their own feedback
Communicate the culture early and often
Don’t expect new hires to hit the ground running
Source: softwareadvice.com
“Remote work turned out to be much more
effective than a lot of management believed it
would. … Long term, we plan on utilizing a
mix of on-site and virtual.”
– Jason Hollan, design engineering manager
at Lockheed Martin