C+S April 2022 Vol. 8 Issue 4 (web)

Onboarding During COVID-19 Pandemic By Austin Duehr, PE, ENV SP

After working through the COVID-19 pandemic for more than two years, every company should be an expert by now, right? Well, maybe. It can be a juggling act keeping employees safe while still hiring staff and remaining profitable. A quick look back: The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) determined when the pandemic started, the U.S. was in its highest economic trajectory in a decade. As the economy sputtered, there was concern in our industry. Engineering firms understand lulls in workloads, but this was different. Supply chains were disrupted, prices of materials rose, and some employees were laid off, or refused to work. Companies were wondering, how do we get back to normal? Pre-Pandemic Hiring: Prior to the pandemic, companies had pro - cesses for acquiring new talent. Recruiters went to college career fairs or institutions that provided broad hiring pools. Prospects were invited to the office and interviewed in person. Employers had face-to-face interactions that allowed them to read body language and better understand the potential employee’s demeanor. Candi - dates could get an office tour and get a glimpse of their future work environment, colleagues, and amenities. They could gauge their commute and see if it was something they wanted to tackle five days a week. According to Inc. Magazine , 91 percent of employees surveyed said commute time is important to having a good work- day. The first commute to the office lets candidates survey the work area for attractions, hobbies, and areas of interest, especially for young professionals. In-person interviews did mean more cost in overhead like travel and schedule coordination. Pre-Pandemic Onboarding and Training: Once hired, new employ - ees participated in onboarding and training. According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), before February 2020, only 6 percent of the employees worked from home and about 75 per - cent had never worked outside the office. Onboarding was in person and new employees were engaged and connected with colleagues. They developed relationships, had in-depth communication, and built trust within their new teams. New hires could ask managers, “What do I need to know on Day One?” They could see work examples in real time and have over-the-shoulder assistance. Equipment was available, reliable, and typically provided by the firm. Employees could visit job sites and receive field training to see designs first-hand and be exposed to real world scenarios. New hires could attend educational programs and seminars at various facilities. These in-person trainings allowed for instant feedback and information. They could collaborate with oth- er professionals and get a deeper understanding of the material. They could also develop communication skills beneficial for networking and

working with clients. Like the interview process, outside training could add up and be costly. Switch to the Pandemic At the start of the pandemic, travel bans were initiated, and offices shut down over public safety concerns and fears of transmitting/contract- ing COVID 19. Firms had never experienced anything like this. The question arose: “How do we hire, onboard, and train our new staff in an effective manner?” Pandemic Hiring: The pandemic shifted most communications to virtual modules, so “connecting” with potential employees became problematic. NCCI reports more than one third of U.S. employees worked from home in May 2020 due to the pandemic. Firms switched from career fairs and in-person interviews to cold calling candidates and researching online profiles. This required polished email cor - respondence and heightened etiquette to make firms look attractive to potential employees. Interviews switched to phone calls or virtual meetings over skype, Teams, or Zoom. Firms had to be respectful if a candidate didn’t want to meet in person. Candidates also had a new worry: “Do I align with their COVID 19 policy?” The switch to virtual had candidates asking new questions during interviews: How often do I get to work from home? What equipment will be provided? Am I expected to work different hours? How much privacy am I required to have at home? Will I ever need to commute to the office? According to Forbes , 40 percent of people surveyed said they’d rather clean their toilets than commute to their pre-pandemic workplace. For some candidates, depending on the mode of communication, making a first impression during interviews could be harder behind a computer screen. Not hearing back soon enough from hiring managers was also more stressful with the everyday weight of the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in November 2021 that the pandemic caused at least 40 percent of adults in the United States to struggle with anxiety, depression, trauma, and substance use.



april 2022

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