As COVID-19 continues to spread within the U.S., many employers have successfully shifted to operating remotely. However, some tasks are easier to transition than others. When it comes to hiring, onboarding and training new employees, some HR departments are struggling.

Fortunately, there are strategies they can use to move more smoothly to working remotely, while improving the outcomes of these essential HR tasks.

In some cases, the solution may lie in modifying workflows previously organized around paper files and face-to-face contact. In others, the answer may be for employers to use their HR software in ways they simply haven’t before. In short, it often comes down to practicing more thorough communication — internally and externally — and leveraging HR technology more fully.

Successfully Hiring Candidates Remotely

In the last few months, the vast majority of businesspeople have become adept at videoconferencing. The same can be said of most job hunters — many who are already proficient digital natives. Shifting in-person job interviews to virtual ones is a relatively straightforward task.

However, decision-makers may also need to update the way they communicate with one another regarding potential candidates. Instead of popping one’s head in a fellow manager’s office or responding to endless email chains, communication should now take place within the employer’s applicant tracking system (ATS). Most hiring software allows users to not only sort and rate applicants, but share interview notes and impressions right within the candidate’s file.

In other words, requiring that all applicant-related communication be funneled through the company’s ATS software is an easy, foolproof way to keep hiring managers and HR staff on the same page, even when not in the same building.

Shifting to Online Onboarding

Fortunately, many employers already had been moving toward a digital onboarding process prior to COVID-19. With this technology, new hires can access the onboarding self-service portal remotely, not only completing all required forms online but signing them via electronic signature functionality.

As a result, HR can ensure accurate tax reporting and I-9 compliance are in place before a worker’s first day on the job. New hires can also read the employee handbook and enroll in benefits, while — thanks to automated tracking — HR can verify that all paperwork has been completed, orientation documents have been reviewed, and policies have been signed off on.

In addition, employers can infuse the onboarding platform with a sense of the company’s culture — by, say, including a welcome video and FAQs, as well as branding its internal content to feel and sound like the company’s “voice.” By educating and welcoming new hires virtually, employers can help set newcomers up for success before they step onsite.

Conducting Effective Training Online

In the wake of COVID-19, many employers are relying more heavily on their HR software’s learning management systems (LMS) to maximize workforce safety. Not only does online training eliminate the group classroom setting, when training is completed in advance, it ensures new hires — and rehires — are ready to follow the employer’s newest health and safety procedures from day one.

In addition, there is evidence that e-learning is highly effective. Because workers have greater control over how — and how quickly — they learn, they retain more information than in classroom environment. And because it takes less time to cover material individually online than in a live group setting, workers are less likely to lose focus.

However, in order to optimize online training, it pays to follow these guidelines:

Keep It Positive: Remember, except for onboarding materials, this may be the first branded content your new hires will consume. Here is where you establish who you are, motivate your new team members, and set realistic goals and expectations.

Make It Visually Interesting: Roughly two-thirds of us are visual learners — i.e., we need to see information in order to absorb it. Liberal use of meaningful images, graphics, colors, etc., will help trainees grasp information. Visuals are also helpful for second-language learners with limited English reading skills.

Keep Sessions Short and Varied: Breaking material down into brief, focused sessions accelerates learning and keeps workers from becoming overwhelmed. And when you vary the media, such as interspersing text with slides and videos, you keep your learner’s interest high.

Another advantage of using your online learning management system: both HR and frontline managers can use the software’s tracking feature to monitor workers’ progress, ensuring the entire team is up-to-date on training. That’s especially important when health protocols and other aspects of the work environment may be changing quickly.

In summary, while most employers are finding pros and cons to operating remotely, with a little flexibility and a lot of contemporary HR technology, they can achieve more than they thought possible — even when it comes to the very important work of bringing new hires and rehires on board and up to speed.