June 30, 2021

From Remote to IRL: How to Lead with Empathy When Onboarding


Company culture is more important now than ever, says Jaime Klein, Founder of Inspire HR. But how do you onboard through a screen?

At RG, we’ve felt the growing pains of hiring in this remote landscape, and have learned about the importance of deep intentionality in onboarding. Even before the pandemic shut down offices, according to a Gartner Research survey, only 44% of recruiting staff said their organization’s onboarding process effectively integrated new hires. And though big banks are steering employees back to the office, many companies are going hybrid for the long term. Read on for Jaime’s take on navigating these uncharted waters now and in the future.

Remote work has shifted everything about how we all onboard new hires, says Klein.

“The good effects of the last year have included a greater appreciation for flexible work schedules, remote working, and advancing DEIB,” she says.

But there are pitfalls: Working moms are more likely to accept flexible schedules and more days working from home, and with that there is less facetime at the office, less ad hoc watercooler meetings or lunchtime chats. “Those experiences help advance careers, and various working styles will mean varying opportunities to seize them.”

The fix? Make culture intentional, especially now. “One tactic we have seen great success with from clients is to hold listening circles so leaders can stay connected in a remote environment, be available to actively listen to their teams, and to provide a safe space to discuss lived experiences, acknowledge microaggressions, hold themselves accountable and more,” Klein says.

Inspire HR also recommends formal mentorship programs to ensure access to leaders for employees throughout the organization, as well as reverse mentorships so leaders stay connected and learn from a diversity of opinions.

Onboarding With Empathy

When you’re meeting through a screen, talk about what you see. “If you notice something in someone’s background, like a beautiful painting, comment on it,” says Klein. “Build rapport by leaning into the moment we all find ourselves in where we’re more open than we have ever been.” The same goes for mishaps: If, say, a child runs behind the camera during an interview, “let them know that it happens to you all the time, too,” she says. “Share a personal instance so they know they aren’t alone and did not break an invisible rule.”

Remote onboarding requires that we be deliberate in scheduling both one-on-one and team meetings for new hires. Klein suggests team-building with simple things like asking everyone to share a fun fact in the Slack channel so the new hire can get to know them better. Or have lunch delivered on their first day so the team can enjoy a virtual meal together. And be more frequent with check-ins, in addition to scheduled meetings. “In an office environment, managers can pop in and say ‘hi,’ ask how things are going, or even say, ‘why don’t you come along to this meeting with me?’ and it’s just part of the natural flow of the day.” Replicating those is important.

Finally, make onboarding a party. “An Inspire client in the high growth tech space wowed us with their approach to culture building starting Day 1.  When a new employee joins, they go beyond making introductions and notifying the team—they turn it into a celebration,” Klein says. “The new employee gets shout-outs at the stand-up meetings; they send new members swag bags before they start; they send GrubHub gift cards to new employees so they can use it for lunch meetings.”

Most importantly, remember that small gestures have big impacts. And they’ll make a difference when you’re building a remote company culture that nurtures and retains great workers.

The Ricciardi Group put this approach to practice in 2021 as we welcomed five new members to the team. Whether onboarding took place in a remote setting or right in our New York office, leading with empathy was imperative for a smooth and successful introduction to the company. With that in mind, please join us in welcoming Gabrielle Boodoosingh, Bently Elliott, Aly Martin, Fida Mouwad, and Alexis Malure to RG!


Culture has to be intentional, especially now. Build rapport by leaning into the moment we all find ourselves in.

-Jaime Klein

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