Mar 10 2021

Businesses Leverage Tech to Onboard New Employees to Remote Work Environments

Switching to remote work environments with existing staff is hard. Adding new teammates is a different challenge.

As problems go, it’s a good one to have: Over the past year, as many businesses across the country have shed staff or shuttered for good, others have continued to thrive during the COVID-19 crisis. Still, with remote work environments remaining predominant in many industries, organizations have embraced a range of tools and processes to accommodate new employees, who can no longer simply come into the office and pick up their laptops on their first days.

For Hoagland, Longo, Moran, Dunst & Doukas, a New Brunswick, N.J-based law firm, a previously planned data center investment proved to be fortuitous. The firm decided in 2019 to invest in hyperconverged infrastructure from NetApp as a way to support its transition from a Microsoft Windows 7 operating system to Windows 10. The change has also proved to be instrumental to facilitating remote work applications such as videoconferencing during a period when the firm has onboarded half a dozen additional attorneys.

“It’s definitely eased things,” says Anoop Shah, director of IT infrastructure for the firm.

Although the investment was not made with growth or remote work in mind, Shah says that it would have been much more difficult to onboard employees without the new infrastructure. “It would have been challenging,” Shah says. “The efficiency of collaboration tools would have suffered, and the employee experience would have been miserable.”

David Johnson, a principal analyst at Forrester who focuses on employee experience, notes that many companies have made significant investments in new collaboration tools throughout the pandemic. 

However, some legacy solutions may have prevented organizations from growing at a time when modern
technology has become the center of business life more than ever before, Jo­hnson says.

“If you were not set up at all for people to be working remotely, you would have had a problem,” he says. “If you hadn’t invested in laptops, and if remote desktop was your idea of allowing people to work remotely, and if you hadn’t invested heavily in cloud-based applications, you were at a disadvantage.”

Tech Powers New Capabilities for Businesses

Shah says that his firm’s aging three-tier data center infrastructure wasn’t up to the task of facilitating video collaboration sessions through technologies like Zoom on virtual desktop infrastructure.

“As we were moving to Windows 10, our VDI platform just bogged down more and more the more instances we created,” he says. “Everything was technically working, but not in a modern sense. If we still had our old infrastructure in place now, I don’t know how any of the teleconferencing we’re doing would even work. It would be almost impossible to get everyone on that old platform to be able to run all of the Zoom and Webex and Teams meetings that have come up.”

An existing investment in Cisco Webex was invaluable for Citizens Financial Group as the organization continued to onboard employees during the COVID-19 crisis, says company CIO Michael Ruttledge. Within its tech group alone, the company added 150 new employees in 2020. 

EXPLORE: Dive deeper into the reimagined workplace with the technology that can optimize productivity.

In April, Citizens, a Providence, ­R.I.-based bank with branches in 11 states, invested in enough network bandwidth to accommodate 100 percent of its employee base using Webex, if necessary. By the end of 2020, meeting technology use across the company was up by more than 30 percent, video use was up by 50 percent and total users for the company’s conferencing technologies shot up 45 percent, compared with the beginning of the year. The technology has been essential to hiring new employees at a time when the company is shifting its focus and seeking to bring on workers who can help with that transition.

“In the past two years, we’ve really transformed the bank from a technology perspective — moving to the cloud, moving to application programming interfaces and moving to more of a Platform as a Service environment,” Ruttledge says. “During this past year, we’ve continued to onboard external hires. We’ve picked up quite a few people from fintech companies and nontraditional banks. We’ve used a lot of virtual collaboration tools to enable that.”

Joel Weight, CTO for the e-commerce company Overstock.com, notes that technology has always been key to the company’s operations. However, he says, tech tools were thrust to the forefront as the demand for online shopping spiked during the pandemic. “Before the pandemic, we used collaboration tools like Zoom, but not to the extent that we do now,” he says. “Virtualization has also been key to our growth. Whether it’s VMware and virtual desktops or Kubernetes and Docker for virtual servers, we’ve been able to scale and shrink where needed without having to add a bunch of hardware.”

What Comes Next for Remote Work?

Businesses were forced by the pandemic to expand their capacity for collaboration technologies while also implementing new processes to onboard employees and get them up and running with the tools they need to do their jobs effectively.

“For new colleagues, we found a way to mail all of their systems to their door so that they have everything they need on day one without entering the building,” he says. “Although some ­challenges have come up along the way, technologies like Zoom have helped facilitate those connections and allowed for ­virtual troubleshooting. Currently, we are focusing on internal trainings to help current and new colleagues learn how to navigate these new solutions.”

Citizens set up distribution centers to deploy laptops and other tech devices to new employees. “Before the pandemic, you came into the office to get a laptop, and you had to be in the physical office to download some of the software,” Ruttledge says. “For some of the security protocols, you had to be wired into the network. We set up war rooms within our headquarters to get the laptops ready, ship them out and walk people through the setup. For the most part, everything is pre-installed.”

How Tech Can Get Workers Back to the Office

Like many organizations, Citizens has seen a remarkable level of productivity from employees as they work from home. Still, Ruttledge is looking forward to getting his team back into the office.

“My personal belief is there’s still no replacement for in-person development sessions, where you have the whole scrum team ideating all in the same room,” he says. “I don’t think we’ve lost any productivity by having most of our folks working virtually, but to get the benefits that we want to see from agile development, I think it’s important that people get together in one location.”

Looking ahead, Johnson says, organizations will need to continue to leverage technology in strategic ways to fuel growth, especially as a growing number of workers will want, and even expect, to be able to work from home after the pandemic has subsided. However, Johnson adds, businesses should invest in solutions that increase employee engagement rather than merely monitoring productivity. 

“The number of people saying they can’t wait to return to the office has steadily declined,” Johnson says. “Along with that, there’s been an uptick in companies trying to figure out how to measure the productivity of remote workers. My advice is, if you’re interested in measuring the minutes, you’re going to get minutes. If you’re more interested in the positive business outcomes, then that’s what you’re going to get.” 

Photography By Colin Lenton/BizTech Magazine