• Colliers | Columbus

HIRING & ONBOARDING IN A PANDEMIC

Written by: Dawn Jacobson


As the Director of Marketing and Research, Dawn works closely with each service line at Colliers | Columbus to spearhead strategic business development initiatives as well as handling the effective communication and implementation of those initiatives both externally and internally. In leading and mentoring the Marketing and Research teams, she strives to continuously incorporate innovation and efficiencies while offering the highest in class service to the client. Keep reading to get Dawn’s take on what it was like to hire and onboard new team members during a pandemic.


How many employees have you hired and onboarded since the start of Covid?


In marketing and research, we’ve onboarded 4 new employees since the start of Covid in a variety of different roles.


Since each were brought on at different phases of the pandemic, how did the hiring and onboarding process differ for each?


For two of the new hires, we had already started the interviewing process and had met them in-person. In the case of Stephanie, our first new hire to on-board, she had already accepted the job a couple weeks before the work from home order came. We understood that her on-boarding would have to be 100% virtual since there was a state-wide work from home order. We couldn’t even get her tech prepared for her based on what was happening and she used her own computer, etc. for the first week at least. We were so fortunate that she had a background working in an office and in real estate and was very familiar with using technology to communicate. She was so well-versed as she had set up the communication plan at her last employer and taught us a very things about utilizing Teams and other programs. In her first couple of weeks, I worked closely with the marketing team and her brokerage team to make sure she was getting trained on our plans/processes, but also was able to meet new people on her team. There were some hiccups, but the process ran as smoothly as possible and we were very lucky she was not uncomfortable reaching out to people if there was anything lost in translation.


With our next hire, Helen, we also started the process before Covid. When Covid hit, we put hiring for that role on hold while we determined our next steps with our now very fast changing market. In the end, we knew this role would still need filled and I had already determined that Helen would be the best candidate for it when I met with her earlier. Luckily she was still available when I reached back out and we met again to catch up – using a combination of Zoom and a masked, social-distanced meeting. We were fortunate that she was able to on-board in person at our office as the guidelines for Covid allowed it.


In our last two recent hires of Sydney and Erin, we leaned on Zoom meetings for the majority of our interviewing and had each candidate come in for an in-person meeting when we were prepared to offer the roles.


What is the typical process for hiring and onboarding, and how did Covid impact this?


In the past our process was to have candidates come in for at least two in-person interviews and perhaps role shadowing as well. With Covid everything changed to phone calls and Zoom. I did find the change interesting to see how each candidate treated a Zoom meeting like an in-person and dressed in business attire. Plus there was the added wrinkle of tech issues happening when you were interviewing candidates – to see how this was handled was also a great way to get a glimpse into how they handle themselves.


And with on-boarding, I think we were able to make a quick switch from training in-person and then virtually. The biggest struggle was making sure that our new teammates felt like they were part of the team. I am very fortunate that the employees I brought on during this are outgoing and felt comfortable joining in for virtual happy hours and lunches, but that was always at the back of my mind. Do they feel welcome, do they feel part of this culture? Our culture is so important to us and what I thought about the most was if we were successfully showcasing that during this work from home time.


Looking back on the employees we’ve hired since the start of Covid, is there anything you wish you would have done differently? Inversely, is there anything you are glad you did that you will be implementing in the process moving forward?


I wish I would’ve had a more detailed plan in place for when on-boarding was 100% virtual. In the time it happened, work from home was still new to me and the company and I was the first department to run into this situation. I think our process definitely grew from what I learned from the experience and again I was very lucky to have someone who was willing and comfortable to reach out on her own as well when she had questions.


I learned so much during Covid and was so proud of how my team handled it, they all really embraced it and kept plugging away. We definitely adopted Teams quickly and continue to use it daily whether working in office or from home. I think we’ve all become more thoughtful about our communication as well – does this need to be a meeting, can it be an email, etc.


As a manager of a team, what has been the biggest challenge this year?


I would say the biggest challenge was making sure all my team members felt supported and heard during this time of uncertainty. Although, we’ve started getting used to this now, when Covid first started there was an outstanding level of fear and anxiety with us all. I tried hard to check-in on everyone and make sure they were all checking-in on each other. None of knew what was going to happen and I just tried my best to make sure everyone felt like we were all in it together and we would be okay. Many days were filled with 8+ hours of video calls and check-ins, but making sure our teams felt heard and understood what was happening was our top priority.


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