Article: LinkedIn Live: Transforming remote onboarding post-COVID-19

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LinkedIn Live: Transforming remote onboarding post-COVID-19

As part of the Remote Hiring Week 2020, two successful and innovative entrepreneurs came together for a LinkedIn live and discussed how a budding startup transformed remote onboarding into a scalable human-tech mechanism through a hyperlocal model post-COVID.
LinkedIn Live: Transforming remote onboarding post-COVID-19

As part of the People Matters and AuthBridge Remote Hiring Week 2020, entrepreneurs Ajay Trehan, Founder and CEO, AuthBridge and Praharsh Chandra, Co-Founder & COO, Shadowfax, came together for a LinkedIn Live discussion on the theme ‘Essentials of remote onboarding.’

Through this discussion, Ajay and Praharsh dived into the human-tech dynamic of remote onboarding, emphasized experience as core to transforming remote onboarding post-COVID and concurred that technology is no longer a luxury offering, but a survival and sustainable tool.

Shadowfax is India’s largest crowdsourced logistics platform. It has evolved into an end to end logistics platform with a PAN-India presence, disrupting traditional supply chains. Their Co-Founder and COO, Praharsh Chandra shared the journey and experience that he and his team at Shadowfax went through before and during the COVID outbreak, and how they innovated their own processes of onboarding their delivery partners, when they were onboarding more than 30 to 40,000 delivery partners across the country within this space.

Read on for highlights from the session.

Does remote onboarding call for a business case to upgrade?

From a need for advocacy and building a business case to bring in technology in the onboarding process, the sudden shift to remote onboarding as a direct consequence of COVID-19 left several businesses handicapped when it came to new hires. Before onboarding, holding on to their end of job offers itself became a matter of contemplation, followed by a hiring freeze in a majority of industries.

However, with the gradual stabilization, businesses are now recuperating and equipping their workforce with necessary tools and technologies to sustain processes and people management in what is now being called a hybrid workplace.

Essentially, one would think with technology becoming critical in a hybrid workplace, processes like hiring and onboarding would experience a setback when it comes to retaining the human connection and impact, however, with the right mindset and approach, the human-tech intervention can be made possible within the remote hiring and onboarding spectrum.

But how prepared are organizations today to tackle remote onboarding? In a poll question during the LinkedIn Live, on being asked ‘How technologically-abled is your organization to manage remote onboarding processes in the emerging workplace paradigm?’, the responses were as below:

  • Well-equipped to take on remote onboarding (50%)
  • Not well-equipped yet, but getting there (32%)
  • Tech adoption isn’t a feasible option, we are struggling (14%)
  • We don’t know what to do (5%)

With a majority of respondents stating that they are indeed technology-abled to take on remote onboarding, one could argue the need for a business case. Infact as Ajay Trehan puts it, “You have to bring technology into your DNA today. No organization can survive without technology in their DNA. We have to start questioning every basic process. Organizations have to promote innovative thinking, we have to be nimble when it comes to adopting new processes in the current times when things can change very dynamically."

"COVID gave us a wake up call. Business leaders have to be very very open to change, and particularly adopting technology. There is no need for a business case, you just have to do it,” added Trehan.

He added, “Onboarding and hiring remotely is now going to be the way of life. It’s no longer a luxury offering. Irrespective of what business you are in, what industry or what customer base you are catering to, you have to find a way to sit back with your tech team and innovators, and find ways of working around it, including onboarding.”

How Shadowfax transformed remote onboarding post-COVID-19

“We've been working with hundreds of organizations across a range of sectors and industries, assisting them with their onboarding, documentation collection and authentication processes. COVID-19 outbreak tested almost every single process, across every single industry,” stated Trehan, before he handed over the frame to Praharsh Chandra, to share how Shadowfax was able to replicate its business model into its onboarding process, transforming onboarding, experience and also creating several employment opportunities in the process.

The startup in its early years recognized its primary aim to be more than a technology platform, reimagining how traditional supply chains could work and create a meaningful impact for people. From a business perspective they started off with a hyperlocal unit, building a significant multi-fold logistics business across the network. Come COVID and they had to shift onboarding blue collared workers from onboarding centers to telephonic calls to video conferencing tools, until they eventually leveraged the same hyperlocal approach to onboarding as well.

With innovative thinking, the startup was able to shift from an extensive fleet on street model to a hyperlocal model where onboarding and training facilities became accessible to blue collared workers and delivery partners within a 500m vicinity, simplifying onboarding post-COVID.  

Speaking of pre-COVID onboarding, Chandra shared, all filtered prospective employees that were gathered through the fleet on street, would be asked to head over to an onboarding center in their area. “These are large onboarding centers that we would run, and every onboarding center would cater to around 100-150 people in a day, and people would visit the nearest facility where the facility managers would undertake background verification, document collection, inventory distribution, and one very important aspect of telling people about Shadowfax and training them on the core initial steps that are needed, post which the person will then be encouraged to start off with conducting transactions on the platform.” 

“COVID came at a point wherein no one was really expecting it. And then suddenly, we realize we could not really use this whole onboarding center strategy anymore. You could not have gatherings which are at scale, you could not conduct a lot of one-on-one sessions that you would ideally want to with people, you would not get these forums to conduct training and immediately post that what happened was that you had to switch to methods which were all online and digital.” 

While lead generation adapted from fleet on street to referrals, the onboarding and document collection, verifications, etc, became tricky. “When you're looking at these blue collar workers, everybody knows they have to give a PAN card, but even though our mobile application tells them to upload it, it's not very intuitive for people to automatically do it. So the onboarding center used to act as a guidance mechanism where people would actually do it properly. And then suddenly, we found ourselves losing that touch as well. And then you would have people join the network with a little bit of an average training and not really seeing a face across this whole journey. People would come onto the platform just by talking to our mobile application, and what this led to was while we were able to run the full process, the rider NPS, which is the whole satisfaction that you get during an onboarding process, fell to a real low. For new joinees, we saw tremendously poor performance coming in.”

Post such a scenario, the organization brainstormed and adapted to ‘Zero touch onboarding’. Under this onboarding model, the focus was to take a lead from a lead stage to the platform, giving them all of the experience that a lead is supposed to get, but still not ever reaching a situation where they need to have too many touch points. “However, the most difficult part was getting to have some bit of conversation and training done without having a physical space. While the organization attempted a call based and video conferencing based approach, they met with challenges, as while gig workers, blue collared workers are tech-savvy, but they do not usually come on a video platform to chat with you and get things done right.”

This model helped them convert a few leads and train them, yet what was still a problem was that their NPS scores were not improving, “because this whole experience was still broken in a lot of ways. You still had people just speaking to someone on the phone, and then suddenly, you're onboarded on a platform, and you have to do your first order without even knowing what this company is, what it is that you are supposed to do. And, and there's only so much you can transfer over a mobile phone.”

Shadowfax then introduced ‘Gurukul’ on their mobile app where they conducted training sessions. Even then performance and training remained average. Upon brainstorming further on how to tackle the issue, they realized that they were already a hyperlocal company by business, so why not make onboarding hyperlocal as well – “from speaking to the person to training the person to collecting documents to resolving issues.” They broke it down to smaller sets, 500m distances, where interested people would receive a text upon self-registration prompting them to visit a nearby facility, which is literally walking distance from where they were. In the facility, there is a person who will invest time in explaining about the company, explaining the technology, and to help workers get onboarded onto the platform. 

Post COVID, Shadowfax leveraged all free available spaces be it kirana stores, schools, real estate agents, anyone who was had a free available space. “As it happens, because of COVID, there were a lot of facilities and small spaces, which were not really being used by people. So those places ended up becoming places where you could conduct onboarding.” Today the startup has close to thousand franchisees, which they call hyperlocal touch points in the platform, spread across 300 cities.

“What has happened is, post this whole experience of having an interaction with the person in a small facility, getting basic training done, getting an understanding of core aspects that you're supposed to work on, getting an idea of the kinds of skills that are needed, it helped us improve our NPS scores. So we ended up with the highest NPS scores we've ever had, even including the onboarding centers, we used to run for ourselves.”

In October 2020, they onboarded 40,000 workers, and everyone had a face to face interaction with someone before joining the network. 

Onboarding existing and new employees for emerging and evolving roles

Through the platform facility ‘Gurukul’, Shadowfax was able to upskill both existing employees as well as new employees. “Broadly, across the network, there are a lot of roles, responsibilities, which, technically speaking, post the franchisee model coming up, we were not going to work with anymore, but what ended up happening is that the tasks changed, while all the roles remained. We realigned a lot of people to help support run this franchisee infrastructure,” said Chandra. 

“Most people tried to evolve themselves in a way wherein they could take up newer tasks, which were more relevant to the new scheme of things compared to the previous scheme of things.” The employees were receptive of the changes being carried across, from something as basic as replacing fleet on street with online channels and referrals, to ensure they are able to run a healthy network of franchisees, to contributing outside their existing roles, by upskilling themselves in the specific domain through Gurukul.

“There is a skill journey that every person takes in the network. You start at a very basic level. and then if you want to earn more on the platform, you have to take certain skill courses, which comes under the domain of ‘Gurukul’. Once the person gets skilled in a particular content, then they become eligible to do more orders in a new business line, followed by their performance being monitored for a while. In case someone is not able to develop at all, what we are now going to do is we're also going to give them the option to go to one of these hyperlocal touchpoints to get trained more physically and directly, rather than just through an app,” noted Chandra.

A paradigm shift from digital to human-tech

Trehan remarked that when we normally think of remote onboarding, we only think of digital, however Shadowfax has created a paradigm shift in how onboarding can be transformed. Chandra responded saying, “To me, digital need not remove the human element from it completely. I remember we used to have a branding session, a discussion on who we are, and the manager said that we're not really a technology company, we're a human tech company. Over the years, what we realized is that our business, and especially onboarding, has had a major amount of human touch to it. You cannot let go of it just because there are digital aspects that have come in."

"So for all businesses there is always an approach when you can leverage your technology bit better, but still allow all these human elements to come in,” said Chandra.

Chandra encouraged leaders and managers to bring in their workforce as flagbearers, to conduct a lot of activities that they would want to do in their respective networks, be it tapping into referrals, or to conduct micro-onboarding campaigns here and there on an ad-hoc basis. 

Speaking of handling crucial communications in a hyperlocal model where background verification surfaces discrepancies in a worker’s profile, Chandra said, “The whole background verification process has seen a tremendous improvement in the last three to four years. We used to struggle to get basic court checks done, and now we have wonderful systems to make a hyperlocal process out of it.” He added that if and when a discrepancy comes up, the platform bars the individual from conducting any orders unless they get the necessary clearance. “That's how the process works around who is allowed to conduct business on the platform…From an employee standpoint, if anyone faces challenges in getting onboarded and need to have a conversation, they can raise an issue through the app stating their challenge and will be able to then have a conversation with someone from the call center.”

Chandra closed on an interesting note, “Once you explore a digital domain, a wall ends up being created, a digital wall but a wall nevertheless. What we realized in the journey is that it’s best to use technology in a way that you kind of remove the wall but still have immense amount of technology used in the network.”

Different business models will have to approach onboarding in a manner that best suits them, enabling smooth workflows, and a seamless employee and candidate experience. While Shadowfax’s approach offers remote onboarding solutions for the blue collared workforce and gig economy at large, what can be learnt here is that the solution or bringing in tech is not necessarily a cost, but is a valuable investment in building experience, streamlining processes and bridging the gap that remote has forced upon us.

In fact, having a zero-touch approach yet retaining the human-tech outlook to resolving remote onboarding goes to show that technology is a much needed enabler, and people are the much needed engine to drive experience and processes through disruptive circumstances.

Click here to access the Remote Hiring Week 2020: LinkedIn Live.

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Topics: Strategic HR, #RemoteHiringWeek2020

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