Interviewing and Onboarding in the Times of Pandemic

Jul 21, 2020

Guest Blog by Brenda Sousa, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Operations, Constellation Pharmaceuticals

The economic and humanitarian catastrophe caused by COVID-19 has forced companies across all industries to be flexible in order to maintain their operations, support their employees and continue to grow. The biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries are no exception to this but many pre-market company timelines for growth do not allow for the flexibility of pushing the pause button – new team members must still be hired and onboarded with little to no face-to-face interaction to continue progressing new therapies to patients in need.

That said, while simply adding to the employee roster may help in the short term in filling (virtual) seats, it is still essential to hire smartly and grow your organization with people who have pride in their company and mission. It is these folks who will do the best work and will stay for the long-term.

With social distancing and working from home the new reality for many people for the foreseeable future, it is still possible to successfully interview, hire, and onboard if the right steps are taken to develop programs with the specific goal of promoting full integration into the company.

  • Keep your personality in the virtual world – While video interviews are better than phone interviews in being able to get a read on personality, we lose some of the individuality that come across when meeting in-person. At Constellation, we pride ourselves on how we conduct first round interviews – meeting applicants at a coffee shop or inviting them to our office for a cup of coffee and a chat. In an effort to replicate this environment, we encourage our hiring managers to have digital video coffee chats to keep the atmosphere light and relaxed, as close to a coffee shop experience as we can manage, given the current environment.
  • Nothing like being there – Don’t forget the importance of candidates being able to visualize themselves in your office space for when return is possible.  Creating a video tour of the office can be a good substitute here, showing everything from working spaces to conference rooms to kitchens. Prior to interviews, candidates can be sent this video tour so they can get a sense of the work environment. Just as within a home, a lot can be learned about potential coworkers by the personality of their workspace and we feel it is important that our candidates have the opportunity to see this in their future workspace.   
  • Families that grow together – A risk for new remote employees is that they won’t be able to obtain a sense of family and teamwork that we work to foster every day. Since nearly all of us have begun to work from home, try to schedule small group meetings for new team members to get to know each other and to discuss their experiences at the company on an informal basis. Recognizing that feelings of community are critical to new hires adapting to their workplace, we felt it only makes sense to embrace and promote a cohort dynamic.
  • Where did they move the water cooler? – In addition to peer interactions, try to replicate bumping into senior management. At Constellation, for example, senior management is striving to reach out to new hires, as well as the old hands, just to talk. Our CEO, Jigar Raythatha, has taken to calling employees during breaks in the day simply to check-in and say hello as a way to replace the brief conversations had in the hallways of our office. Hearing about interesting weekend trips and discussing things about the company doesn’t have to disappear in a remote work world.
  • Just checking in – Similarly, the HR team should probably increase the frequency of checking in on new hires using either instant messaging applications or video calls to answer any questions and make sure new employees are optimally integrating into the company. Doing this more official type of check-in more frequently than it has historically been done provides meaningful support for new team members to have a successful transition.
  • Nice to feel loved – It is often the case that team members don’t really feel part of the company until their first successful contribution, so our final step to full integration involves actively and publicly appreciating the new team members. One strategy that can be used here is something we call our Gratitude Board, which was a physical board in our office, but has now migrated to a “digital board” in which anyone at the company can thank or be thanked for their work. With so many people joining us virtually, it is often these new team members expressing their thanks to the many who have made them feel welcomed and provided help with getting them up and running in their new roles. Workplace appreciation is critical to workplace happiness.

In a world that is likely forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work will likely remain a larger part of the landscape, and thus remote hiring and onboarding practices must be experimented with, and continually refined. Though these processes will likely never truly match the gold standard in-person interview and in-office onboarding, the goal should simply be to get close enough with creative planning and personal thought. We should strive to minimize the loss of meaningful interactions in hiring and onboarding by maximizing the utility of technology and by making the extra effort to build new touch points into our hiring and onboarding practices. With the summer season now upon us, I for one look forward to adding appropriately masked and socially distanced walking interviews to the hiring process to enjoy the human interactions for which our community is known.

About the Author:

Brenda J. Sousa
Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Operations, Constellation Pharmaceuticals

Brenda Sousa is Constellation Pharmaceuticals’ senior vice president of human resources and operations. Prior to joining Constellation in 2010, Brenda was the vice president of human resources and operations at EPIX Pharmaceuticals, where she served as a member of the global executive management team and focused on the development and implementation of business strategy, operations, and organizational development for U.S. companies with international offices. Before joining EPIX, she was director of human resources for RKS Health Ventures and Spence Center for Women’s Health, a start-up venture that was ultimately purchased by Partners Healthcare. Prior to her human resources career, Brenda worked in the hospitality industry focusing on sales and marketing. Brenda joined the Board of Career Collaborative in 2004 where she initiated and served as Chair of the Employer Advisory Board. Brenda holds a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts.

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