How can you help new hires to a virtual or hybrid team connect and learn about the company culture faster? That’s a question we get a lot, and there’s no one simple answer. That said, one solution is to resurrect the idea of cohorts.
How cohorts used to work
By definition a cohort is a group of people banded together or treated as a group. It can also mean a supporter or companion. That’s what you’re trying to create. The good news is this can be used to help teammates bond and collaborate more effectively.
Creating cohorts also works to create cross functional and intra-organization relationships. We’ve known this for years. In many organizations, especially those who take a “boot camp” approach to onboarding, it used to happen organically.
A class of recent recruits was brought in to headquarters for a week/two weeks/month and spent a lot of time together in classes, social events, and a lot of time in close quarters. The rise of virtual and hybrid work, especially since the COVID pandemic, means this is less practical. People are hired as-needed, rather than in groups, and their orientation and onboarding takes place virtually, which largely means some time online with peers, but a lot of learning and work is done in isolation.
Why cohorts are still useful
There has also been an understandable focus on getting people involved with their immediate teammates sooner. This is important for getting people to do productive work and bond with their colleagues and manager, but often ignores the value of hanging out with people in other departments and functions that used to happen with in-office onboarding.
A third complication is the increase in online learning, especially asynchronous e-learning. Done well, it can be effective. What it lacks, in many cases, is a social component. Learning in groups helps many people learn important skills. It also helps jumpstart relationships between employees. You learn from people as well as about them.
Building cohorts of learners in remote and hybrid teams can be done and requires just a little more effort than the traditional way it’s always been done.
Augment individual e-learning with a social component.
A lot of eLearning is done on-demand. The individual learner can take and complete the course at their convenience. But for many people this is a solo activity. Create cohorts of learners by grouping them in small-ish teams that have a firm start and end date for the learning. Then build live (sometimes online or virtual) events that allow people to talk about their learning, ask questions of instructors in real time, and take part in group learning activities. Not only will this boost the effectiveness of the learning, in many cases, but help new hires interact with their colleagues in ways that are natural onsite, but often don’t happen in the virtual world.
Create learning and social activities across functions and teams.
Too often, when we work remotely, the emphasis is all on the immediate (another word is nuclear) team. It makes sense to help people connect with those they’ll work with every day. But in a remote environment, this often means newbies don’t meet, connect, or learn about people in other parts of the organization. Small group discussions, brainstorming and live (virtual counts) training with others across the organization can help people understand the big picture and jumpstart relationships that occur naturally in the lunch room but don’t get nurtured in a remote or hybrid environment (unless you really work on it).
If your team is hybrid, your cohorts should be too.
Overcome proximity bias and help people be intentional about connecting by mixing the cohorts so they contain both in-office and remote people. Create activities that blend the group and have them interacting as much as possible, and shake up the learning groups regularly. You can’t re-create the value of in-person learning and interaction, but you can overcome some of the limitations of being physically distant from each other.
Learning in cohorts comes naturally in a traditional workplace. To do it effectively in a remote or hybrid environment takes some thought and planning, but can be highly effective.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.