Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
October 18, 2022

Hiring and Onboarding in a World of Hybrid and Remote Work

The COVID-19 pandemic created a sea change in how companies hire and onboard in a hybrid or virtual work environment. For prospects and new hires, the return-to-office issues that every organization has grappled with are compounded by questions about whether they have to relocate or otherwise sacrifice flexibility in order to take a new position.

Caught in the crosshairs of many of these debates? The CHRO. In adapting to this hybrid/virtual world for hiring and onboarding, we’ve seen many boards and leadership teams — who themselves are often remote — lean on human resources leadership to solve the problems, manage often-delicate issues and, often, serve as the in-person culture carrier.

Overall, in order to thrive in today’s environment, CHROs and other top leaders need to adapt, or else they run the risk of losing out on top talent. Here are a couple of ways that we’ve seen CHROs and other top leaders evolve to thrive in today’s environment.

Have candid conversations — and be flexible

As companies began implementing return-to-office policies in 2021, many also started once again requiring new executive hires to relocate. While relocation may have been standard operating procedure pre-COVID, it remains less than mandatory in most cases, and the idea of relocation is still giving qualified candidates pause about which positions they’d consider. Compounding this has been the start-and-stop nature of return-to-office policies; even as more companies set their policies in stone, lingering resistance to in-person mandates still exists.

It remains critical, nearly three years since the dawn of the pandemic, for hiring companies to have honest, candid conversations with candidates about expectations, about the strictness of in-office requirements, and about candidates’ true appetite for relocating. Failing to do this can lead to the dynamic that played out for one East Coast company that hired a new EVP. The person was asked to move across the country for the new role, in part because the company was about to implement a return-to-office mandate. However, the office return was scrapped due to COVID outbreaks and employee resistance, and the hire ended up working in a nearly completely empty office most of the time while living in an unfamiliar city. Less than a year later, the candidate, feeling isolated, decided to seek a new opportunity.

When onboarding, plan purposeful in-person interaction

Regardless of the exact logistics of a new hire, it’s critical that CHROs and other leaders make meaningful efforts to create in-person interactions for new hires. According to a Spencer Stuart survey of global leaders, onboarding was the factor most negatively impacted by virtual work.

In all cases — but particularly with relocation — it’s important that efforts are made for the new hire to meet with relevant team members in-office. That could be a once-a-week lunch, in-person meetings, or assigning a “buddy” who can answer questions and help the new hire navigate the culture. Seemingly simple gestures like a care package with technology and company swag pre-start can go a long way toward making the new hire feel welcome. It’s also important to communicate with your new hire even more than you might in person, formally and informally.


At this point, most companies have taken some sort of hybrid approach, balancing in-person and remote a few days a week. Whatever the setup, however, the idea that there will be a “return to normal” faces headwinds from a recruiting and retention standpoint. By staying flexible and adaptable with hiring and onboarding while ensuring that new hires feel welcome and included, organizations can make long-term progress toward have a happy, engaged workforce.