Ann-Kathrin Sohl had prepared really well for her job interview: a flip chart within easy reach, an app for the video conference, a check on the technology – she even asked her neighbours to be quiet during the interview. Coincidentally, they had just started with do-it yourself at home a few days previously.
In March, Ann-Kathrin Sohl from Hamburg applied to HDI for a new position as a project manager. The snag was that just as she was due to start interviews, Germany went virtually entirely into lockdown – in order to contain the coronavirus pandemic, policymakers introduced strict restrictions on contact. A job interview in the form we were familiar with was out of the question.
Digital selection process
However, HDI continued to appoint applicants to new positions in spite of the coronavirus. And consequently Ann-Kathrin Sohl went through an exclusively digital application process: from submission of her documents, through an initial get-to-know session with her future boss, to the assessment centre. “It was a different feeling,” she said, looking back on the process. “Coming up with solutions for objective tasks with definite content was absolutely fine in a videoconference. The difficult part was the situation requiring interactive discussion. That’s significantly trickier, you aren’t able to gauge the atmosphere in the room – particularly with respect to the unknown person positioned opposite you.”
Nevertheless, the digital selection process also offered some advantages as far as she was concerned: “Overall, I actually found the process more comfortable, more streamlined and more flexible.” She then commented that it all passed off rather quickly by comparison with a long day including an overnight stay at a hotel.
The HDI Group responded very quickly to the changed situation. “Job interviews, assessment centres and even work trials are now all carried out online as a matter of course,” said Astrid Pohlmann, Head of Employer Branding und Sourcing in the Human Resources department at HDI in Germany. “So far, we have been able to appoint around 344 applicants using the digital process.”
One of these appointees is Ann-Kathrin Sohl, who has now taken up her new position at HDI. She actually spent her first week in the office because the regulations had already been somewhat loosened – though naturally hygiene precautions and social distancing were still de rigueur. “Essentially, we work together in a team but this happens from our home offices. However, I think it’s great to have the opportunity to come into the office and talk to my colleagues in person.”
Learning the ropes digitally
Initially, this remained a dream for Almina Jonikiene. After all, she started her career at HDI when the world came to a standstill as a result of the coronavirus lockdown. The new recruit from Lithuania was even unable to enter Germany in order to start her new job as a risk manager at HDI Global. “This was a difficult time”, reported the actuary. She admitted that she was worrying at the time. “I thought that because of the virus I might only be able to start my new job in the autumn or that HDI Global might even withdraw their job offer.”
Her concerns proved to be unfounded. As originally planned, the 29-year-old commenced her new job in June – however, Almina Jonikiene was working online from her home office in Lithuania. “Everything ran smoothly right from the first day!” This was ensured by the dedicated commitment of her new colleagues. The mission was to solve issues that come up when a new arrival comes to their job in a digital workspace: onboarding. Registering on the system for the first time, integration in the team, and an additional factor in her case: language barriers. The situation presented a considerable new challenge for Almina Jonikiene and her colleagues. “As a team, we looked for solutions together and found them. Even though I was working online from my home office, I didn’t have to solve the problems on my own,” she recalled. And yet, her first teleconference brought the remoteness of her situation home to her. She didn’t understand the menu in German and was unable to dial in right away. This was the point when she would have welcomed having a colleague beside her at the desk.
The team members in Human Resources are well aware of the difficulty associated with digital onboarding, reported Astrid Pohlmann. “Digital onboarding is always possible. But it’s not an ideal scenario and remains very much a necessary exception.” If at all possible, new employees should always receive a personal welcome in their office on the first day. Even if they are working from their home office again on the day after that.
Almina Jonikiene experienced difficulties in getting to know people through teleconferences and videoconferences: “It’s not as intensive and spontaneous,” reported the actuary. “Really getting to know people only started in July when I was finally able to work at my office in Hannover. You are much more able to assess expressions, gestures and feelings when you can meet up with someone in person.” And she highlighted another advantage: At HDI-Platz you were also able to get a sense of the ambience and the mood of the company.