News & Perspectives

Virtual onboarding during the pandemic

2,500 new hires have joined BMS remotely since March, and the company has pivoted its onboarding experience

September 28, 2020     

In March, as the COVID-19 pandemic hastened its spread across the world, the writing was on the wall for BMS’ Pamela Norring, director, Global Talent Acquisition Enablement.

“It was clear that most of our workforce was going to be working from home,” she said. She and her team had to move fast and plan for the worst-case scenario — moving all operations completely virtual. Which is exactly what they soon faced. 

“I couldn’t go to a shelf and find my book on ‘How to Hire During a Pandemic,’” she said. “There were so many questions: How do we go completely virtual on a global basis? What is our policy around that? Do we continue interviewing? How do we ensure we don’t lose valuable candidates who are midstream in the hiring process?” she explained. 

Despite the uncertainty and the changes on a daily basis, Norring and her team knew they could not stop recruiting and onboarding remote colleagues even while facing a pandemic. A task force was formed with representatives from IT, HR and Norring’s team to create solutions together, a collaboration that will continue going forward, Norring said.  

“We were essentially forced to face this new reality in order to get the caliber of talent we need,” Norring said. Her team embraced virtual interviewing, a process that BMS will continue to invest in, Norring said, “because we are finding that we are able to fill open jobs either just as quickly or more quickly,” she said.  

The result of these measures? Hiring at BMS is at an all-time high, Norring said, with more than 2,500 new hires coming aboard globally since the stay-at-home mandate was set in March.  

Feedback from new hires has been positive, Norring said, as they too have embraced this unconventional way of onboarding. There are challenges and hiccups, to be expected, but most are quickly feeling like a member of the BMS family. Here is sampling of what some of them had to say:

Mariana Santos, HR Director, Buenos Aires 

I joined BMS on April 2 as HR Director in Latin America, and am responsible for leading the People Strategy in the region. 

When the COVID crisis started to become bigger, I thought that the hiring process would get delayed for some time, so I was very surprised to receive the call from BMS offering me the position exactly on the day that the mandatory lock down was starting in Argentina. Two weeks later, I joined BMS completely remotely, thanks to the flexibility and support of many people involved in my onboarding. 

Working from home has given us all the opportunity to work in very comfortable clothing and also get to know each other’s family members and even pets that sometimes accidentally show up in our calls. The biggest challenge is not having anyone around to easily turn to for simple problems or questions you would usually ask to your neighbor at the office, and also balancing work time hours.  

I am really looking forward to the day I can meet everyone face to face. Virtual interactions with the team are great and the energy and motivation go far beyond the screen, so I am really excited to “live” our culture at the office.  

Ron Gonzales, Senior Manager, Talent Acquisition Enablement, Tampa, Florida

I joined BMS on May 18 and I help lead programs and operations that support our Talent Acquisition partners. Our mission is to attract the most passionate and diverse workforce that will enable the discovery and delivery of innovative medicines to improve the lives of our patients worldwide. 

Starting a new job entirely from home was a whole new experience for me. Admittedly, I was a little nervous coming in and wondered how I could make my first impressions and establish myself in my new job. Despite those initial feelings my team has been really great with my onboarding and empowered me with the resources and connections that I need to be successful.

As I adjust to this new reality, I’m fortunate to have a small dog at home who likes to remind me to step away from the screen from time to time for a short walk or a drink of water. I could not have asked for a better assistant.

It can be challenging to immerse yourself in a new culture when you are at home and limited to only interactions via video call and group conference. However, it was not very long until I felt the inclusivity at BMS as I became part of the community – facing the challenges of the new reality together with my colleagues.

You don’t often see the true character of an organization and its people until it goes through a crisis – and the way everyone at BMS has responded and adapted speaks volumes about the culture we have here and the values that we live by. I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone in person. I have a lot of birthdays, coffee and lunches to catch up on.

Sandy Chow, Senior Market Access Manager, Hong Kong

I started at BMS on April 27 and my role is to oversee the Patient Support Program and lead the enlistment process of key products with priority and reimbursement milestones.

When I started, I worked with IT to set up a virtual PC in my home, and was quickly able to access email, systems and virtual meeting apps. My manager and colleagues welcomed me through video-enabled meetings and welcome emails. I was impressed by the technologies that BMS can offer during this time. 

Limitation makes more innovations. My manager organized daily virtual meetings with me so that I could understand the tasks effectively. I had several one-on-one or group virtual meetings, so I could see colleagues’ faces. These meetings brought me to the family of BMS. Together with the support from IT and administration, I feel like starting a job at home is not really that scary. The biggest challenges I have faced are the internet speed and limited interaction time with colleagues.

While working from home, we successfully held our first plan of action and brand plan presentations virtually within the Hong Kong office. I enjoy discovering the interesting hobbies (e.g. flower arrangements) of my colleagues while they are staying at home, but I am looking forward to a team lunch with colleagues and physical meetings as normal. 

Shwen Gwee, VP and Head of Global Digital Strategy, Cambridge, Massachusetts

I started on April 15 and my job is to ensure that the corporate or enterprise business strategy is informed and enabled by digital innovation. 

Starting a new job in the midst of a pandemic lockdown meant that I was unable to attend any physical onboarding activities, meet new colleagues in real life or get a sense for the culture of the company through simply being in the office. However, the transition was very easy, and I was very impressed by the ease of onboarding and had great support from the IT team, as I had to start working with my own personal computer.  

 The biggest challenge with the current situation is that every meeting is virtual and most of the time, for many hours at a stretch. In fact, for Father's Day, my 10-year-old son drew me a picture under the caption, “What daddy does for work" – in the past, it probably would have been an airplane or related to travel, but this year he drew a phone and wrote “he goes on long calls.” 

 What I miss most is the informal “water cooler” talk, the casual conversations over coffee or lunch, and the serendipitous meetings in the hallways. It’s definitely been a greater challenge trying to get to know people and, even when there are opportunities to address a larger group of people, it's difficult to see their reactions or make a connection like you would in real life. I am really looking forward to a time when I can finally meet people without having a formal call and basically getting to know people in a face-to-face, in-person social context. 

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