How to Onboard Newly Elected Officials Virtually in the Post-COVID-19 Era

Written by Megan Asikainen

Onboarding newly elected officials is critical for administrative collaboration and effectiveness. 

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Onboarding newly elected officials is a responsibility of clerks that helps ensure administrative efficiency and leadership operational confidence. As with so many elements of local government operations, COVID-19 disrupted clerks’ traditional in-person, hands-on onboarding, challenging them to ensure the same level of training efficiency despite being physically distanced from the new elected leaders.

The same technology solutions that are helping administrations remain connected to citizens and serve them in the era of social distancing can be leveraged to onboard elected officials and do it with a high level of mutual comfort and confidence. To help clerks still adjusting to ongoing remote work and socially distanced collaboration onboard their new leaders, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to virtual onboarding.

Best Practices for Effective Virtual Onboarding Sessions

There are basic tenets of successful orientation meetings that you should uphold during your virtual onboarding:

  • Position yourself as an advocate and trusted ally for your elected officials
  • Keep the tone of the meeting positive and enthusiastic, even if you or your new leaders are less confident engaging using virtual meeting technology
  • Ensure you are leading the virtual call from an area with reliable Internet service so that you both can focus entirely on your discussion without distractions
  • Turn your camera on and ask the newly elected official to do the same; being able to read facial expressions and body language will help build trust and allow you to reinforce critical information with non-verbal cues

Essential Topics to Discuss During Your Elected Official Onboarding Virtual Meetings

Whether your onboarding sessions are virtual or you resume in-person training, clerks should cover the following topics during their orientation meetings:

  • Compensation, benefits, and expense allotments
  • Ethical conduct expectations
  • Council policies, regulations, procedures, and meeting protocols
  • Legal requirements, including financial disclosures and regulations surrounding conflicts of interest
  • Voting procedures
  • Robert’s Rules of Order (if used by your administration)
  • The municipality’s financial structure and current economic condition, and applicable fiduciary responsibilities
  • Traditional and social media policies
  • Open meeting laws that impact your municipality
  • Council seating guidelines (for when in-person meetings resume)
  • Sub-committee assignments and roles
  • Policy direction related to personnel issues and labor relations
  • Ongoing economic development and planning initiatives
  • Education opportunities
  • Expectations for special meetings and when they may be required
  • Procedures for addressing citizen inquiries and requests
  • Your administration’s organizational structure, department responsibilities, and chain of command
  • Contact information for appropriate leaders across the organization
  • How to conduct orderly meetings, especially if they will remain virtual
  • Expectations of the consent agenda process if applicable to your organization

Stress the Importance of the Official-Staff Relationship

During your onboarding discussion, emphasize the relationship that your administration expects your newly elected official to have with the city or county manager and associated staff. These relationships will naturally need to develop over time; however, every new official will need a foundational expectation for the hierarchy of decision-making and what each party should expect from one another. Include clear direction for how your new hire should handle staff grievances. You are welcome to share with your officials this eBook on how to manage difficult conversations in the public sector.

Collaboration with Public Safety Leaders

With ongoing threats to local government security and safety, every new elected official should receive dedicated training related to emergency preparedness, with topics ranging from natural disaster protocols to business continuity plans to active shooter procedures and ongoing COVID-19 safety strategies. Such detail is best presented by the public safety experts in your administration, so schedule time as part of your orientation for a public safety leader to meet with your newly elected officials. Ensure they know at exactly what time to join your video call. At least one week before the onboarding session, meet with your public safety leader to test their technology and Wi-Fi connection to ensure that they too will be able to present to your new official with their camera on and no buffering or sound quality issues.

If your administration uses an emergency notification tool and your new elected official will be part of an internal communication group, provide them with the information they will need to access time-sensitive messages via their smartphone.

Facility Tours

Once all your facilities are re-opened, and it’s safe for staff to visit, assign applicable department leaders to provide facility tours of your local offices. These informal meetings will allow your newly elected official to meet with key stakeholders in a less formal but educational setting. Such facility tours should include:

  • City/Town Hall
  • Public safety buildings
  • Water treatment facility
  • Waste recovery facility
  • Public works office
  • Parks and recreation facilities

How to Use Your Agenda and Meeting Management Software

Your newly elected official will soon realize that your agenda and meeting management software will be a critical tool for collaboration, agenda contributions, and transparency. Take adequate time to train your new official on using the software and what they should expect to be their responsibilities as an elected official. Given the importance of the agenda and meeting minute review process, consider setting up a separate one-on-one virtual meeting with your elected official to discuss this topic.

Assign a Mentor

If your administration does not already have a formal mentorship program, ask a seasoned administrative leader council member to mentor your newly elected official. Throughout the official’s term, the mentor should be available to answer questions, provide guidance, help them navigate uncertain situations, and give them proactive, constructive feedback to help them be a collaborative and impactful community leader.

Create a Digital Onboarding Manual

You will be covering a significant amount of information in your onboarding meeting with your new official. Give them a single document to refer to if they have questions or need to refresh their memory on your discussion’s details. Create an elected official manual that you share electronically as a follow-up to your onboarding meeting.

The beauty of a comprehensive document is that you can include more content than you will have time to discuss when you meet virtually. Be sure to include the following vital information:

  • Your administration’s mission statement
  • Short-and-long-term goals
  • Ordinances, charter, bylaws or other vital governance documentation
  • Municipal codes
  • Calendar of local events and key council dates

Additional Administrative Support Tasks

After meeting with your newly elected official and sharing your onboarding manual, your work is not done. You will need to complete the following administrative tasks quickly after your elected official takes office:

  • Work with your IT department on the set-up of their municipal email address and access to all software and technology systems
  • Order their name plaque for use during meetings
  • Issue a parking permit
  • Provide their address, W-4 form, and direct deposit authorization form to your treasurer so they can receive their stipend
  • Issue the oath of office
  • Order business cards
  • Add their bio and headshot to your municipal website

Conclusion

Veteran clerks know that newly elected officials sometimes struggle transitioning from the role of a citizen to a board or council member. Onboarding is a critical opportunity to set foundational guidelines, explain procedures, set expectations, and begin building a trusted relationship with your new hires. By giving the process the time and focus it needs, your administration and its leaders will be stronger and better prepared to begin the vital process of quickly leading your community.