Onboarding Employees in a Virtual Era
Updated: Nov 21, 2021
Starting a new job during a global pandemic can add a whole new level of stress; after all, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Despite many first interactions that are often now virtual instead of in-person, welcoming a new employee to your company is critical.
In this new era of working remotely, onboarding employees should still be viewed as a critical business function and can be done through a computer screen as effectively as traditional onboarding. Establishing culture, setting expectations, coordinating the delivery of technology and other tools, and delivering and completing necessary paperwork cannot be skipped. It is also the perfect opportunity to create an experience that is engaging, informative, and puts the new employee at ease during a period of uncertainty.
The goal of virtual employee onboarding is the same as in-person. You want the employee to feel welcome, get a sense of familiarity with their new company, its mission, vision, values, and facilitate connections with the team and tools to help them get started on the right foot. The only difference is that the new employee is engaged through virtual tools, such as webinars, video conferences, instant messenger, and other interactive online training platforms.
According to a 2019 Indeed survey, 76% of people say they can usually tell within the first six months of starting a job whether they’ll stay with the company for a while. In jobs where people left within the first six months, almost 4 out of 10 said a more effective onboarding process could have helped them stay longer. That is why getting your onboarding process right is so important.
Here are a couple of ideas to help you enhance your virtual onboarding process:
Cover the Right Information
The paperwork pile is real. When onboarding new employees, consider how will remote employees complete it? Will you send a stack in the mail, or ask the worker to download, print, sign, scan and send it back to you? Not every employee has access to such tools at home.
Consider using e-signature tools so your new employees can view, edit, and sign documents, and other new employee forms from the comfort of their own home. The Department of Homeland Security recently relaxed the I-9 verification for employees, making it easier for you to collect the necessary paperwork. (Electronic Employee Verification services can cost as little as $60-$80.)
Create an agenda and checklist for their first week, be flexible with your agenda, and allow new hires to go through the process at a slower-than-usual pace. Taking it slow, as opposed to inundating them with large amounts of documents for them to read through. Spread out the tasks over the week, so they can absorb the information.
Before their First Day:
Send new hire paperwork electronically
Create an agenda for their first week
Send a welcome message
Assign a welcome buddy
Deliver/stage necessary work equipment
Add them to all communication channels, regularly scheduled meeting appointments, and group e-mail/messaging groups
Send a new employee announcement to the team
Add new hire to various communication channels
Inform the team of their arrival
Get them online
Meet the team virtually - plan for an interactive icebreaker activity
Begin company orientation
First Week and Beyond:
Continue onboarding and company orientation
Go over roles, responsibilities, and expectations
Schedule frequent one on one meetings with their team, and manager
Build-in spontaneity as part of the team-building process
Ask, for feedback, what do they need to be successful
Make Them Feel Welcome
Social distancing requirements may have put a damper on bonding over lunches and potlucks, but that does not mean the ritual has to be abandoned. I recommend scheduling virtual lunches, happy hours, or coffee chats. Depending on the people involved, it could be one time or a series of meetings to get better acquainted with the team.
Set a budget and send the new hire a box of company swag including pens, T-shirts and job-related gadgets is another way to connect with newcomers. Depending upon your budget, you can have a picklist of items for the new hire, such as headphones, speakers, company logo sweatpants, or even coffee/lunch vouchers for their first day.
Send a welcome e-mail including relevant information, such as the agenda for the first week, links to access video conferencing tools, and any additional information they should have in advance.
Here is a list of essential items to cover in your welcome message:
Start date/time/work hours
Arrival instructions (i.e., video conference weblink)
First-day/Week schedule & agenda
Welcome events (i.e., team lunch)
Contact information, including information to access the employee intranet
Arrange for a delivery or pick up of work equipment. This should be ready to go in advance of their first day, allowing the new hire to download/install any company-specific programs needed. It is great to have a recommended list of equipment they need to be successful, such as a laptop, mouse, keyboard, headset, etc. Include initial IT setup instructions to help them get logged on and the ability to access their work email and calendar.
Starting at a new company while working remotely, can feel isolating. Consider assigning a go-to welcome buddy. This person should be available to meet with the new hire regularly and guide them through their first few weeks. A welcome buddy can assist in introductions to the team, share tips and advice as needed without burdening the supervisor/manager. Recall in an office setting, if new employees were not clear on a task, they could walk down the hall and check-in with their supervisor or go-to buddy. Now that these spontaneous drop-ins are nearly impossible, be proactive in communicating roles and expectations. This includes how often they expect to hear from the employee, how the company values are manifested at work, and what kind of relationship they want to build with new employees. A great way to do so is by setting up virtual job shadowing or job training sessions, this way the new employee can learn more about their role, and have a high-level understanding of what others in the team/department do. Give them specific tasks and assignments. Provide points of contact for each task to help set them up for success.
Keep onboarding activities interactive. Are you able to gamify your onboarding with polls, quizzes, scavenger hunts, and zoom breakout sessions? Consider ice breaker activities that can be interactive and memorable for the new hire. Find ways to build in spontaneity – such as “cold calling” or instant messaging new hires. By finding ways to spark conversation intentionally, it can mimic the hallway conversations and water cooler chats.
Schedule one-on-one with their supervisor more frequently until the new hire feels comfortable with their roles and responsibilities. Take the time to learn how the new hire learns best. What are their preferred work styles, preferences, and set time aside to answer their question’s? This is a great time for them to also provide you feedback on the onboarding process, and what they need more or less of.
Successful onboarding doesn’t have to be challenging in a virtual world. It is OK to slow the process down and schedule it out over several weeks. Providing the right tools and technology, the new hire will be able to connect with their coworkers, stay in touch regularly, and communicate clearly with their team.
And remember, we are all in a position to build a remote team that is productive and happy.