A Guide to Virtual Onboarding

Virtual onboarding

Recent weeks have seen many of us adapting to remote working from home offices, and businesses juggling to continue operating in a whole new environment.  Whilst many companies have put a temporary hold on recruiting and onboarding new talent, not every company can afford to do this. Indeed, some are actively recruiting. Certain roles may be essential to sustaining and growing the business amidst these uncertain times. Onboarding new hires when everyone is working remotely brings unique challenges. With no physical office to welcome and connect new employees, how should the onboarding process adjust to match the circumstances?

We’ve put together some tips for onboarding and welcoming new employees into a remote work environment to ensure they are set up for success and feel like part of the team.

Preparation and set up

Preparation and organisation are key! This not only communicates that you are on top of things as a company, but it also highlights to your new employee that you have put in time and effort to prepare for them starting. You want to ensure they feel welcome and ready for their first day so it is important that they have the right tools and resources available to them. What equipment and devices will they need? You should order a laptop and any other hardware well ahead of their start date and have this sent to their home.

It is important that all tools and systems are set up to facilitate their remote work. This means ensuring that your new hire is provided with a log in, email address, passwords etc as required.

Decide within your team who will be responsible for sharing information with them regarding their first day. This should include:

  • Links to join into any video conferences taking place
  • A clear agenda of what they should expect for their first few days
  • What time their onboarding sessions will begin and end
  • How they can prepare (ensure they have a strong WiFi connection, a quiet space to work, web cam etc.)

This may be the first time the new hire is working remotely, so be as explicit and instructional as possible.

Modifying your onboarding content for virtual learning

If you already have an onboarding process in place, you’ll need to modify the content to be accessible for virtual workers.

Welcome pack

If you typically hand new hires a welcome pack full of useful documents, these will now have to be amalgamated, organized into a PDF style document and sent out digitally.  Trial the pack with an existing employee to ensure all links are working before you issue.

Onboarding presentations

If you typically do an in-person presentation introducing the company, you’ll have to modify that to suit a virtual learning environment. Why not record a short welcome video to accompany any digital presentations? You could also share photos of the office to replace any physical office tour you would normally do.

Instructional eLearning

If you typically have a new hire sit with a member of the team to review tools and systems, consider replacing that with short eLearning instructional videos. Better still, align your team member to run through the tools and systems through video conferencing. You can still refer them to eLearning, but this will enrich the onboarding experience further and let your team get to know your new start.

Planning the first few weeks

With no colleagues around to point them in the right direction, you will need to have a clear plan of work in place for a new hire. You’ll want to make sure that new employees are not sitting at home alone wondering how they are going to fill their first few weeks of work. Consider creating a timetable and scheduling the following events over video conference:

  • Individual introductions to each of their teammates
  • Virtual team lunch
  • Introduction to leaders in their team/cross-functional teams
  • Introduction to support teams
  • Assigning them 2-3 tasks they can complete over their first week
  • Team meeting to discuss the team culture and expectations
  • Daily stand-ups

Use collaborative technology and digital tools to maximise engagement

Starting a new job can be daunting, especially when your first day is conducted remotely and you don’t have the luxury of going out for a team lunch or drinks. When bringing a new member into a virtual team, it’s critical that the onboarding process does everything possible to integrate them into the group and help them begin to build trust and form relationships.

Use technology to introduce and welcome them to the team. Video conferencing allows employees to make eye contact and observe facial expressions that are important to interpersonal communication. Set up a team video call so your new employee can put faces to names and get to know everyone.

Collaborative tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack can really help in getting your new recruit on board and integrated into the fabric of your organisation. Be mindful that some of these tools may be unfamiliar to your new hire, so make sure you provide some simple guidelines to get them up and running as quickly as possible.

Check in regularly

It can be overwhelming trying to get up to speed with a new company’s work practice and culture – even more so at a distance. Frequent interaction and communication with your new hire will ensure they feel as engaged, supported and connected as possible.

One-to-one time is a hugely important aspect of an onboarding process. Carve out time for regular check ins to see how they’re doing, especially in their first week. You want to remind them that they are not working in isolation, and that you are there to support them. You should also be available to answer any questions they may have. Use your collaboration tools to do this, and if you are unavailable then make sure someone else in the team can step in and help.

Set clear expectations

Onboarding employees with a clear picture of their duties and what is expected of them builds the foundations for success. You should verify that new employees understand their tasks and the systems they’ll use in their work.

Ensure clarity around company values, team objectives and individual goals. You should also establish time frames for training, reviews and milestones.

Consider the following:

  • Develop and share a task calendar after your new hire’s training and onboarding sessions
  • Define long and short term goals
  • Schedule weekly one-on-one meetings and daily team stand ups to discuss upcoming projects, progress and resolve potential issues.

Be flexible

Be mindful that it can be overwhelming to be onboarded in a completely remote environment and that the new employee’s learning journey may need to be adjusted along the way. By spacing out learning, you will give the new hire a chance to absorb the information and ask questions instead of inundating them with content all at once.

In these unusual times, when many people are responsible for children at home as well as their work, you can add some much-appreciated flexibility. Let your new hire know they can work their way through onboarding information at their own pace and in their own hours.

Communicate upfront that you are aware of variables such as childcare and other challenges currently being faced. This shows empathy and sets a positive supportive tone that can create strong loyalty for the long term.

Culture matters

It can be easy to overlook culture when onboarding a remote hire, but be careful not to. When employees feel connected to the culture, they work harder and feel as though they are making an impact from the start. Your culture can be the difference between whether your new hire stays or leaves. Keeping your culture strong, no matter what, is imperative.

The onboarding process for virtual team members should do everything it can to promote the organisation’s culture, mission and values. Virtual employees should have a good understanding of what sort of company they’re working for and how the work they’re doing contributes to its goals. Providing people with a sense of purpose is important to keep them inspired and engaged, which is especially important for anyone working remotely.

Document and refine the onboarding process

It’s important to document process changes and design a remote onboarding guide to keep managers informed. While everyone is transitioning to working remotely, things can become more ambiguous. Having access to documentation that outlines roles, responsibilities and changes to onboarding in a remote environment helps keep everyone informed and accountable.

For each new process you implement, you should review its impact and results. Once new team members are settled in to their role, ask them the value they got from your virtual onboarding process. By constantly evaluating and improving the process, you can help remote workers adjust to their new roles more easily and can refine for future remote hires.

In summary …

Successful onboarding ensures a clear path for employees as they join a new company. Even in these unprecedented times, the shift to remote working shouldn’t prevent new employees from having a positive experience when starting a new role. Indeed, a good onboarding experience will eliminate many of the ambiguities and confusion surrounding virtual work, allowing new team members to settle into their roles quickly and begin to build the relationships and trust they need to deliver results.

Remember that the onboarding process sets the tone for the employee’s experience with the company so it pays to invest time and effort in making it a positive one!

Please get in touch with the Purpose HR team if you would like any additional advice or support for your business on successful remote onboarding or how to adapt your current process.