Virtual onboarding: A guide for success
The first week in a new job can be overwhelming. A new hire has to take in their new surroundings and tools, meet new people (while also trying to remember their names and what they do) and absorb the company culture – alongside, of course, starting to get to grips with their tasks and responsibilities.
So what happens when this process happens on a virtual platform?
The past few months have seen a switch to working from home and it looks as though this trend is set to continue. A recent study by Perkbox found that 15% of employees would like to work from home permanently/five days a week in the future. Some companies, including Twitter, have announced that all employees will now be able to work from home permanently from now on, if they wish.
This calls for a change to many processes within businesses, but a major one is the onboarding process. Onboarding new hires remotely brings new challenges and calls for many changes to the traditional processes.
If you’re about to go through a remote onboarding process, or you’re planning for the future – we’ve put together the key steps for a smooth introduction. We’ve also provided ways to make new employees feel comfortable in their new remote work environment, get them on board with the company culture and how to get them productive as soon as possible.
How does onboarding remotely work?
There’s no one size fits all approach when it comes to onboarding – in a virtual world, or otherwise. An onboarding process needs to display your company culture, values and mission while sharing the skills and knowledge that employees need for a successful career within your business.
Steps to successful virtual onboarding:
1. Preparation is key
The virtual onboarding process can’t just be one meeting which gets ticked off your to-do list as being ‘done’. The process needs to be extensively prepared and conducted over a variety of interactive sessions that incorporate all the businesses products, services and meetings with all the different managers, team members and even business leaders within the company.
Firstly, ensure your new starter has all the equipment and resources they need before their first day. If they require a work laptop, you should have it – plus any other hardware they need – set up and sent to their home ahead of their start date. Access to accounts, tools and software should also be prepared and ready. Either have a member of the IT team on hand to help them get set up on their first day, or if your IT team is at capacity, consider creating a series of instructional videos.
Before they start, send a link to a video call with your new starter’s line manager to be held on their first day, and provide a walkthrough of what they should expect in their first week.
The first week of a new job can feel uncertain at the best of times, so without a team to help if a new starter looks lost, it can feel even worse. Meetings and events should be scheduled throughout the week to provide structure.
2. Send a welcome package
Starting a new job is an exciting and special time – but these emotions can get lost during the virtual process if it feels too stuffy and businesslike.
Send over a small welcome package to arrive on their first day. It could include anything from a company mug, to a water bottle, a notebook, or even a desk plant. Include a small welcome message from the team too. This helps your new employee to feel like part of the company and brings a little more excitement to their first day.
3. There’s no such thing as over-communication here
It may come as no surprise, but video is a very important tool during this process.
For HR teams, you may want to consider creating a series of short videos on induction topics. You can send them over to new hires each day during their first week to introduce topics such as policies or company values. These will help to ensure that things are communicated clearly, without taking up a lot of your HR team’s time by having to do these individually for each new starter.
Line managers should also have a daily catch up with their new starter for the first couple of weeks. Sending a quick message, email or taking a 10 minute coffee break over video won’t take a lot of time out of their day but will make the new hire feel more comfortable. These catch ups should be used to discuss both tasks and how they’re feeling. This may sound like an obvious step as a HR member but don’t just assume that all line managers will do this automatically. It’s an important step that can often be forgotten, so be sure to remind your line managers.
Regular team calls are also important. Even though your employees should be able to keep in contact over email or through services like Slack, video calls help employees gain real connections. Having a team call at least once a week is important to let a new employee get to know their colleagues and the team dynamic.
4. Provide situations to build relationships
When you aren’t able to meet your new colleagues and teammates in person, it can feel isolating and the thought of asking questions or collaborating on work can seem daunting. If these relationships aren’t created in the long term, it can lead to disengagement and high turnover rates – making relationship building a vital part of virtual onboarding.
Managers need to get creative with how they help facilitate relationship building:
Designating a ‘buddy’ is just as important virtually
For a new starter, having someone outside of their manager frequently checking in with them helps them to build a more social connection with another person in the company. This is important as it allows the new starter to ask questions and gain advice from a peer who has gone through the same experience.
Plan a virtual lunch with your new starters or with their ‘buddy’ and direct teammates
If you have the budget, sending over a food voucher and asking new starters to treat themselves to lunch – which they eat together virtually, is a great way to get to know each other socially. It also helps add some fun to their first week. If it’s between a group of new starters, it also helps to build a support group.
Keep it interactive
Ask team members to do a very short presentation (just one slide) with three interesting facts about themselves, plus some pictures which are special to them. It might sound embarrassing but as a new starter it really helps to get to know the team and find common ground. It’s nice for existing members of the team too, as it brings them closer together remotely.
Add social activities to the calendar to encourage attendance
When there’s so much work to be done, it can be easy for social activities to slip to the back of your mind, particularly when they’re virtual. Try adding these to your team’s calendar – for example, a couple of times a week you could add a ‘tea break’ into the calendar to encourage people to take some time out of their day to get together and chat, or arrange virtual beers on a Friday. When it’s a meeting in the diary, more colleagues will attend – expanding your new starter’s communication base further.
5. Set clear expectations and take time to learn skills gaps
When employees are working remotely, it’s critical that their responsibilities, KPIs and objectives are outlined clearly, so it’s understood what’s expected of them.
Check-in with your new employee frequently over their first few weeks to make sure they understand their tasks and discuss what they can do to achieve their goals.
By frequently checking in, you allow your new hire to get to full productivity much faster and take away any anxiety that might be building around things they don’t understand or areas where they feel like they need more training.
6. You might not be in the workplace, but your new hire should still feel connected to the culture
Set up a virtual meeting with HR to introduce your company culture, values, mission and the story behind how the company got started. Getting senior leadership involved in this session too can really help to explain the company story to newbies.
Senior leaders should share their story within the company to help inspire new employees – it can help them feed off their passion. Holding a session like this every three months for groups of new starters works well – it means that the sessions can be more in-depth, and include a virtual Q&A, without taking up too much of the senior leadership's time on a regular basis.
Further, holding onboarding sessions with members of the wider team is incredibly useful too. When they aren’t sharing the same office space, it can be easy for new starters to only get to know their direct colleagues, without knowing or meeting anyone else in the company. It's important to involve a variety of people in your onboarding and training sessions to allow new starters to get to know different people across the business.
7. Provide a reading list
Before new starters have properly gotten their teeth into their tasks and responsibilities, there's often some downtime. In a remote working environment, this could lead to new employees feeling lost or anxious about what they should be doing.
Create a list of documents, essential articles, e-learning resources, competitor research, and useful websites to take a look at during any breaks. This will also help break up the constant calls during those first couple of weeks.
8. Finally, review your onboarding process
Onboarding remote employees is likely a new experience for your company, so asking for feedback on how you’re doing can be a great way to improve the process. Ask new employees what they thought went well and what they think could be improved so you can adapt your virtual onboarding process in the future.