Virtual onboarding plan checklist: 10 essentials

Welcoming new hires while fully remote? Use this checklist to make sure your virtual onboarding plan works for managers and new employees
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The first 90 days on a job prove to be a critical time for both new hires and the IT leaders and managers overseeing them. That initial orientation and adjustment period is made all the more difficult in the virtual work environment.

“Adjusting to a new job can be challenging, especially in the first three months. Now, many new hires are starting their roles remotely, which adds a unique layer of challenges for employees and employers alike,” says Peg Buchenroth, senior vice president of human resources at professional staffing firm Addison Group. “To reduce future job dissatisfaction or turnover, leaders must make the most out of the first 90 days.”

More than half (53 percent) of hiring managers say skills training is challenging when onboarding new employees remotely, according to a recent survey by Addison Group. In addition, 40 percent said team introductions are challenging, while 38 percent say the same for technology onboarding and setup.

A clear and comprehensive virtual onboarding plan can help both managers and new employees navigate the early days.

Developing a clear and comprehensive virtual onboarding plan can help both managers and new employees navigate the early days. “The remote onboarding process is one of the most challenging aspects of remote work, since it’s relatively new for most companies and can make or break an employee’s experience,” Buchenroth says. “The execution of this program will help the new hire successfully adjust while also fostering inclusion, transparent communication, and managing team performance.”

[ Want more first-hand advice? Read Virtual onboarding: How to welcome new hires while fully remote. ]

“Rather than looking at the task of welcoming and onboarding a remote team member as a daunting and time-consuming task due to the lack of in-person micro-interactions, managers should leverage remote onboarding as a valuable opportunity to quickly learn the strengths and weaknesses of your new team member’s capabilities to self-organize and proactively communicate,” says Scott Griset, engagement manager for Theorem. “When done effectively, the remote onboarding process provides opportunities for rapid feedback and coaching cycles aimed to help your new team member become comfortable in their role.”

Virtual onboarding checklist: 10 keys to success

IT leaders likely already have a standard new hire onboarding package, including a checklist of company policies to review and instructions for setting up their digital workspace. “But in a remote setting, you’ve got to go beyond this standard approach and include a list of tasks and activities that allow the new team member to start interacting with their new team members and contributing to the team’s mission as soon as possible,” Griset says.

Consider these elements when creating or refining your virtual onboarding process:

1. Pre-onboarding

Share a first-day schedule ahead of time that includes equipment specifications and log-in information so your new hire can be familiar with the technology before their official onboarding call and be ‘camera-ready,’ advises Amelia Generalis, chief people officer of cloud communications company 8x8.

2. 90-day roadmap

“To encourage success and anticipate future needs of new hires, leadership should map out everything a new hire would be expected to know in the first 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days,” says Sharon Patterson, chief human resources officer with human resources consultancy LHH. “This helpful guide can help new employees stay on track and fulfilled.”

“The first 90 days is a critical benchmark for any new employee, but with a remote worker, it is important to check in even sooner to ensure demonstrated alignment with both competencies and with corporate culture,” says Linda Mann, chief experience officer of MBO Partners, which offers a workplace platform for independent professionals.

“Within 30 days, you should expect to see an employee introduced to key members in and outside of their department, making measurable progress within their required job learning within 60 days, and able to successfully articulate both corporate goals and how their own job role fits into this by 90 days at both an internal and external level.”

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3. Skills training

Remote learning can be the most challenging aspect of onboarding. “Require your team to attend live-streamed or prerecorded online courses to learn, develop, and master needed skills,” Buchenroth says. “Reinforce learning through other methods, such as staff meetings, internal podcasts and blogs, book clubs, panel discussions, newsletters, and social media posts.”

4. Discrete starting tasks

Griset likes to offer a detailed list of tasks for the first two weeks and broader outcome expectations for the end of month one and month three: “One of the tasks within the first two weeks should be for the new hire to present you a plan on how they will ramp up to achieve your broader outcome expectations.” 

Offering a task that would help the IT organization in the moment and naturally provide the opportunity to engage with colleagues and stakeholders is a good idea. “The quicker a new team member gains the trust of their team members,” Griset says, “the quicker those team members will be engaging them on chat and video calls, eliminating the feeling of isolation as a new remote team member.”

5. Communications plan

Remote work demands that managers and leaders be explicit about the “getting to know you” phase. “When you have employees scattered across the globe who have never met in person, it can be hard to develop a rapport that makes employees excited to sign onto work and do their jobs,” says Generalis of 8x8. “The onboarding process can also provide overwhelming amounts of information, and without face-to-face interaction, it’s harder to check in on employees and gauge how they are really doing.”

Generalis also advises developing a communications and onboarding plan for both the manager and new hire: “This creates a consistent process no matter what department in the organization the employee is joining and further establishes continuity in messaging.” 

6. Introductions and one-on-ones

Give your new team member a list of people they should schedule one-on-ones with during their first week. Griset suggests having the new team member post a “Read Me” introduction to a shared digital space, highlighting their background, fun facts they want to share about their personality and interests, and insights into how they like to work and what they expect of themselves and their teammates.

7. Mentorship

Fostering inclusion is important but can be difficult from a distance. In addition to ensuring all team members meet the new hire and setting up weekly meetings or team-building activities, assigning a mentor to the recent hire can help. It “allows for someone other than a direct manager to build a relationship with a new employee,” Buchenroth says.

8. Onboarding buddies

Getting new employees up to speed on the technologies, tools, and processes to be effective in their new roles has always been important. In the virtual 2020-2021 environment, it’s even more so.

Patterson suggests using a cultural ambassador or “culture buddy” to help new employees navigate things like tools, benefits, and workplace norms. “This can help the person better acclimate to the nuances of the culture that will become more apparent after the employee starts working and could be more confusing for someone working remotely,” Patterson says.

Tech company Interplay Learning assigns new hires and “onboarding buddy.” “That is someone on the team they may not get to know deeply otherwise,” explains Martha Aviles, Interplay Learning’s vice president of marketing. This not only helps the new hire feel welcome, it gives them someone to go to whenever they have a question.

”The key is for your new hire to be able to be self-sufficient and proactively engage people when they need help,” Griset says. “To do this during their first few weeks, they need to know who they can engage for help or expertise in specific areas.”

9. Digital integration

At Interplay Learning, new employees are added to the Slack channel immediately and greeted by their new teams.

“Many times the culture a company wants to develop can be lost in a situation like this, so it’s important that social distancing doesn’t become social isolation. Coaching your new employee and integrating them into a platform that offers a community with their new coworkers is of critical importance,” says Josh Christopherson, CEO at Achieve Today, a leadership and skill-building platform. “The tool we use has an AI coach that reaches out to the employees and checks in with them to discover how they are feeling, and then suggests courses or videos to help them move forward.”

10. Ongoing check-ins

Managers should hold frequent one-on-ones with new team members for the first two weeks and then fall into a normal weekly or bi-weekly cadence. The onboarding roadmap can be used as a guide. “Create a culture and mindset that feedback is welcomed right from the start, so ask your new team member what they’ve observed working with the team and what could be improved,” Griset says.

Mann of MBO Partners suggests using pulse surveys, which allow for anonymous feedback as a supplement to managerial check-ins, to “ensure that nobody slips through the cracks.”

Whatever elements the onboarding plan includes, one non-negotiable is making sure that the official process is visible (and accessible digitally) to the new employee, worked through as a team, regularly conveyed, and often reviewed. “It will help foster an environment where goals and job expectations are consistently clear and productivity and performance are being monitored and measured,” Buchenroth says.

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Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.