Virtual onboarding: 7 tips for success

Welcoming new hires remotely? Consider this expert virtual onboarding advice to help your remote employees get up to speed quickly and confidently
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virtual onboarding tips

Starting a new job is stressful even under the best of conditions, but it is especially challenging in today’s remote business environment. These days, a solid virtual onboarding process is more critical than ever to ensure new hires have the tools and resources they need to succeed.

Studies show that 69 percent of workers are more likely to stay with a company for three years or more if they experienced an optimum onboarding process. The same study found businesses that have a robust and well-organized onboarding process empower new hires to get up to speed faster, which results in 50 percent more productivity than businesses without a standardized process.

Virtual onboarding tips

Employers these days must find ways to bridge the digital gap and help new hires feel like part of the team just as they would if they were in a traditional office space. As the HR director for a consulting services firm who has worked virtually for over seven years, I’d like to share some tactics that can help ensure a happy new hire who is ready to hit the ground running.

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

1. Pre-start communication

Onboarding should start as soon as the new hire has accepted the job offer. Communicate regularly with your new hire and be clear on what you need from them before they start. Share pertinent information such as the recommended dress code on video conference calls. At Netlogx, we grant new team members access to their company email and our payroll system prior to their start date to ensure everything is set up and ready to go on their first day. Be available to answer any pre-start questions your new hire may have.

2. Equip new hires with technology as soon as possible

An employee’s first day usually involves seating arrangements, getting acquainted with hardware and software, and meeting the team. However, in a completely remote world, it will be necessary to ship or pick up devices. Make sure that all equipment arrives prior to the employee’s start date – even if it is a few days early – to ease any anxiety.

It’s best to load new machines with company-specific software and programs that can be updated remotely so that all your new hire needs to do to get online is insert the appropriate credentials. IT teams responsible for onboarding can walk through the process one-on-one and answer questions. Set up a support ticketing system that enables new team members to quickly ask for help when they need it and that enables real-time updates as the issue is in process of resolution.

3. Spread onboarding out over the first week

Shorter bursts of training allow a new hire to digest and retain information far better than long days with extended sessions. Spreading the process over a longer period of time also enables hiring managers to address issues and make improvements if something is not working. It also reduces the stress that a new hire might feel working from home, especially if they are juggling responsibilities with children, partners, and pets while also attempting to absorb new information.

Shorter bursts of training allow a new hire to digest and retain information far better than long days with extended sessions.

Another benefit of extending the training process: It allows time for colleagues to connect with the new hire. We allow new hires to work through the majority of onboarding training material independently and at their own pace via our Learning Management System. This offers flexibility and empowers new team members to manage their own time and workload from the beginning.

Design an agenda that includes three to five days of training and share it with your new hire to set expectations. On day one, hold a live session with the new hire and members of the team to cover company values, culture, product and service descriptions, and other key information. To acquaint new employees with file storage, consider creating a scavenger hunt where the new hire can search for items and documents in your company’s online systems.

4. Emphasize company values

Workplace culture is a critical component of employee engagement and satisfaction. In fact, one in five employees surveyed by the Society of Human Resource Management said they would leave a workplace because of poor culture. The morals, values, and beliefs of an organization must be inherent in the very fabric of the company DNA. Ensuring that new hires are willing and able to understand and accept your company’s culture can make all the difference between an average team member and a passionate, engaged, and productive one.

On the first day, consider break-out panels with company leaders, managers, and fellow colleagues who can communicate your organization’s values and what those values mean personally to each employee. These break-out groups can also help foster camaraderie among employees who are working remotely.

5. Over-communicate and over-engage

You might worry that over-communicating could overwhelm a new employee, but it will actually ease new job jitters and anxiety and boost their confidence that they have the tools and guidance to complete their job responsibilities after training has concluded.

In the pre-pandemic world, hiring managers and team members could easily stop by a new hire’s desk and chat, but the virtual environment makes such casual communications more challenging. Make sure hiring managers and team leads check in with the new hire every day through email, chat, or a quick video call. In these check-ins, go beyond just that day’s priorities – ask how they’re doing, and try to include social aspects that enable a deeper understanding of the new hire as an individual.

6. Assign a mentor or "work buddy"

Orientation and laptops are only part of broad onboarding efforts – hiring managers are central to successfully integrating a new employee. While the responsibilities of hiring managers haven’t changed, today’s environment has changed how they do their jobs.

Managers should remain active in the onboarding process, but it’s helpful to also assign a mentor or “buddy” to help new hires get oriented in their new role. A mentor can provide guidance and advice in situations such as determining the distinct communication styles of the people they will work with day-to-day. This is one of the most important pieces of any onboarding process, whether virtual or in-person.

7. Ask for feedback

The best processes continuously improve and adapt to changing situations, and onboarding is no different. Conduct short surveys with new hires to gauge what works and what does not in your onboarding process and enact changes that can improve the experience for future hires. At the end of the new team member’s first week, conduct an informal check-in to see how their first week went. Make sure they have everything they need and ask if there is anything you could have done differently to improve the onboarding process.

Consider bringing business leaders together for an “Ask Me Anything” session in which employees who have finished onboarding can express concerns, fears, benefits, and exciting moments throughout the journey. At Netlogix, every new team member has the opportunity to spend 30 minutes to chat with our CEO, which helps cement initial impressions of our company culture.

Keep in mind that when hiring managers and business leaders ask for feedback and then implement that feedback, it reassures new employees that their thoughts and opinions will be heard during more complex projects or business ventures.

A new hire’s experience during the onboarding process has an immense impact on their engagement, job satisfaction, productivity, and passion for the role. For many, virtual onboarding is a new practice, but it can be incredibly effective to help an organization build a steadfast and energetic workforce. Companies that make employees feel heard and valued are far more likely to see better retention rates, better productivity, and better customer experiences.

Virtual onboarding might seem challenging at first, but the data indicates it is far more costly when organizations don’t embrace a thoughtful, practiced training program. Remember, you only have one chance to make a first impression – so make sure to get it right with your new team members.

[ How can leaders better support teams working remotely at a time of much uncertainty? Read How to lead in the age of newly remote teams. ]

Vicki is the human resource director for netlogx. She has enjoyed a diverse career path, beginning with her work for a number of years at a Fortune 500 company initially working as a helpdesk analyst and then progressing to a number of team leader positions, one of which was managing an international helpdesk.