How We Created a Successful Virtual Onboarding Program

Like many organizations, our transition to a fully remote company during the COVID-19 outbreak has required our team to adapt quickly to this “new normal.” With several new employees joining this month and knowing an immersive onboarding experience would be critical to their success, we quickly implemented a virtual version of our onboarding program to ensure the transition from the physical to digital was seamless and effective.

Virtual Onboarding is a dynamic idea, which means we won’t get it perfectly right the very first time, but we’ve quickly learned a few fresh and innovative strategies that have made it a successful program so far:

  • Clear and Concise Communications: When working remotely, it’s nearly impossible to over-communicate. Where things tend to break down is when there’s a lack of clear direction and information sharing, so don’t be afraid to communicate more than you’d typically do with in-person onboarding. Send a welcome email before the new hire even logs on for day one, set up face-to-face video introductions with team members, and setup an end-of-day virtual happy hour. Most critical is to formalize everything: timelines, objectives, responsibilities and all supporting resources. This is especially true for leaders, the new hire’s “buddy” (more on that later), and for the entire team contributing to a high-quality onboarding and training experience.
  • Invest in Technology – and Encourage Digital Engagement: Technology alone won’t solve the challenges your business faces as we all shelter in place and work from home. But not having the right technology solutions will quickly halt any progress your team is trying to make. From video conferencing like Zoom to instant communications platforms like Slack and Teams, make sure your entire organization has access to the technology they need to perform, and that training on these platforms is top of mind during new employee onboarding. With so many options, don’t assume your new hire has a grasp on your company’s cultural use of each program or has even used your choice of technology before. Be sure to make technology solutions the primary way you communicate with new hires during onboarding. Video is almost always better than email, for example. When the new hire joins your company, they want to be part of the team – and that means seeing the faces of your current employees – not just the faceless email correspondence they could have.
  • The Onboarding “Virtual Buddy:” The idea of assigning a current team member to be the “buddy” of the new hire isn’t new. A trusted team member to show a new hire the ropes is a well-proven technique. The right onboarding buddy sets the tone, welcomes a new hire into the culture of the organization and boosts their confidence, and ultimately makes it easier to answers questions both big and small. With virtual onboarding it’s even more important to find the right person to act in this role. The “Virtual Buddy” shouldn’t be someone who just has some extra “free time” but instead they should have proven strengths in communications, adaptability, and effectiveness.
  • Make a Schedule: While most onboarding programs stick to some sort of a schedule, they’re often setup where a new hire “shadows” multiple coworkers for a few hours or days at a time. With virtual onboarding, a solid schedule that keeps the process on track is more critical than ever. The new hire will likely be bouncing from video call to video call with multiple members of the team, and without the assigned buddy being physically in the room, things can quickly get off track. A clear and well thought out schedule of all the critical onboarding activities is essential. And don’t forget to build in some breaks occasionally. Whereas breaks naturally happen in more typical onboarding, the virtual process can quickly fill up every available hour. Build in some breaks and give your new employee some time to take in everything they’ve learned during the first few days as part of the team.
  • Don’t Forget About the “Required” Steps: Every new hire needs to fill out paperwork from human resources, get setup with equipment from IT, and many other straightforward, common onboarding steps. Make sure your leadership is prepared for this. Just like in real life, no new hire wants to show up for the first day of work to find a disorganized pile of forms to fill out and a computer not ready for their use. Make sure to pay close attention to these “basics” and make a strong first impression of your organization.
  • Have a “Virtual” Open Door Policy: Not everything will run perfectly especially when working remotely. Technology may be what connects us together, especially these days, but “lost in translation” has never been truer. Ultimately, make sure that as leaders, you’re creating real-time opportunities and listening to feedback from your team, especially from those new hires in whom you’ve already invested so much.

Our newest team member, Marissa, just completed the Virtual Onboarding program. “It was a great experience and extremely helpful,” Marissa said. “Obviously, it’s not easy to train a new employee virtually but I feel like I have a really great foundation to start building on. While I definitely missed seeing everyone in person, I may not have met so many coworkers from across the country so quickly or had as much personal attention as I did without the Virtual Onboarding!”

Right now, no one knows for sure when things will “get back to normal” so it’s best to get your processes in order. Even when we return to offices in the months ahead, the lessons learned from having an adaptable onboarding process will go a long way toward the long-term success of your entire team.