How To Deliver The Best Virtual Onboarding Experience

Published on February 9, 2021

The long-term success of employees starts with how a company onboards new hires. Welcoming and training new staff -- and orienting them to your company culture -- poses unique challenges in a virtual environment.

Adapting onboarding from an in-person to virtual setting isn’t as simple as moving from the conference room to a Zoom meeting. Certain interactions transpire on-site as a function of being there: bonding with others in a cohort, observing company culture in action, meeting key contacts spontaneously by running into them in the kitchen etc. Employers must intentionally facilitate remote opportunities for exposure and engagement that they can take for granted when in-person.

Optimizing virtual onboarding is important because it impacts initial job performance, satisfaction and, ultimately, retention. A positive new employee experience builds off impressions made during the hiring process to inspire confidence and excitement while conveying essential information.

Consider Formats, Groupings & Timing

On-site sessions typically include breaks for casual downtime and conversation. Remote sessions should too. Vary formats to incorporate social opportunities, like a virtual lunch or small breakout sessions, which spark connection and engagement. Adding interactive meetings is even more critical when using recorded programs for training. Allowing for conversation provides the chance to build rapport and relationships.

Grouping new hire cohorts together for certain activities is an effective way to build community too. Even if it’s just a few people hired over several months, bonding over a shared experience can reinforce that they’re part of a larger team. If your company is adding a significant number of new employees, provide virtual networking opportunities with existing staff as well.

Consider the attention span of new hires who are spending hours on screen, for several days, while watching and listening to important topics. Although it may seem efficient to condense training into a short timeframe, people will retain information better when it’s broken into smaller segments over a slightly longer timeframe.

Anticipate Needs

Don't underestimate the importance of ensuring that new employees have what they need to work and know where to go for assistance when needed.

Before day one, confirm that new hires have the equipment they need and meet your company’s technology requirements. If they don’t, help them get up to speed (sometimes literally).

For training on critical systems/programs, don’t rely exclusively on self-guided videos. Assign a subject matter expert to check in with new employees and answer questions. Share a contact list of who to reach for what (IT, benefits) and the best way to do so (email, phone, Slack).

When new employees are working virtually, provide guidance on video set up, presence and engagement. This goes a long way in building a confident, polished team that best reflects your company brand and sets them up for success.

Lead By Example

From materials to methods, every aspect of onboarding is an opportunity to communicate what the company is all about -- and every person involved is an ambassador in this effort. By design, the onboarding experience should continue the impressions made during the hiring process and align with your employer brand and values. For example, if you market yourself as an innovative and fun company, then the onboarding process should be too.

Invite representatives from other departments (besides HR and IT) to share information about their areas to help new employees learn how their roles interact and impact the big picture of company.

Make A Big Impact By Little Things

Small gestures can go a long way in building excitement and engagement when joining a new company. Send new hires branded swag (e.g., coffee mug, hat, vest or mousepad) or a gift card for home lunch delivery on their first day. Share a companywide welcome email and/or company page LinkedIn post to provide recognition and encourage staff to reach out to new team members.

Employees will be more engaged when they see smiling faces and have positive interactions. Plan fun activities during onboarding (like a virtual trivia competition, chocolate tasting or BYO happy hour) to drive conversation and connection with new colleagues.

When In Doubt, Over-Communicate

Managers can’t just “pop in” to see how new employees working remotely are doing the way they can when in the office. Regular communication is critical to monitor progress, respond to questions and obtain feedback. This accessibility shows new hires that the company cares about its people and their success.

It's also important to include direct supervisors in communications about training schedules and content. They should be supporting orientation processes, not contradicting it with conflicting priorities.

At the end of onboarding and again several months later, invite new hires and their supervisors to provide feedback about what worked well, what didn’t and what onboarding missed that would’ve been helpful. Not only will this information improve the onboarding experience for future hires, soliciting their feedback conveys that employee voices matter beyond immediate job duties.

Remember, Virtual Onboarding Is Just The Beginning

From start to finish, the onboarding experience should leave new employees with greater confidence and a positive outlook on their new position, the people they work with and the company they represent. Clear communication, varied training formats and engaging networking opportunities will set up new hires for success. Investing in strong virtual onboarding programs establishes the foundation for stronger, more productive and happier teams, not just for the first few weeks of employment, but the long run as well.



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