You sent employees home to work – and they mastered it. Now there are new employees – and you need to master virtual onboarding!
Onboarding has always been a critical factor in the success of hiring.
Get it right, and great employees stay to become major contributors.
Get it wrong, and great employees walk out the door, taking your time and their talent elsewhere.
Now, with more employees than ever working remotely – almost 65% at the peak, a Gallup study found – most HR leaders are challenged to recruit, hire and onboard new employees virtually. And it isn’t easy on new employees either.
Case in point: My son stepped out of college (although it felt more like a shove when the pandemic hit!) into a career in April 2020 – the first generation in virtual onboarding. He was delighted with the dream job, but sometimes felt bored, confused and uncomfortable. HR, bosses and colleagues still scrambled to figure out their remote jobs. How could they determine what the new kid’s job was from afar, too? It was a slow-go at first. To the company’s credit, direct managers leaned in, giving lots of one-on-one video and phone time. HR walked him through the essentials and followed up. They tweaked training to make it less isolating, more interactive and tactical. And then they brought him on site and had a working model for remote onboarding.
The good news: You don’t have to perfect the process through trial and error like his company did. And you don’t have to overhaul your onboarding (unless, of course, it wasn’t effective to start).
Instead, follow these eight best practices for virtual onboarding:
1. Keep the goals, change the venue
The goal of virtual onboarding remains the same as it was when you got to sit across the table from new hires:
- Get them familiar with your company, mission and values
- Make them feel welcomed and included
- Connect them with their bosses and colleagues, and
- Give them tools and training to be effective.
Recognize that you’re now limited to less personal, yet effective, Zoom calls, pre-recorded webinars, interactive training sessions and professional communication apps such as Slack and Workplace from Facebook.
2. Think like a new hire
Put yourself in the place of a new hire before you map out the virtual onboarding experience. What would a new hire want to know, do and learn within the first 30 days? 60 days? 90 days?
Instead of a checklist of to-dos – Fill out W-2, check. Sign off on benefits, check. Watch culture training session, check – anticipate new employees’ needs. When they’re remote, not meeting people personally, navigating new technology and worrying about how they’ll handle it all, they’ll likely need more than a pencil to check the box.
Make asking new hires what they expect part of the initial onboarding. Then HR leaders and direct managers can create interactive check-ins and coaching sessions. That’ll help ensure new hires feel welcomed, have the tools and support they need, and stay motivated.
3. Start early
Many HR leaders and individual teams have always welcomed new hires in ways fit for virtual onboarding by reaching out before the start date. They’d send recorded video messages, make group virtual calls and email welcome messages from team members.
For instance, one company we know asks employees who will be new hires’ team members to create short video introducing themselves. (When they were all on site, one person walked around the department and videotaped everyone). Another company gets the CEO to record a greeting.
At LinkedIn, HR sends a tip sheet before the first day, answering frequently thought (but not often asked) questions such as what to wear, bring and expect on the first day. They also include an email address for new hires to ask other questions and a link to the culture code and its social platform.
You might also send personal messages and practical tools to new remote hires just before they start. Send instructions on set up along with the equipment you provide, plus a link to technical details such as the ideal bandwidth, security information, login details and IT contacts.
Try to digitize the usual documents that must be signed, and plan to go over them during a video call so you can witness signatures.
4. Stay longer
Before the pandemic, the onboarding process at most companies lasted just 30 days, even though experts agree it should be closer to 90 days, according to research from CareerBuilder.
With remote work, HR leaders and front-line managers want to give new hires more time to onboard. Why? You might be able to do the paperwork and pre-recorded training in the same amount of time, but it’ll take more time – or touch points – to integrate new remote hires into the company culture.
Work won’t be done at home the same way it is on site. So rather than dictate expectations, timelines and task adherence, get new hires involved. Then you and front-line managers can adapt accordingly with regular check-ins and coaching.
5. Bring in the culture
Like we said, it’ll be more difficult – but as important as ever – to make remote hires part of your culture. They may not be surrounded in your physical culture, but you’ll want to immerse them in your values, mission and workplace connection.
One way: Consider giving new hires a “cultural ambassador” who can schedule video chats to talk with new employees about less formal benefits – such as employee resource groups, time off to volunteer and social activities – and how to take advantage of them.
Another tactic comes from Karen O’Neill, Director of People Growth at Facebook: They had an onboarding tradition of culture training new employees from across functions together so they make career connections and share new employee experiences. Now HR shifted and set up video conferences and an app channel for new hires across function to interact, train and share experiences.
6. Update the content
We don’t have to tell you Zoom fatigue is a thing. You don’t want to do it to new hires in the onboarding process. It’s important to adjust your training approach for virtual onboarding.
You’ll want to add more detail to sessions and mix up the content format. Incorporate more one-on-one chats, PDFs, screen sharing, phone calls and on-demand videos.
Allow a bit more time for onboarding, too. Rather than dole out all the information at once, pace it between job training. You might even offer flexibility, allowing new hires to work through some onboarding materials at their own pace and report back on it to you.
7. Connect, communicate often
You probably can’t over communicate with new hires in a virtual onboarding situation. A new job – and all of its uncertainties – are unnerving. Imagine doing it with no guidance!
Stay connected through email, chat and video. Try to include the practical elements – what needs to be learned or accomplished and how to do it – and the social – interests, concerns and feelings.
Even better, set up a schedule so new hires get a touch each day from at least two different people – HR, manager, mentor, culture ambassador, buddy, fellow new hire, etc.
8. Get feedback
Like most HR-related elements, virtual onboarding will need to progress as the workplace does. You’ll want to make it more effective, and aligned with business and staffing needs over time. So you’ll need feedback. Find out what new hires think after they aren’t so new any more.
For instance, at LinkedIn, the HR team directs virtual onboarding “graduates” to a short online survey where they rate different parts of the program and make comments. Leaders also follow up with a focus group for an informal chat on what virtual hires liked, didn’t like and still need.