A guide to Virtual Onboarding

As weeks of restricted movement now turn to months and we adapt from the initial shock and the need to steady the immediate ship to the ultimate realisation that this isn’t going to be a quick blip which sees us all jumping back on the tube the day after tomorrow, companies are now having to look hard at their strategy for continuing to succeed and the steps that need to be put in place to keep the wheels moving.

While many companies are placing a hold on hiring new talent, many others are bucking this trend and continuing to hire as well as honouring offers that were made prior to the eruption of Covid.

So how do you ensure new members of staff are on boarded to your business successfully when most of the bells and whistles available to give new staff the very best first couple of weeks in their new role are now largely unavailable to you?

What to think about

There are a number of crucial steps employers can take to ensure this process is actioned as seamlessly as possible, but first and foremost, for me it starts with empathy!  A good friend of mine started a new role only last week and when chatting to him the week before, it was clear to me that, in addition to the normal angst anyone feels when starting a new role, this really was heightened by the fact that this was going to all be happening completely virtually after a commute of about 12 steps from bedroom to lounge!

So, putting yourself first and foremost in the shoes of your new employee it is essential that you demonstrate control and remove any immediate concerns by having a clear and effective remote onboarding plan in place so they know what is expected of them in those early days and weeks.

With the uncertainty around us, it’s natural that your new member of staff will have been worried that everything is still fine in the run up to their start date.  As such we strongly recommend that you seek to alleviate these concerns by reassuring them everything is fine and make contact to state just this in the run up to their start date.  But remember….if you end up needing to leave a message, be sure to explain why you’re calling in that message and that everything is in order. A missed call with a bland message will almost definitely lead to that horrid sinking feeling, made altogether unbearable with a potentially sleepless night if, heaven forbid they don’t get to call you back and speak with you immediately.

Preparation is key and ensures that your new employee has complete faith that you have put some time and effort into them starting.  To ensure they feel completely welcome and ready for their first day it is essential that they have the right resources and equipment available to them.  A lap top and any other hardware along with anything else associated with the practicalities of their working day should be ordered with successfully delivered well in advance of their first day.

It is essential that all tools and systems are set up and working and they must be provided with all of these relevant details, so ensure they have all their personal log ins, passwords and email details.  And remember, they likely won’t have knowledge or be confident in raising issues, so ensure that a relevant check in call is set up with associated departments such as your IT department to iron out any teething problems with a suitable direct contact number for them to call as potential issues arise.

On Day One

Beyond this, it is advised that HR and their line manager have interacted ahead of their start date to ensure that a suitable plan is established for their first few weeks.

On day one this should include:

  • The IT meeting to ensure everything is operating efficiently
  • A one on one welcome meeting with their line manager
  • A meeting with HR to talk through specific onboarding requirements (such as payroll and holiday requirements)
  • A breakdown of their role requirements with specific attention paid to other departments that you envisage them interacting regularly with
  • A discussion to outline any specific challenges they may personally have in relation to home working, such as environment and family pressures and how you will be able to aid them with any such issues as a business
  • A clear outline of their timetable for the coming weeks
  • Ideas, advice and links needed to provide any relevant training or learning requirements

Any relevant content associated to onboarding will obviously need to be modified for virtual learning.

If your company provides a welcome pack, this will need to be modified for sending out electronically and ideally provided before their start date for discussion with the relevant person (usually HR), once they have started employment.  Similarly, if your company provides welcome presentations, these will need to be modified for a virtual approach.  This information can be a great way to get across the personality of the company, especially given there is an extra challenge when promoting a culture remotely.  Therefore consider providing information which really promotes a sense of excitement and engagement such as team and office photos and invites to virtual get togethers which are more socially engineered like quizzes and remote social drinks.

Settling in

We also strongly recommend that you adopt a buddy system for all new recruits.  This will ideally be someone who is familiar (and even associated) to the work they will be doing.  Similarly this will be someone who is familiar with the wider company and can give guidance on how to approach key scenarios.  More importantly however, this person really is crucial to their welcoming to the business and therefore choose someone you know will be a great advocate and very approachable and can therefore give a real insight to that all important culture that you as a business like to foster.  We recommend this person checks in with your new recruit regularly and even daily in their first few weeks.

The first few weeks

Planning their first few weeks:

Having completed the first day and ensured all the basics, yet essentials are fully operational you now need to look beyond this to their first few weeks with the business.

A clear routine is essential and you need to ensure that your new recruit is kept busy with a defined plan in place.  We recommend creating a timetable and scheduling in the following virtual events:

  • Individual calls with all team mates
  • A buddy to provide any immediate daily training associated to the role, such as bespoke systems or customers
  • Relevant team working meetings
  • Virtual team lunch or drinks
  • A discussion and programme for wider training related to their role
  • Introduction and relevant virtual meetings with key business leaders and cross-functioning teams
  • Introduction to any relevant support teams
  • Inclusion to company wide information relating to business changes and developments, especially in relation to the business addressing issues relating to Covid

Beyond all the logistical stuff relating to their successful inclusion to the business, they should also be assigned 2-4 key tasks to complete with clear instruction for their completion and success.

Effective use of Technology

Technology and its effective use are paramount when onboarding someone remotely and therefore needs to be used in the best way possible to break down any barriers and promote the personality of your business and key teams.

We recommend using video conferencing in place of phone calls and emails at this time as fosters  greater engagement and allows you to observe facial expressions and read progress much better.  It also allows your new employee to put faces to names and start to build crucial bonds and alliances within the business.

We also don’t believe you can check-in too much when onboarding a new hire to ensure they quickly feel engaged and supported by the business.  This will likely need to be daily with their Manager and assigned buddy in the first couple of weeks and ensure this is kept relaxed and informal to ensure they feel comfortable in raising even the most basic of questions.  It is important that appreciation is given for how vulnerable and isolated they may feel in these first few weeks and you want to give reassurance wherever possible and for them to feel completely supported by the business.  Similarly, they need to feel comfortable with raising any key issues so allow them access to relevant key workers diaries with the approval to book in meetings should they feel a need.

Keep in touch

When onboarding employees effectively you should ensure they have a clear outline of their duties and your expectations as a business.  Take time to ensure your new employee fully understands their role and the tasks expected of them.  With so many people involved in this process it is therefore advised that you regularly recap on calls they have had and that you seek feedback from them on how these calls have gone.  If things don’t feel clear, then ensure that any questions are addressed and calls are rebooked if necessary.

It is also important, beyond their immediate integration to the business, that they start to feel a part of the wider business too and therefore ensure they are fully aware of current or upcoming projects associated with the business and team.  This will likely be provided by ensuring they are included in relevant team calls related to work.

Flexibility is also key when onboarding someone to the business remotely.  With additional pressures associated with remote working, bear in mind that the process may need to be adjusted along the way as new issues or challenges arise.  Ensure that you allow them time to breath and take in all the information so implement a timetable which allows them to consider and question points as you go.  Similarly, remember your empathy with this unique situation and having gleaned their individual pressures early on, be sure to recap on these and tailor any needs as they arise.  This will not only alleviate immediate concerns, but will improve longer term loyalty.

It is also important that all activity is documented and constantly recapped to allow for any areas which are falling down.  Similarly, be sure to seek honest and open feedback to your virtual onboarding process to allow for ongoing improvement and amendment.

What we think

There is no doubt that virtual onboarding does come with a different and unique set of challenges with the full involvement of lots of different parts of your organisation. However, it really shouldn’t prevent new employees receiving a positive experience to your organisation and in many ways, done correctly, can really allow you to shine as a slick and people centred business.  For me, the key is communication and approachability with a vast sprinkling of empathy.  By allowing for an open platform to raise concerns and questions and seeking constant feedback from your new employee you will not only be able to integrate them successfully to the business but will also be able to build excitement and passion for when you actually get to meet them face to face.


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