It’s the start of a work relationship, the incorporation to a new work family—a first chance to experience the culture, the vibe, the people and the inner workings of an organization. But, what if you’re a remote employee? Can a virtual onboarding be done successfully? Yes! If it is done with thoughtfulness and intention.
Onboarding done right not only shows new employees the proverbial ropes, it also shares goals and expectations, it expresses the aspirations for new hires to be successful, to know that they are needed, and that the employee and employer are there to help each other. That can be tough to do through a computer screen.
A key to getting started with virtual onboarding is to take what you have for in-person onboarding and flip it to make it work for remote applications. But, before you can do that, you must have a program worth flipping. If your current onboarding plan isn’t up to snuff, now is the time to get it there.
The Big Picture
Introducing … the three Ps of virtual onboarding: purpose, people, and process.
Purpose comes first. Here’s where the planning and prep work happens, where your virtual onboarding plan comes together, and your goals and expectations are solidified. What do you want to accomplish by the end of onboarding? What’s essential and what would be nice to have? It’s important to keep in mind in this phase that trying to accomplish too much can lead to confusion and frustration for everyone involved.
Next up is people. Here is where introductions are made to the boss, teammates, support people like IT and HR, and any other areas the new hire needs to know for survival. Don’t forget the mentor! While mentors are always recommended, for a remote onboarding, a mentor can be a lifesaver. It’s a go-to person for anything related to the work and the organization and will help the new hire feel connected. During these introductions, seasoned staff should weave the culture into the conversations whenever possible, talking about the company, what the organization believes in, and how the new hire compliments that.
Finally, the process. Now is the time to organize the remote onboarding program into steps. Create a timeline, clarity, and efficiencies. Focus on building relationships, setting up the new hire for success (and retention). Some questions you should answer are:
- What actions, information, and technology are needed?
- How will we communicate? Zoom, Teams, phone, email, text?
- How will the manager keep in touch? Regular meetings, internal messages, daily check-ins?
Once you have your virtual onboarding up and running, evaluating its success (or lack thereof) will help you fine-tune and evolve the process. Ask yourself:
- What worked?
- What got stuck?
- What’s missing?
- What’s confusing?
Be sure to talk with your new hire at this point— he or she is critical for feedback. Also, touch base with the stakeholders. The purpose of the process is to make the remote onboarding experience effective and efficient and by finding the gaps and fixing them.
In the Weeds
Congrats! You’ve gotten your virtual onboarding program moving and you’re evaluating as you go. It’s time to make your remote employee’s experience more “normal.” Remote employees can’t bump into people in the hallway to have an impromptu chat or grab lunch with a co-worker. But these are important relationship-building moments and need to happen with your remote people. How, you ask? By honoring the fact that they are at a disadvantage out of the gate. To combat this, set up video-conference meetings just to talk to new hires. What has been challenging? How about pleasant surprises? Overall, how are they doing?
Just like in-person onboarding, virtual onboarding needs a solid plan and ongoing evaluation. It may take more time and effort, but remote workers and remote onboarding are here to stay. And, once you craft the secret sauce for your company’s virtual onboarding, you can literally look for the best talent anyplace on the globe. Now that’s a talent pool we can get behind.
Tips from MRA members:
- Send the new employee’s bio and photo company-wide to employees with contact information as a welcome to the team.
- Find filler work and projects in advance so in the beginning, between meetings and meet-and-greets, your new hire will have something to do.
- A few days into the process, be sure to ask how the pace is going—if it’s too fast or too slow.
- Set up a standing time to video conference—seeing co-workers face to face through technology is important.
- When new hires pick up their technology, send them home with a goodie bag that includes detailed instructions, common office supplies, and some company swag that introduces the culture.
- Conduct 30-, 60-, and 90-day reviews. Ask questions like: What do you like most about your job and the company so far? What do you think has been going well (and why)? What challenges have you come across? This data can be compiled across the organization and trends will be easy to see.
- Delay copying new remote workers on emails for two weeks in an effort to not overwhelm them.
- Check in daily, and respond to emails and IM’s on a timely basis to avoid frustrating new employees, who may need an answer before they can move on.
- Host a virtual Getting to Know You event with the CEO or department.
- Ask new hires to keep a running list of questions so when they talk with their managers, they can tackle all their questions at once.