Virtual Onboarding 101: A Guide to Onboarding Remote Employees

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Changes to business are coming so quickly that it’s hard to know how to strategise. For companies in a position to hire, there are countless questions, including how to present the job — as remote or just temporarily so — and how to virtually onboard employees who have to start remotely.

The good news is that bringing people on board and into your organisation without ever seeing them in person isn’t as daunting – or impossible — as it sounds. Successful remote onboarding in this iteration requires a holistic and well-built approach: You need to cover a lot of ground, mixing the formal and the informal, at a measured and doable cadence. The goal is familiarity and confidence, but without oversaturation. The specific applications are up to you — and you may be able to use what you’ve already got.

I’m going to cover five strategies for tailoring your virtual onboarding approach for remote hires.

1. Onboard for the long haul, not the duration
A third (32%) of working Australians have been working from home since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down large parts of the Australian economy in March. Some tech companies are offering employees the opportunity to work from home permanently. “Firm” plans to get employees back into your offices may not be firm at all, so commit to a virtual onboarding strategy that includes remote working.

2. Step into the new hire’s shoes
Especially from a distance, empathy is critical to onboarding now. Onboarding took a leap forward when we acknowledged how people absorb information and perceive new experiences, and the impact first impressions can have on job satisfaction. As the economy picks up, so will competition for skilled talent — so retention still matters.

Consider what new hires not only need, but deserve to know, and resist the temptation to save certain aspects for later, when everyone’s “back.” It’s a tactical error to overload the process with information, data and administrative tasks and leave out the big picture. No one wants to do busy work that has no perceived meaning or value. Truncating your onboarding that way could leave your new hires with too many questions and a growing sense of unease. At some point, they may suspect their coworkers learned a lot more when they started, and perceive it as unfair.

3. Get the tech sorted right away
Nothing can happen remotely without the right tech. Find out from your new hires what they need to get to work. And, make sure they know there’s no shame in saying they don’t have the latest version of an OS, they don’t know how to run Zoom, or their Wi-Fi is prone to dropping out. Then prioritise getting the tech in place.

I’ve seen companies grapple with the concept of outfitting home offices with pricey hardware, but how else are your people going to work? HR should collaborate closely with IT and start the process as soon as the candidate becomes a hire. It may be smart to track the top candidates for a role so you’re ready to jump in and boost their tech capabilities from day one.

Create user policies and guidelines for working with your company equipment, make them part of the remote onboarding package and make sure IT is prepared to help. The average new hire completes some 54 activities during their onboarding experience, and in this case, it’s all dependent on technology. So make sure they can get it done.

4. Curate a deep and varied virtual onboarding program
There’s no way to duplicate the immersive experience of onboarding in the physical workplace. But there are ways to convey those intangibles such as culture, personalities, leadership styles, interpersonal dynamics, teamwork and energy. First off, make sure you know the culture in order to deliver it. Curate a program to present the how and the why of your workforce — what keeps people motivated, cycles of productivity, shared expectations among peers (and not just managers). Don’t do this all in one day — or even two, in many cases.

Build a schedule (provided to new hires well in advance) that spreads out the process. Dovetail interaction with information, purpose with paperwork. Include frequent check-ins, reminders, pings, opportunities for feedback and reviews.

I’ve seen great Day One presentations that keep the concept broad and high-level, and add a bit of fun: They provide a macro sense of the organisation through video presentations and great storytelling, with plenty of welcomes and virtual tours. Have VR capabilities? Use them. Do some games, challenges, team-building. By Day Two, the new hire is ready to roll up their sleeves and get focused on training and first tasks — they feel they’re a part of things now. But a word of caution: Don’t shoehorn too much into two days. The new hire may think the company M.O is too much work in too little time, and immediately feel buyer’s remorse.

5. Add more faces
In terms of how we work remotely, we’re learning that less is not more. We need more contact, more tutoring, more communication, more opportunities to reiterate and review. We need more one-on-one time as well, and to be able to connect with people — we’re not going to naturally pass on the way to the coffee machine. The same is true for remote onboarding, and to a greater extent.

Provide plenty of interaction, then more in your virtual onboarding process. Convey the history of your organisation as a human story as well as a static slide deck. Have leadership come in and talk about the mission, products, services and do a Q&A; have managers discuss how they form and work with teams; have coworkers talk about their jobs or walk through a typical day.

Provide each new hire with a buddy as ally and resource. With IT, make sure there’s someone with the bandwidth to listen and help. And, mix channels and formats. We’re all familiar with Zoom fatigue by now, where the microsecond delay in expressions can strain perceptions and too many faces can overwhelm. So do one-on-one facetime, phone calls, IMs. Build a solid foundation for great relationships, so new hires look forward to the adventure of working with the people they’ve just met.

Virtual onboarding can work for everyone
Virtual onboarding can build just as much trust and engagement as onboarding on-site; it’s all in how you approach it. As far as all the minutiae of those 50-plus tasks, that’s up to each organisation. But self-service has become a best practice, as has iron-clad security when it comes to personal information. Keep in mind that to a new hire, a new employer is a new employer, and a new job is a new job, regardless of circumstances. They were hired in these times, under these conditions. Further, they are undoubtedly beset with uncertainties and anxieties of their own. So be sure to make your virtual onboarding process easy, enjoyable, and thorough so new hires have a great introduction to your company.

Meghan M. Biro is a globally recognised analyst, author, speaker and brand strategist. The founder of TalentCulture, she hosts #WorkTrends, a popular weekly Twitter Chat and podcast. Her career spans across recruiting, talent management, digital media and brand strategy for hundreds of companies, from startups to global brands like Microsoft, IBM and Google. She also serves on advisory boards for leading HR technology brands. Meghan can be regularly found on Forbes, SHRM, and a variety of other outlets. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Indeed.

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