Three Best Practices for Virtual Onboarding

Over the past year or so, employees have expressed a clear preference for remote or hybrid work. And, while finding and hiring the right people has been an issue across the board, in a variety of industries, companies that offer remote or hybrid work have enjoyed a distinct advantage when it comes to hiring.

But that advantage could be all for nothing: If a company doesn’t offer remote employees a well-planned and executed virtual onboarding process, those new employees could head for greener pastures sooner than expected, leaving the organization holding the bag as far as the time and money invested in that new hire. And, today, virtual onboarding is something that organizations must embrace.

Here find three best practices for virtual onboarding you can use to gauge your current program—or when starting from scratch.

Best Practice 1: Create a Dedicated Virtual Onboarding Plan

If you already have an effective onboarding process in place, it’s likely tempting to do double duty and repurpose it for virtual onboarding. That’s possible, but don’t oversimplify. You have to take a very close look to adapt an in-person process for virtual use. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Start early. Before onboarding begins, make sure new employees are introduced to the process and have everything they need to get started successfully. Ensure they have a complete schedule ahead of time (including a road map with 30-, 60- and 90-day benchmarks). Make sure they understand any technology specifications and instructions, including all login credentials and whom they can contact for IT issues
  • You can use the same content in a virtual onboarding program and an in-person one, but it must be presented differently. Any information provided virtually must be presented with extra attention to clarity and specificity
  • Take learner preferences into account. When new hires have a choice in how information is presented, they will be better able to retain and apply it. Make a conscious choice on the best way to present specific information (e.g., certain information may be better presented through a diagram than simple text)

Best Practice 2: Train Managers to Conduct Virtual Onboarding

New employees aren’t the only ones you must consider when crafting a virtual onboarding program. Managers must learn to adapt their in-person training and communication styles as well. Too many managers (and other organization leaders) assume that virtual onboarding is the same as in person—only in front of a screen. Before allowing any manager to conduct virtual onboarding, ensure they’re well-equipped to do so. After all, if a new employee’s onboarding experience is negative, there’s more chance for unintended turnover. Follow these tips:

  • Take extra time. New employees starting virtually will likely need more feedback and have more frequent questions. Consider extending your typical onboarding beyond the in-person time frame. Managers should also take the time to check in more regularly. Be careful to schedule—and follow through on—one-on-one meetings, perhaps more frequently than you would for in-person onboarding
  • Start with less-complex tasks. Employees onboarding virtually may take longer to find information essential to their job and may not feel comfortable asking questions (or even understand whom to ask). Start the employee off with simpler tasks than you may have done in person. This will allow them some quick wins while building their confidence and getting used to working with their virtual team members
  • Share the load. A new employee’s manager isn’t the only one who should be participating in onboarding. When onboarding remotely, employees won’t get to see different faces around the office. Interacting with the same person could become tedious and burdensome for both the employee and the manager. Consider having other employees or leaders in your organization participate in the virtual onboarding in areas that fit their skill set

Best Practice 3: Schedule One-on-One Virtual Meet-and-Greets

Of course, new employees will mainly be communicating with their direct manager during virtual onboarding. But employees really need to meet the entire team of people they’ll be working with. Virtual employees won’t have the benefit of chance encounters, and you both must make an intentional effort to forge connections. Here’s how:

  • Prepare the employee with a list of team members with whom it would be valuable for them to connect. This could include others on their team, folks in other departments they may be working with and even other senior leaders
  • Ask the employee to schedule 15-minute conversations with everyone on the list. Encourage them to bond with others by getting to know them personally as well as professionally
  • You can also pinpoint individuals in your organization that excel in certain areas and have the new employee “pick their brains.” For example, if you have someone who is amazing at interacting with clients or someone who really understands how lateral teams work together, send the new employee in their direction with tips for starting a discussion

Remote and hybrid work are here to stay, so it’s the right time to craft a virtual onboarding program that engages new employees, introduces them to their team and to the company culture and sets them up to be as productive as possible in a new work environment.

Remember, onboarding is an essential time for the new employee, manager and team members to make a good first impression. Plus, it’s the ideal time to sow the seeds of employee retention—a little extra effort in your virtual onboarding program will pay dividends long after the program has ended.