Career Tips

11 Tips for Virtual Onboarding in a COVID World

With remote-work and social distancing becoming the new normal, onboarding new employees means re-thinking your company's onboarding and training processes.

The global spread of COVID-19 hasn’t slowed, and neither has the need to onboard new talent. Even in normal times, welcoming and transitioning new hires can be a challenge. With remote-work and social distancing becoming the new normal, onboarding new employees means re-thinking your company’s onboarding and training processes. Your current onboarding process doesn’t have to be upended. It might just need a few tweaks in key areas.

1. Keep Communication Open

When dealing with new employees, once employment contracts have been signed and completed, it’s not uncommon to hold off on communication until their start date. However, these turbulent times mean people are naturally more anxious, and their lives may hinge acutely on the job they’ve just accepted.

Instead of allowing your new employees to wonder if they’re being ghosted, keep communication open with them, even before their official start date. Once your new member accepts their offer, engage them in the company activities. Let them know what your team is doing to set them up for participation and provide them with virtual welcoming activities. 

2. Flex for Success from Day 1

Whilst you may have discussed your organisation’s flexibility arrangements in the hiring process, once a new employee has started, it’s critical to have an open conversation about flexible ways of working and work/life balance. This is even more relevant where that new starter will be largely working from home. Provide clarity on your organisation’s flexibility policy, expectations and responsibilities of flexible work. It’s important to agree on a flexible work arrangement that will work for them and their team, whilst meeting the needs of the business and your customers.

3. Modify Your Onboarding Materials for Virtual Training

If virtual onboarding is new for your company, you may have to overhaul parts of your training material. Convert any hard copies to digital format. This includes contracts, training manuals, employee handbooks, company policy and procedures. You may need to develop online training videos to align with any training typically performed in-person. Establish training modules, allowing supervisors to identify coaching needs. Keep all the new and old onboarding material in one location, enabling each department to access the same information. 

4. Set-Up for Remote Employees

Prior to their actual start date, and for a few weeks afterwards, participate in setting up your new remote worker. Offer as much help as you can to let them know you take their professional and emotional well-being seriously, even when they’re operating in a virtual environment.

5. Greeting New Employees Virtually

Although there are no handshakes and lunches with new employees, embrace virtual methods to introduce your remote employee to your teams and leaders. If your company uses an application like Slack, Trello, or Asana for communication or task management, add them to your team on the platform and personally introduce them to your current employees. Allow them to familiarize themselves with the workflow and answer any questions they may have. Setting your new employee up means gently immersing them into your virtual work environment.

Communication is even more important in a remote environment. Find new ways to conduct old traditions, like a virtual coffee break or happy hour. Developing novel methods to welcome your new employees to the existing work culture will set your company up for success, keep employees connected and reduce staff turnover. 

11 Tips for Virtual Onboarding in a COVID World

6. Assign a Buddy

Set your new starter up with a buddy for the first month, preferably someone in a similar role or at a similar peer level, who they can check-in with daily. A buddy can help answer and guide your new starter with all their little questions and thoughts that invariably arise as they explore their new organisation, team, systems and ways of working.

7. Provide Networking Support

One of the hardest things that new starters face in any organisation is getting to know who everyone is in order to build working relationships, their personal network and growing their profile. This is significantly harder in a virtual, remote setting. 

Give your new starters plenty of guidance on “who’s who in the zoo”. Set up formal introductions with key stakeholders, and provide intentional virtual opportunities for them to network and connect with peers in other teams, across their wider department and elsewhere in the organisation. Set up a Friday afternoon virtual “drinks” call as an informal opportunity to provide virtual networking support for new starters, as well as allowing all your staff to stay connected whilst working remotely. 

8. Onboarding Material Checklist

Remote workers have unique needs. To bridge the physical distance, it’s important to ensure new remote staff have the tools they need to maintain communication. Determine what resources are missing, and make every effort to provide them what they need. Here are a few tools they’ll need: 

  • Wi-Fi 
  • VPN
  • Webcam and video conferencing tools
  • A copy of the company’s security guidelines
  • Any licensed company software necessary to complete their role 
  • Noise-canceling headphones with microphone
  • User logins

9. Make Communication a Priority

Remote work has its benefits, but it dramatically reduces the ability to have organic contact. Unlike the old days of dropping by someone’s office or running into them in the hallway, remote work means you need to make conscious efforts to remain in communication with your employees. Conduct regular, intentional one-on-ones with your new employees during the onboarding process. Ensure that your managers often connect with new hires by creating “open office” hours and to reach out to new hires to sync up weekly. 

For many, virtual meetings don’t feel natural. Encourage new hires to turn on their video option during meetings to help others connect with them. A video also engages others in ways that a voice can’t, making them more personal. 

10. Obtain Feedback

It’s vital to receive timely and honest feedback from your first group of employees who receive remote onboarding. Conduct surveys, or one-on-one meetings to obtain this feedback so you can improve the onboarding process for the next new starters. 

It might be a hard pill to swallow, but a Gallup poll found that only 12% of employees were satisfied by their company’s onboarding process. By gathering feedback about your onboarding process, you’ll gain valuable insight into your new hires’ experience. Incorporate any insightful comments into your onboarding processes, and don’t be afraid to customise the process for individual roles.

11. Establish Structure, Routines & Rituals

All new starters need lots of structure and guidance to quickly direct their learning and upskilling in a new organisation. They also need exposure to the rituals and practices that establish the cultural norms and organisational behaviours of which they’ll now form a part. 

Discuss with your HR teams to consider virtual ways you can encourage the work and social rituals that happen in your organisation. This could be something as simple as a “bake off” for weekly virtual team meetings, sharing responsibility around the team for team meeting chairperson, or starting weekly meetings with each team member sharing “one good thing I’m grateful for”. These rituals build inclusion and a sense of belonging for all staff. 

Virtual Onboarding Is Crucial 

Remote work has increased by 159% from 2005, and the pandemic has obviously skyrocketed the numbers. Employees find that remote work helps their work-life balance, and many companies are discovering it also reduces their overheads. In this landscape, virtual onboarding is essential and 97% of employees are open to a remote onboarding program. 

So while COVID-19 has made virtual onboarding a current requirement, don’t expect this to change any time in the future. Make sure you begin the communication process early with new hires and make conscious efforts to stay connected in the new virtual world.


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