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Virtual onboarding: 6 steps to engaging new team members
The world of work is more virtual than ever before.
According to McKinsey, 58% of employees have the option to work remotely at least one day a week. For many companies, that means new employees are joining companies from their living rooms or kitchen tables. Virtual onboarding is becoming a part of the new normal, especially with hybrid and remote work is the new normal.
We know the onboarding process plays an integral role in employee retention and employee engagement. A pre-pandemic survey by the Brandon Hall Group found that a strong employee onboarding process can improve retention by as much as 82%.
At the same time, there’s power in connections. And for new hires, facilitating connections from the beginning helps employees thrive in the workplace. BetterUp Labs studied the impact of connections in the workforce. When employees are highly connected, they experience an increase in professional growth, a boost in well-being, and greater goal attainment.
So, what does that mean for virtual onboarding? How is your organization starting employees off on the right foot from the first day? In what ways are you investing in a remote onboarding experience that helps employees thrive?
Virtual onboarding can help make sure your employees are set up for success. We’ll talk about what virtual onboarding looks like in today’s workforce. We’ll also walk through steps on how to conduct a virtual onboarding process that works.
What is virtual onboarding?
Before we get into a virtual onboarding guide, let’s understand what it means.
What is virtual onboarding?
Virtual onboarding is a process and/or program that gives your new team members the information they need to know everything about the organization they are joining. This includes mission, purpose, values, goals, and other HR and logistical information.
At its simplest, virtual onboarding is the process of welcoming new, remote employees to a company. But as any HR or onboarding professional knows, virtual onboarding is an in-depth, structured approach. It's a full program that allows employees to get to know the organization.
The onboarding process is often the first taste an employee will get of the company culture. But the onboarding process also sets up the employee with everything they need to succeed.
In virtual environments, it can be challenging to find ways to introduce employees to a company remotely. This is why creating a program and processes that engage employees from the start is integral. Not only does it contribute to the health and well-being of your employees but also your company as a whole.
"Engaging employees from the start is something that we take seriously. I'm intentional in our virtual onboarding process to create connections, community, and a feeling of belonging. At the end of the day, it helps to make sure our new BetterUppers feel the BetterUp mission from day one."
Gigi Saca, manager, Orientation Programs, BetterUp
Let’s talk about how you can conduct a virtual onboarding process that works.
The importance of onboarding (virtual or not)
Employee onboarding is more important than you may think. Organizations everywhere struggle with retention and engagement. And as change, uncertainty, and the unknown continue to loom, it’s important that companies do everything they can to engage their employees from the get-go.
Here are some reasons why onboarding is so important:
- A good onboarding experience increases employee retention. According to Harvard Business Review, 20% of turnover within companies occurs within the first 45 days of employment. Further, a standardized onboarding process increases new hire productivity by as much as 62%. A standardized onboarding process also leads to a 50% greater new hire retention.
- A remarkable employee experience starts with onboarding. Believe it or not, the employee lifecycle starts well before an employee is hired. Onboarding is a critical touchpoint in the cycle that helps create what we know to be the employee experience.
- It’s an opportunity to build employee engagement. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, onboarding is an engagement mechanism. In fact, 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding. Why? Because employees are engaged with the organization from day one.
- Onboarding is a venue for building connections. Connections aren’t just feel-good moments in the workplace. Connections also drive business value. When employees aren’t connected in the workplace, organizations suffer.
BetterUp Labs found that 43% of employees don’t feel connected at work. The result? Higher burnout rates, increased anxiety, and increased stress. At the end of the day, connections can help drive better business outcomes. When employees are feeling good, it shows in their performance.
6 steps to conducting virtual onboarding
If you’re ready to welcome new remote employees, here’s a 6-step guide on how to build a virtual onboarding process.
1. Provide all resources, systems, and technology they need before their start date
A critical piece of welcoming a virtual hire to the team is providing access to everything they need to do their jobs.
Think about any in-person onboarding experience. Typically, the new hire will show up to an office and is shown their workspace. They receive a computer or laptop, keyboard, mouse, and access to systems. They get access to their email, Slack, and other systems and software. Sometimes, there are training sessions to help them get up to speed.
For virtual onboarding, this can get tricky. It means that your organization needs to provide everything the employee needs to do their job in their home.
When I joined BetterUp, I received my laptop a couple of weeks before my start date. It came with a full guide on how to set up my computer (including a list of things to install). I also received a detailed email about access to systems and software that I’d need to hit the ground running.
It’s likely your HR and IT teams will work closely together to make sure your employees receive everything they need. If you’re a manager, check in with your incoming new hire to make sure they’ve received everything they need.
Keep in mind how you’re fostering an inclusive workplace. For example, have you made sure you’ve made accommodations for employees with disabilities? Are you aware of any neurodivergent needs that your new employee might need?
While unintentional, it can feel isolating for an employee to “show up” to work on day one without access or accommodations. You want them to feel part of the team. That means making sure all the logistics of working from home are taken care of before their start date.
2. Communicate the agenda and what’s expected ahead of day one
Starting a new job is already nerve-wracking. Your new employee is probably feeling anxious and excited. But your remote hires are joining from their dining rooms or couches. Without clear communication about what to expect, remote workers risk feeling like they’re twiddling their thumbs. It can increase those feelings of anxiety that are natural for any new employee.
Quell the nerves by communicating what the new employee can expect ahead of day one. At BetterUp, new hires receive a detailed email with their schedule for the first week before their start date. It helped me to know exactly what was expected of me in that first week. It helped me understand my priorities.
Work with your HR and/or onboarding team to make sure employees understand what’s expected of them during that first week. Include any calendar invites to one-on-one meetings and training sessions, too.
3. Create structured programming for their first week (or month)
Especially in the beginning, virtual employees should have some structure in the onboarding process. Your onboarding plan should cover everything you want your employee to know about the company. Here are some things you should consider including in your virtual onboarding program:
- An overview of company culture, mission, and purpose of work
- Company-wide goals and initiatives
- Security, employee handbook, and other must-have training sessions
- Deep dive webinars on different parts of the business
- An overview of employee benefits, perks, and other HR programs
- Any required new manager training
Work with your HR team to put together a comprehensive list of what you want your new hires to understand from day one. From there, you can work with respective program owners to put together webinars that can be hosted on Zoom. Those webinars and training sessions should give your new employees an overview of everything they need to know about the company.
For example, we have executive guests present deep dives on their respective parts of the business. Our CEO, Alexi Robichaux, and COO, Eddie Medina, also present the company mission, company-wide goals, and an overview BetterUp. Our HR teams host sessions to help employees enroll in benefit plans. They also answer questions about some of the more logistical aspects of perks and benefits.
4. Implement moments that matter to build connections
For anyone that’s ever been through an onboarding process, it’s a lot to digest. Oftentimes, employees are loaded with massive amounts of information.
While it’s important to make sure employees get the information they need, it’s also important to make time for connections. Think about your company culture and ways you want to bring that culture to life for your new hires.
Find ways to implement programming that help to build social connections. For example, can you start off each training session with a different icebreaker? Or perhaps you can host a virtual happy hour at the end of week one? You might also consider sending your employees some swag to help build your employer brand. Whatever it is, find ways to make your employees feel connected and have a deep sense of belonging.
5. Introduce new team members to their team on day one
There’s something obvious about virtual teams: you’re not going to run into new faces in the “office.”
While it might seem obvious, it can be overlooked. Make sure you’re introducing your new hire to your team.
At BetterUp, managers introduce new team members on Slack. Whenever a new employee joins the team, the manager posts a nice welcome message with some information about the new hire. We’re also really big on coffee chats and making sure team members are getting to know the new employee.
When I started at BetterUp, my manager gave me a list of people to set up a coffee chat with. While I “met” many of my team members virtually on Slack, I also set up virtual meetings. It’s great to make sure your new hires get face-to-face time with their teammates, especially with remote teams.
Some organizations also announce new team members on social media. For example, some organizations will post on LinkedIn when a new teammate joins. Or, perhaps the direct report’s manager posts a welcome LinkedIn post.
6. Check-in regularly
Throughout the onboarding process, it’s likely your new hire will have questions. I appreciated the regular check-ins from my manager, especially during that first month.
Make some space to check in with your remote hire. Encourage them to come to your check-ins with questions and observations. For leaders, regular check-ins — especially in the beginning — can help to build that trust and psychological safety with your new hires.
A new role is exciting but it can also be unnerving. When your employee knows that you’re a resource to them, it helps to build trust.
6 pros and cons of virtual onboarding
Like anything in the workplace, every program comes with its pros and cons. Here are six pros and cons to virtual onboarding.
- Increased flexibility for the employee. In today’s hybrid and remote workforce, we know the majority of employees want workplace flexibility. They want to be able to choose how and where they work. Virtual onboarding lends itself to more flexibility for the employee.
- Reduced cost for the organization. Let’s face it: virtual onboarding is cheaper. It’s easier on budgets to onboard remote employees than in-person onboarding.
- Faster employee ramping time. Generally speaking, employees ramp up quickly when working from home. We also know that most employees find working from home more productive than working in the office.
- Lack of clarity and confusion. If there isn’t clear communication, your organization risks confusing your new hires.
- Time zone woes. Especially in global workforces, time zones can be challenging. If your new hire onboarding host is in California with new employees in Europe or Asia, it can cause problems.
- Potential for reduced accessibility. With in-person onboarding, an employee can raise their hand or walk over to a desk to ask a question. But in remote onboarding, it puts more onus on the employee to find information. For example, employees with benefits questions will be directed to self-service resources.
Nail the virtual onboarding process
If your organization is hiring remote employees, it’s important to get the virtual onboarding experience right. From facilitating connections to building an inclusive work environment, onboarding is important.
If you’re not sure where to start, BetterUp can help. With personalized guidance from a coach, you can be sure your employees are building a virtual onboarding experience that delivers positive results.
Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.