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Quick Tips for Virtual Onboarding

by David Goott

At the moment, working remotely is the new reality for all of us. This means that everything, including onboarding, will need to happen virtually.

While this presents some real challenges, there are ways to create a fun and effective virtual onboarding experience. An onboarding plan should ensure that new employees become comfortable and engaged in their role, while also training them in the skills and knowledge that they will need to be successful.

Here are some tips to help you along the way:

Cover the Basics

On day one, walk through the necessary organizational systems and procedures, cover information relating to employee benefits, and prepare forms relating to payroll, time off, insurance, and taxes. New employees will be eager to finish setting these things up before moving forward with their work. 

Use Video

Use video conferencing — either Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangout — to communicate with your new employee whenever possible to build rapport. It’s not a perfect replacement for face-to-face interactions, but at least you can see and hear each other as you develop a relationship. Even if it’s only a quick reminder or question, use these as opportunities to check in with your new hire over video. 

Set Expectations

Be clear about how work is supposed to be completed and who they can turn to for questions or concerns about different topics. Set clear timelines and deadlines and clarify which hours they are expected to be sitting in front of the computer. Explain how and when performance will be evaluated and collaborate with the new hire to formalize goals for the next 6 months or year. 

Don’t Overwhelm

Resist the urge to give a new employee their full portfolio at the beginning, as this can feel stressful and overwhelming. Instead, start slowly by giving them only a few tasks the first week, and gradually add more to their plate as they demonstrate success. Managers should help new employees schedule their time for at least the first two weeks. Each day should feature only one virtual training session focused on a specific skill or area so that there is time to process the new information. The goal is not only to make sure that they know what to do and how to do it, but also that they understand how their work contributes to the overall mission of the organization. 

Culture First

Without co-workers to chat with at the water cooler, it can be hard for new employees to acclimate to the organizational culture. Find creative ways to instill your culture. Make sure they read the employee handbook. Have them read specific organizational documents, emails, or communications that reflect organizational norms and values. 

Build the Team

It’s important that new hires feel connected to their team members even if they are not able to meet in-person. Set up virtual team meetings with fun or interesting prompts to break the ice, spending 5-10 minutes at the start of meetings getting to know each other before diving deep into the work. Schedule virtual coffee breaks for your new employee to build relationships with team members and consider scheduling introductions with board members and other stakeholders as appropriate. 

Ask for Feedback

Even the most carefully-planned onboarding process might leave new employees with some unanswered questions. Give them the space to express what they need and encourage them to be honest about their work experience so far. Employees may have some anxiety around job security as they learn their new role, so it might be good to manage that proactively through an open dialogue.

About the Author
  • David Goott is a former Program Manager at Leading Edge.

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