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A new virtual reality: onboarding staff remotely

by Katrina Park

Virtual meeting

The uncertainty brought about the COVID-19 pandemic has meant delays for some new starters or a freeze on the hiring of new staff for a lot of organisations. Many companies that are well set-up for remote working are still maintaining ‘business as usual’, including the ability to virtually onboarding new employees to start their job.  

I know this because I started my role with Six Degrees Executive after the company had transitioned to work remotely. Many of our customers are faced with similar scenarios, trying to transition certain workplace practices to adapt to work from home, so we wanted to share some pointers to help make the onboarding process easier. 

As most organisations implement the stay at home policy enforced by the government, work has shifted virtually, with people working from home and learning to adjust to a work-life through video chat, emails, and phone calls. One of the other major adjustments that many companies are dealing with is how to onboard new members of staff remotely. 

Successfully bringing new staff members on board involves not only getting them set up to do the job, but making people feel welcome, getting them to understand the lay of the land, experiencing company culture, and generally getting an inside look at the business. With offices now taking up virtual space, this presents a few complexities for some organisations making the transition. However, companies with remote sites have long been onboarding their people this way so we’ve put together a few tips and tricks for you.  

I did spend my first day in the office (adhering to physical distancing), collecting my device, meeting some of the team and being set up with everything required. But the rest of my onboarding process was interesting being done through video chats and virtual team meetings. However, the onboarding and induction still felt warm, friendly and seamless.  

How to virtually onboard new employees 

Onboarding new staff virtually is something that companies can implement smoothly if the right steps are taken. If all Ts are crossed and Is are dotted, your new hires will feel at home (both emotionally and literally) in no time. 

Your virtual onboarding checklist 

  • Tech set up. Normally you’d show a new starter to their workstation on their first day and make sure they have all the right tools to do their job. This still applies, with different companies approaching the provision of computer hardware, connectivity, and support devices slightly differently to ensure employees can safely connect and work from home. Make sure they have all the equipment and ‘tools of the trade’ to be able to perform to the best of their ability. Remember to check an employees’ work from home space is ergonomic and safe just as you would in the office.  
  • Digital welcome kit. Once a device and connectivity have been set up for the new starter, provide all the relevant contact details, a company organisational chart with people’s roles, a welcome video from senior management, and onboarding presentation to learn about the company. Let the employee read relevant materials in allocated time and ask any questions to clarify details. Every company has its own unique language and terminology, so a cheat sheet or glossary of company abbreviations, acronyms and slang is a helpful resource to include. 
  • Timeline & expectations. According to Sapling, on average a new staffer will have over 50 activities as part of their onboarding process. Now is the perfect time to look at the employee journey of a new starter and create key milestones for set up, connection, learning and performance to achieve. Provide a phased approach and set expectations as to what the employee should achieve in their first week, first month and 3 months, so it’s clear what to accomplish. Planning a relevant, well-timed virtual onboarding process will help employees get up to speed and feel more confident in their new role.  
  • Key contacts. Make sure you connect your new starter with direct colleagues and managers, relevant departments (IT, HR etc), any external stakeholders, other agencies and business relationships so the employee can learn ‘who does what’ and establish relationships.  
  • Meet the team. Help socialise new employees with team members. Organise a virtual team lunch, one-on-ones with key personalities, an introduction in an all-staff video meeting or email communication. Simon Sinek encourages keeping ‘water cooler’ moments going to keep teams connected. Many teams have set up ‘remote huddles’ to maintain regular team meetings via video. 
  • Regular check-ins. Managers should schedule regular meeting times in the first weeks to build communication lines and ensure the employee understands their remit, can ask questions and start regular work. Remember, even if they have previously worked in the role, everything is new when joining a new company and people may still be nervous. It’s difficult not having people on hand to easily turn around and ask all the little things that will help you get up and running.  
  • Care package. What would normally be given to a new starter on their first day? Often a security pass, company information and perhaps a branded mug, pen, or other company items. Post these to their house so that they can add it to their home environment and make them feel included in the company. 
  • Buddies. Make sure the new employee has a network of people to talk with both socially and about different aspects of their job. Buddying your new starter up with some social contacts is a good idea to connect them more broadly in the team, help them understand the culture, establish a safety net and build a sense of belonging. Having a virtual coffee Getting to know people’s flatmates, kids, partners, and pets, 
  • Culture & vibe. It’s hard for a new starter to understand the culture without face-to-face contact. Creating activities online and via video is a great way of helping a new starter ‘live the values’ of an organisation. A lot of offices are holding virtual Friday drinks, lunches, or even team personal training sessions to build comradery and connection and help teams maintain their vibe.   

Onboarding new employees, like so much else of our working world, has shifted dramatically. It's important to note that as circumstances change, new employees should be re-onboarded in person where possible. Examining the employee journey of different types of new starters and mapping out each stage with milestones to achieve will help streamline and pivot the onboarding process in the future.  

Onboarding isn’t just about the job at hand but making people feel included and understand how the company operates. It’s about sharing culture and values, as well as creating an inclusive workspace – whether physically or through virtual social connections. 

Contact a recruiter for more help onboarding new employees while working from home.