HR challenges

Lessons Learned: How to Virtually Onboard New Employees

January 28, 2021

The appeal of virtual onboarding during the pandemic is obvious. In the early stages of lockdowns and quarantines, it was unavoidable that new employees would be introduced to your organization virtually. Even now as organizations reopen, many people are still under temporary isolation or are joining companies that have restrictions on who can be onsite, meaning that many employees are still working from home at least some of the time. 

This pandemic will end eventually, but as that ‘eventually’ retreats further into the future, we can’t lose sight of our present responsibilities. Our organizations still have work to do, and that includes recruitment and onboarding. But how can you be sure that new hires you onboard virtually can still succeed and contribute quickly to your organization?

Probably the most important step to ensure your virtual onboarding succeeds is communication. When employees work alone—especially for their first days with your organization—there are fewer opportunities to ask the casual but important questions any new hire has. Remote employees must be more deliberate about communication, and therefore so must their employers. Create a standard set of policies and training you’ll send to the employee in their first days, and include contact information in case they have questions. Who can help them with troubleshooting your system? Who will give them their next assignment when they finish their current task? What’s a reasonable timeline for completion? Ask recent hires what questions they had during the onboarding process, then design your virtual onboarding to answer them explicitly.

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Many organizations don’t have a formal onboarding process, and in a small business, this usually isn’t a problem; new employees can easily be shown around the workplace as need be, and a little disorganization is quickly fixed. Moving this non-process online presents immediate challenges, however. For virtual onboarding to be effective, you need a plan, and it needs to be consistent. The plan needs to be shared, too: it’s no good having a plan if the new employee and other stakeholders don’t know what it is. Onboarding is rarely a one-person job, even in small businesses, so everyone needs to understand what their part is in the process, and when they’ll need to contribute.

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We know this kind of thing can sound intimidating, but making sense of the changing world of human resources is what we do, and virtual onboarding is no different. We have thousands of documents and more than 150 training courses you can assign to new hires, which they can complete at home or on their smartphone. We also make it easy to organize onboarding content into bundles, track employee progress, and send reminders in case something gets missed. We also have our Live HR Advice, which connects you with senior advisors who can answer any HR question you have, big or small.

Illustration of a person working at desk onboarding

Even once the pandemic ends, it’s likely that changes made to accommodate greater flexibility and more remote work will remain in place. Employees have grown used to these options, and now that they know organizations can provide them, they’re more likely to expect them, or even demand them as candidates. If you want to continue attracting the best employees over the long term, you’ll have to get used to the idea of employees working from anywhere—though the silver lining to these changes is that perfecting your virtual onboarding and remote management practices lets you open up your talent pool to anywhere.

None of us are back to business as usual, but we all have business to take care of, and that includes recruiting, hiring, and onboarding. Completing these essential tasks in the midst of this pandemic requires planning and forethought, but it doesn’t have to be difficult, and you don’t have to go it alone. HRdownloads is always here with the documents, training, and advice you need to develop, implement, and perfect your very own virtual onboarding program.
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