Virtual Employee Onboarding: How to Do It Right
Most companies aren’t great at employee onboarding in the best of circumstances. But getting onboarding right is even more urgent if you’re hiring for a remote position and you can’t count on the live office culture to animate the workplace for your new hires. As companies adapt to the evolving needs of their workforce, permanent WFH positions and hybrid work styles are becoming more common. As the employer, it’s on YOU to curate the new hire’s experience actively, so they feel welcomed and plugged in from day one.
Here are four key things you should do when onboarding a new hire remotely:
1. Start the onboarding process before the new hire’s first day.
This is always good advice, but it’s doubly important when you can’t make up for a chaotic first day with a welcoming in-person lunch or happy hour. We recommend sending a welcome email introducing your new hire to the company as soon as they accept an offer. Get them added to all the regular meetings they need to attend. This is also a good time to send them advance material on the company’s top priorities. But only share stuff that’s fun and energizing—you’re trying to get them excited about the job, not give them homework.
About a week before their official first day, schedule a call or Zoom meeting to go over any questions they have. If you can, take care of paperwork and administrative details before their start date, so they can spend their official first day meeting colleagues and getting oriented.
2. Take responsibility for their WFH setup.
Don’t make assumptions about your new hire’s ability to do remote work effectively. Check in with them well before their start date and allocate a reasonable budget to help them optimize their space. Do they have kids doing remote school, or a partner or roommates who are also working from home? Maybe they need noise-canceling headphones to help them concentrate. Maybe a monitor or an ergonomic desk chair would make a huge difference in their ability to stay focused. Wherever possible, give your new hire the flexibility and autonomy to decide what would be most beneficial for their specific situation.
Your new hire—like your long-standing employees—will also want to know if and when they’ll be expected to put in face time at the office. Many companies are more open to remote work now than they were in pre-COVID times. If your remote work policy is still something of an experiment, be candid about that. Do this live, not over email, so it’s a dialogue. Be as transparent as possible about the long-term plan for remote work—share what the company’s policies used to be pre-pandemic, and how they’re continuing to evolve now.
3. Give them a virtual office tour.
If you were hiring for an in-person role, on your new hire’s first day, you’d walk them around the office, showing them the kitchen and other amenities and introducing them to everyone. This is obviously difficult to replicate for a remote hire—but you can and should create an equivalent virtual ‘tour.’
The new hire’s supervisor should walk them through the company’s org chart in a live Zoom call. If you can, try to include headshots, so the new hire can put faces to names and get a sense of who does what.
Assigning each new hire a mentor is another great way to orient people. Ideally mentors should be someone other than their supervisor but adjacent to their team. You want the new hire to feel comfortable probing sensitive topics without feeling judged for asking. Depending on how fast you’re hiring, you might organize a new-hires cohort event so that new employees can trade useful tidbits they’ve recently learned.
4. Get creative about engaging them socially.
Social engagement should always be a priority during employee onboarding. But it’s even more crucial when you can’t meet a new hire face to face.
Make social time a priority during your new hire’s first week. If you can, schedule an in-person lunch. If your remote hire lives too far away for any in-person get-togethers, think about creative ways to convene different groups of people they need to get to know. You could send them a bag of nice coffee and a company-branded mug and organize a virtual coffee hour. You could get lunch delivered to their home and have a small group ‘take them out’ to virtual lunch.
Whatever the activity, keep in mind that your existing team already all knows each other, but the new hire doesn’t know anyone. An awkward social dynamic like that is even more awkward over Zoom. Prepare some icebreaker questions, like: “If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?” On a recent Battery virtual offsite, we played ‘virtual bingo’ – guessing who had broken six iPhones in the last year, for instance. I love the custom welcome gifs the team at Lever, a recruiting-software company, creates to welcome new hires and new clients.
With everything you do, ask yourself two questions: How can we reach through the screen and personalize virtual encounters? And how can we build mutual excitement for our shared mission as a company?
Onboarding is crucial to talent retention, and remote onboarding is a true challenge. Plan ahead to design a first day and first week that go above and beyond and show your new hire how excited you are to have them on board, even if you can’t welcome them to the office just yet.