Onboarding in A Virtual World: Accelerate Learning with Experience and Agility (Part Two)

Office-based employees are working from home. In-person services are becoming digital. Whole industries are transforming to serve customers via new distribution channels, and companies hiring new talent or shifting current employees into different roles are faced with another new normal: virtual onboarding.

As people navigate this whiplash pace of change, shifting strategies, and virtual ways of working, new joiners or existing employees taking on new roles must be ready to work independently the moment they arrive. This can only happen with effective virtual onboarding.

In this two-part blog series, we explore best practices and methodologies for maximizing your virtual onboarding processes and equipping your new employees (or current ones adopting new responsibilities) with the tools they need to begin contributing on day one. To help us understand what works in our virtual world, we asked a North Highland new joiner to share key takeaways from her recent onboarding experience.

Pair Experiential Adult Learning with An Agility Mindset

In addition to following the best practices outlined in part one of this blog series, what else can you do to successfully onboard amidst today’s upheaval?  

While there are many methods that can guide your approach, as we reflect on what has accelerated learning and helped North Highland new joiners like us secure day one wins, two frameworks are top of mind: Experiential Adult Learning combined with an agility mindset.


Use Experiential Adult Learning to Plan Onboarding

Malcolm Knowles was the father of Adult Learning Theory, which places focus specifically on ‘how’ adults learn. The Experiential Learning model is simply ‘learning by doing’. When you combine the two, you begin to connect theory to practice. In particular, four components of Experiential Adult Learning can serve as organizing principles for remote onboarding:

  • Time for Autonomy – Create room in your onboarding plan for self-directed learning and self-reflection to promote critical thinking, ideation, and engagement.
  • Prior Knowledge – Carve out time to explore your new joiner’s professional experiences and your collective expertise. This will allow you to connect prior knowledge to the application of new learnings.
  • Make it Relevant with Some Impact – Plan to focus on topics that your new joiner will immediately put to use. Consider information he or she will need to meaningfully contribute to his or her role. This will allow your new joiner to secure some quick wins and begin to help the team succeed.
  • Adults Are Practical – Don’t be abstract when teaching. Use real-world projects, deliverables, and reports, and highlight feasible circumstances, plans, useful resources, and helpful methods to solve problems. Additionally, be clear about your onboarding plan by giving your new joiner a sense of what’s ahead and the “roadmap” for how the process will be structured. This will allow them to better absorb information.

In our experience, it’s effective to tie these principles together through storytelling. This can be facilitated by engaging members of your team to share stories about your company’s journey, the team’s successes, and their experiences. This will help your new joiner build organizational knowledge and begin to understand how your team communicates as part of the company culture.

Use Agile Mindsets to Execute and Iterate

In addition to applying Experiential Adult Learning to virtual onboarding, North Highland looks to Agile methodologies to support new joiners through the process. Agile started as an approach for software development, but the principles have broad application. Since Agile values are people-centered, using this mindset helps create an energizing, inclusive experience.

Here are a few ways Agility can be leveraged to enhance virtual onboarding:

  • Individuals and Interactions – Set-up online gatherings to welcome your new joiner(s) and stimulate positive, productive interactions. This will allow you to showcase your organization’s culture and begin to invite your new joiner into the fold. It is a North Highland priority to work as one team, and that begins by creating relationships and becoming part of the group.
  • Working Products – Use reverse shadowing, side-by-sides, sandbox environments, and simulations to get your new joiner immediately involved in the work and creating value. If available, use the screen-sharing function of your organization’s communication platform during working sessions. It will help emulate what the experience might be like if you were together in a conference room. Additionally, aim to keep documentation light and relevant. A great sketch can be as meaningful as a playbook.
  • Collaboration – Spend valuable time with your new joiner – just as you would with a new client – and it will pay off. Consider that you are co-creating the work relationship, workflow, and shaping the work itself. For a new joiner like myself, time spent with my manager and team on video calls allowed me to quickly take over an important workstream, gain valuable feedback in real-time, and successfully execute on key deliverables to contribute to the project.
  • Responsive – Stay true to the core purpose of onboarding and be flexible about how you go about providing training. Organize your onboarding plan in sprints, or short cycles. Plan for iteration, not a linear progression.

For more of our insights and best practices on virtual ways of working: