Onboarding in A Virtual World: Shifting from Required Forms to Remote Working Sessions (Part One)

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.

Encourage New Joiners to Aim For a “Day One Win”

It’s important to create immediate positive momentum among new joiners. To do so, encourage them to aim for a “day one win.”

Think back to a time when you were the new kid. Perhaps you were joining a sports team and gearing up for your first game. You were selected for the team, and you are on the sidelines ready to show your stuff and perform. You may be eager, nervous, thrilled. You want to know the team, the plays, and your role. But really, truly, more than anything, you want to score! You want to make a goal.

This is likely how your new joiner is feeling about their first day on the job. And it’s important to tap into this mentality to kickstart an effective onboarding experience. What does this mean in practice? It’s a matter of shifting the onboarding focus from tax forms and compliance training to building capability and confidence. It’s about aiming for that “day one win.”

For me, having all of the tools I needed to hit the ground running in my new role as a Senior Change Manager was a “day one win.” I joined North Highland in April – just as the ‘shelter in place’ rules in Houston took effect – and having a seamless first day was made possible because of the level of preparation my team, and the IT and HR departments, had put into my onboarding experience. A welcome package with all of the equipment I needed and more arrived conveniently on my doorstep a few days before my start date. I also had access to my email, and meetings were already set up on my calendar with key folks who helped me get up to speed.

As someone joining in the middle of a pandemic, it was reassuring to know that my new company and team were taking care of me even though there were no clear guidelines for remote onboarding at the time, and everyone was still adapting to working from home. This sense of security empowered me and helped me find success on day one.

Acknowledge Remote Onboarding During a Pandemic is Not BAU “Telecommuting”

To set your new joiner up for success on day one, it’s important to acknowledge the constraints we are all facing in our virtual world and clearly communicate what success looks like for your workforce in this new environment. From there, you can collaborate to discover new ways of working that allow you to overcome the limitations of being remote.

Take scheduling for example. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced all of us to work from home under very different conditions than pre-pandemic telecommuting. Before, we might organize our work according to “in-person/at the office” activities such as collaboration, brainstorming, constructive conversations, relationship building, and “independent work at home” tasks like conducting research, writing, and planning. Now, we are challenged to perform all of these tasks through technology. It’s no question that executing “in-person/at the office” tasks is more difficult in a virtual setting, and as an employer, it’s critical to openly acknowledge the challenges your employees are facing and work with them to find solutions.

As a starting point, it’s effective to deliver content, knowledge, relationship-building, informal conversations, and camaraderie of the office through video conferencing and collaboration tools.

You can use these tools to create settings (such as those in the sample activities chart below) in which your new joiner feels welcomed and appreciated, has the opportunity to demonstrate the skills they bring to the table and is encouraged to make mistakes in a safe environment. Those moments will accelerate knowledge transfer, help reinforce their decision to join your team, and will give existing team members confidence about their future contributions.

Maintain a People-First Experience

We face extraordinary uncertainty and, as a result, people-centered leadership is more important than ever before. In addition to inspiring “day one wins” and working alongside your new employees to define and achieve success, here are a few tactical ways you can put your new joiners at the center of what you do to help them get acclimated:

Be Transparent – Share communication norms with your new joiner. Address the following:

  • How does your team manage notifications and “do not disturb” settings?
  • Is your new joiner expected to activate work applications on their phone?
  • Share leadership expectations for availability and schedule changes.
  • Openly discuss topics like response times for IMs and emails, camera on/off during meetings, and the new fashion category of business casual from home.

Be a Connector – Look for opportunities to facilitate casual interactions, like those “water cooler conversations” that would typically happen in the office. While you might not be able to replicate face-to-face interactions, it’s important that your new joiner begins building social connections with colleagues. We all need to socialize (from a six-foot distance, of course!), and intentionally doing so is linked to higher levels of productivity. Some ideas for translating the best of in-office, in-person to the remote workplace include:

  • Introducing your new joiner to coworkers with short virtual coffee meetings.
  • If you are onboarding a cohort, consider what the in-office seating arrangements might have been – or could be in the future – and designate “virtual cube buddies” (VCB) to pair-up on activities.

Be Realistic. Be Gracious – (Re)define professionalism, quality, and collaboration according to your business and team objectives. Consider:

  • Dumping any old ways of working that do not serve the team in this new environment.
  • Reframing your way of thinking! Each employee has different needs when working virtually, and it’s important to give each other grace and appreciate the work-life balance that backyard backdrops can add to the new virtual onboarding experience.

Hungry for more tips on this topic? Read part two in our blog series, where we’ll walk you through two proven frameworks you can easily apply to enhance your virtual onboarding program. After that, check out our series exploring opportunities to enact high-value change in a remote world, and watch our webinar featuring People & Change experts as they discuss what it takes to build high-performing teams in times of uncertainty: