Congratulations! Online interviewing didn’t make you skip a beat. You found the talent to complete your dream team. You’re probably feeling pretty lucky. But you might be less than enthusiastic about navigating those first months of learning to work together through the small screen.
If remote interviewing took some adjustments, virtual onboarding requires more. Getting a new employee up to speed without icebreakers like the team lunch or after-work happy hour calls for planning, creativity, commitment, and an extra dose of personal investment.
“According to a 2019 Indeed survey, 76% of people say they can usually tell within the first six months of starting a job whether they’ll stay with the company for a while. In jobs where people left within the first six months, almost 4 out of 10 said a more effective onboarding process could have helped them stay longer.”
The good news is that the intentionality involved in a virtual launch can add value and meaning to this critical process. Don’t just dust off the employee manual. This is an opportunity to reimagine how to introduce talent to your team and your culture in ways that are thoughtful, engaging, and will forge long-term relationships that are good for your members and your organization.
Make Onboarding Ongoing
Managers sometimes confuse or substitute orientation for onboarding. Orientation is an introduction. It’s like the tour the real estate agent gives you to point out those fancy appliances and extra-large closets. Onboarding is assimilation or discovering whether the computer monitor on the fridge is actually going to be useful. In other words, orientation is just the first step in onboarding.
When both of these activities occur outside the landscape of physical and visual cues, it’s important to have a carefully planned process. Fully integrating a new hire into your team, depending on the complexity of their responsibilities, might continue over three months or more. Acknowledging this longer timeframe, especially in a virtual environment, will help managers and staff continue to be aware that extra clarity and communication may be needed for more than just a few weeks.
Get a Jump on the Welcome Wagon
First impressions are everything. Prepare the welcome packet before interviewing begins. A thoughtfully curated collection of materials received on the heels of a signed employment agreement demonstrates that your organization is responsive and committed to its employees’ success. The speed, efficiency, and care with which you greet your new hire reflect your management style as well as your expectations from others.
If you have an employee handbook, this task should be easy, just make sure that all the information is up to date. If you don’t have a manual, now would be a good time to begin collecting those materials. At a minimum include:
- Complete information regarding employee benefits (healthcare, vacation, profit sharing, etc.), employment policies (hiring, terminating, confidentiality, whistleblower, hours, behavior, payroll, etc.)
- Organizational chart
- Staff roster with addresses and phone numbers
- Company history, mission, vision, and values
- Strategic plan
- Team goals and objectives
- Minutes of relevant board or committee meetings
- Notes of the most recent staff or department meetings
Have technology equipment ready to be delivered and loaded with instructions for accessing your network, relevant platforms, and contacts for IT assistance. Begin including the new employee on interoffice communications as quickly as possible.
A welcome video from the team with a bit of fun information about each person is an easy way to begin making a new member feel comfortable. Let your creativity shine, and showcase your group’s potential for innovation.
Surprises are another way to add a human touch to the virtual welcome; include some in the package. Logo items or a Starbucks or DoorDash gift card are easy to arrange. If you want to get fancy, some companies will design, customize, and mail swag boxes.
The first weeks of any new job are stressful. Being unable to pop into a neighboring cube or office to ask a question or experience the physical rhythm of the workday can add to the pressure. Give your new hire a buddy. The buddy will be the go-to person for questions, information, tips, and advice. Don’t leave the quality of these interactions to chance. Set clear expectations for how often check-ins should occur and follow-up to confirm that your virtual office is a friendly and supportive environment.
Collaborate to Set Goals and Benchmarks
The home office can be rife with distractions. Have a frank conversation with your new employee about their environment; then finalize a schedule. Create an agenda for the first three months of work that lays out mutually agreed on goals and benchmarks for progress.
Be specific about what achievements are required and recognize accomplishments. Positive reinforcement is even more important in a virtual environment. Reassuring comments cost nothing and build a foundation for loyalty and trust. On the other hand, be sure to provide timely, honest feedback. Missteps may be more difficult to recognize outside the office setting.
Explore New Learning Techniques
If you already are using your LMS to create training videos and onboarding materials, you’re ahead of the pack. If you’ve incorporated microlearning techniques, you’re a superstar. Microlearning is based on the idea that extremely short bursts of focused information designed to achieve a specific outcome are more effective and engaging. Consider those principles when you develop one-on-one supervisory sessions and video training.
In a virtual setting, meetings may need to be more frequent. Limit agendas to one or two clearly defined topics with specific learning objectives. Allow time at the conclusion of training for a recap of the important points to ensure that information has been communicated clearly.
If you don’t have an LMS, it’s easy to use PowerPoint with video and voice-over or Zoom to develop learning tools. Organizations that plan to hire virtual workers for the long-term might consider investing in an onboarding add-on for your LMS or a stand-alone onboarding platform.
Build Team Spirit
There’s something anticlimactic about putting on sweats and heading downstairs for the first day on a new job. Make week one special with a few out-of-the-box team-building activities. Follow this link for ideas.
I can see a few raised eyebrows. Some people just aren’t into games, even when they’ve been cooped up inside the same four walls for a long time. If that’s you, caste off that metaphorical suit jacket and relax a little. Your team will thank you for it, and you might even enjoy yourself.
Position for Success in the Future
Every day the number of businesses that are location-negative increases. The technology to collaborate in virtual or augmented reality already exists. By 2030, you might be working with an avatar or a digital twin.
While hiring, onboarding, and managing people online may currently seem challenging and uncomfortable, I’m convinced that when distance is no longer a requirement but a choice, it will be an increasingly popular option. Whether you are taking baby steps or bold strides into this virtual realm, you are positioning yourself for success in the inevitable future.