Companies fortunate enough to be hiring during these trying times may be faced with having to virtually onboard team members for the first time. As this is not standard practice for most companies, many are unsure how to make it work so their new employees are set up for success.
At Acceleration Partners, we have been a remote company for over 13 years and have developed a pretty robust remote onboarding and training process. While there are some recommendations that may be unique to working from home, what you may discover is that most of these best practices are the same whether virtual or in an office environment.
Chances are, the process you already have in place to onboard new hires will work in a virtual onboarding situation, just with some modifications to the delivery and frequency of communication. The key element is communication. Just as it is in a face-to-face environment, quality communication is essential when onboarding a new team member.
Below are some virtual onboarding strategies that we’ve refined over the years:
Coordinate with key stakeholders.
Well in advance of onboarding a new employee, it’s important to have a coordination call with the individuals involved in the new hire’s role. This will help ensure everyone is aligned on the best onboarding practices and know how to prepare for their start date.
In this step, it’s important to also define internal onboarding accountability across key stakeholders, including the new hire’s manager and teammates. Each individual needs to understand their role in onboarding and how it might be different in a virtual setting (i.e. video calls, proactive outreach, etc.).
Create a Day One schedule.
This Day One plan will likely involve scheduling virtual meetings on the new hire’s calendar in advance (via Zoom, Go To Meeting, etc.). These meetings typically include overviews with someone from the Human Resources team, the IT team and their supervisor, as well as a few introductory trainings.
On the first day a new hire starts, it’s essential for their supervisor to outline – ideally on a video call— what they should expect in the coming weeks. This could also include a list of team members the new hire should schedule calls with and what topics/agenda items to cover during those calls.
Ensure your new hire knows what their working hours are and if there is flexibility in the day. What does the start and end of the day typically look like for someone in their role? If they need to step away from their desk for lunch or an appointment, what do other team members do to notify their colleagues they are unavailable during that time?
Even before a new hire starts, here are a few things we do at Acceleration Partners to help set the stage for their new role:
- After their offer letter is signed, we send a “What to expect” email outlining what they can expect between that time and when they start.
- Three days prior to their start date, we send a welcome email. This welcome email includes:
- Technology setup instructions and a deadline for when their tech setup should be completed (prior to their first day).
- What to expect their first day/when they log on for the first time, including when their first meeting is and with whom.
- Other critical systems needed to hit the ground running.
Send a welcome kit.
Send your new hire a welcome kit/packet/swag bag during their first week. This adds a personal touch to their onboarding process and makes them feel valued and appreciated.
No matter how formal or informal a call is, using video for every single call or training is critical. This is such an important step to building relationships and connections with colleagues. Using video can also improve engagement during calls and help managers/trainers pick up on non-verbal cues (i.e. facial expressions and body language) which is important throughout training and gauging comprehension.
Build in get-to-know-you time.
When working remotely, there can be less “natural” rapport-building opportunities (e.g. watercooler chats, lunches, happy hours, etc.). In a virtual environment, you simply need to create these more proactively.
Something that’s become second nature at Acceleration Partners is to take time to talk about the nonessentials before diving into work-related conversations, even Slack messages. For new hires, consider incorporating in a few icebreakers over their first few weeks or month, starting each call off with good news, etc.
Pair new hires with a buddy.
Pairing a new hire with a buddy helps ensure they have a person to go to when they have questions, can point them in the right direction and can provide support and guidance. A buddy should typically check in with the new hire informally once a week.
At Acceleration Partners, we pair each employee up with a Peer Shadow Buddy – someone they can shadow critical tasks on. In our remote work environment, this shadowing is done through a Zoom video call and screen-sharing. Whether remote or face-to-face, shadowing and reverse shadowing (established team member watches new hire do the task) can be highly effective in teaching a new hire how to do their job and build their confidence.
Record training sessions.
Recording virtual trainings can make it much easier for new hires to easily reference when they need the information and can become a library of resources for everyone within your organization. At Acceleration Partners, we simply use the record feature available through Zoom and save those recordings for future use.
Provide a virtual directory.
New hires have no idea who to go to for what. Create a document that includes the various tools and topics a new hire may want and need to know as well as a directory of who to contact for what.
Connect them with colleagues.
Encourage team members – individuals who they’ll work directly with and others who they won’t – to reach out to the new hire, say hello and welcome them to the company within their first week. This could be a quick Slack message, an email or a video call.
One tool we use at Acceleration Partners is called Donut – an app that integrates with Slack and randomly pairs team members for “virtual coffee dates.”
We also use a tool called TINYpulse that allows team members to give each other virtual “cheers.” TINYpulse is a great way for colleagues to acknowledge each other for a job well done and an opportunity to provide new hires with public praise.
Connect early and often.
Connect with your new hires regularly and provide a two-way stream for feedback to gauge the effectiveness of their onboarding process and ensure they know how they are progressing.
Managers should schedule weekly one-on-one meetings via video as well as brief check-ins throughout the first few weeks to ensure all is going well, that priorities are clear, and roadblocks are resolved quickly.
We also schedule 30, 60- and 90-day check-ins across the company spanning various teams (manager, department lead, HR, training, etc.)
When you connect and check-in with your new hires, ask open-ended questions to allow them to think out loud and gauge their confidence levels on core job responsibilities, such as:
- What is on your mind?
- What else do you need to feel like you’re set up for success?
- How can I help?
- What additional training or resources do you need?
For some, working remotely can feel isolating. New hires may not know where they stand or whether they’re meeting expectations, so providing clear, timely feedback should be an important part of your onboarding process—whether virtual or in-person.
While frequent communication is critical, transparency is also very important. If virtual onboarding is not the norm within your organization, let your new hire know that. Most will appreciate your candor and that you’re readjusting your onboarding process to ensure they have a good experience and are set up for success.
Will there be some snags along the way? Sure. But there can be with in-person onboarding as well. The main thing is for your new hire to feel welcomed and supported within your organization and be given tools and resources to get started on solid footing in their new role.
Angela Hughes is Director of Training and Knowledge at Acceleration Partners