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How to nail the virtual onboarding process

Does your virtual onboarding process feel like a crapshoot? If so, you’re not alone.

There’s arguably never been a stranger time to bring on new employees. Companies are in the process of rescaling their operations, contending with remote work, and simply trying to stay on track. 

Many employers were forced to navigate hiring freezes or reductions in force due to COVID-19. On the other side, job seekers have had anything but their pick of the litter. But as the economy rights itself, more organizations are returning to growth mode, lending to a new (good) dilemma: how to hire and onboard in a fully virtual environment. 

This is a new frontier for almost everyone. In the past, even the most remote-friendly operations have had some form of in-person training or orientation. So there’s an element of trial and error to virtual onboarding, no matter the industry or nature of the position.

One way to ensure a smooth onboarding process is through a behavioral assessment. Use this tool to gain insights into new hires’ personalities and remote needs. The findings can also make your managers and team members more perceptive peers.

The Predictive Index's 2020 report, The Impact of Behavioral Drives in a Remote Workplace

Beyond that, let’s walk through some of what we’re learning about the virtual onboarding process: 

Virtual onboarding best practices

One of the most important aspects of onboarding is equipment. On day one in an office, your new employees will have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their workspace, and on-site tech support plays a big role in getting them comfortable. With virtual onboarding, the equipment needed may not differ too much, but the process for troubleshooting will.

To start, you’ll want to ensure your new hires have:

  • A working laptop and/or monitor, plus audio and cable equipment
  • All relevant onboarding materials (physical and/or digital)
  • Accounts properly set up (email, project management software, etc.)
  • Access to any additional workspace equipment (chairs, desks, keyboards, etc.)

Make sure to provide ample check-in opportunities during these first few days or weeks. The behavioral drives of your new employees can help dictate how and when you check in, but remote onboarding will be different for many. Remember that you’re creating a dynamic where new hires feel comfortable asking questions.

Without an IT professional down the hall, or co-workers to bounce random questions off of, virtual onboarding can become fraught with oversight. The only way to ensure your new team members have what they need is to ask them—repeatedly.

Beyond technology needs, it’s good practice for managers or team leads to provide general check-ins. Use a modified engagement survey or feedback template. Particularly if a big part of company culture would have been face-to-face interaction, you’ll want to leverage video conferencing early. 

You can scale this back (in terms of frequency or medium) as new employees settle in. But remember that this remote work environment simply wasn’t what most signed up for. 

virtual onboarding through Zoom

Good and bad ideas for remote onboarding

Many companies will onboard their new hires in groups, for obvious reasons. It’s more efficient to train multiple people at once, particularly if they’re entering similar roles. And employee onboarding is generally less daunting when you’re not alone.

But for remote workers, in-person cohorts simply aren’t possible. So here are a couple ways to maintain a sense of camaraderie among new team members:

  • Set up virtual Q&A sessions for new remote employees.
  • Ask team members to hold casual check-ins with their new coworkers.
  • Schedule virtual coffee breaks, lunches, or happy hours. 

Spread these events out over a few days, so you don’t overwhelm anyone with too much information or video conferencing. Remember: In addition to simply learning the ins and outs of their roles, new hires are absorbing details on benefits, company policies, and communication protocols. Combined with stress from the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing mandates, that’s an awful lot for anyone to handle.

To ensure you don’t pile onto that stress, try to avoid:

  • Overloading new employees with too much reading material
  • Overcommunicating via Slack or chat (as opposed to email/other official channels)
  • Scheduling back-to-back meetings, where possible

Particularly if new team members are less accustomed to remote work, it’s wise to give them breaks and buffer time. If they’re forced to attend various video calls throughout their onboarding process, with little to no time in between, they’ll grow mentally exhausted. This reduces the likelihood they’ll retain this information from meeting to meeting.

As you get to know your new hires better, you can better accommodate their strongest behavioral needs. (For example, consider scheduling extra coffee breaks for more extraverted team members. Meanwhile, for more introspective hires, you could provide added heads-down time.) But in the early stages, it’s best to keep things simple yet varied.

Virtual onboarding checklist 

Everyone’s onboarding will vary based on their role and company, but every new virtual employee needs a checklist. Without in-person monitoring, it’s one of the simplest and most objective ways for managers to keep track of their progress.

PI virtual onboarding Asana board

Whether you use an Asana board or a simple Google Sheet, make sure you provide new hires with a trackable workspace. This isn’t about micromanaging or overformalizing the process; it’s a measure of shared accountability. Whether it’s created by human resources or a direct manager, the checklist shouldn’t read as a list of “you dos” so much as collective to-dos. 

When creating this checklist, try to alternate between proactive and reactive tasks. For example, here are some potential items for the first day:

  • Walk through the marketing calendar with (manager’s name).
  • Review the provided benefits packet.
  • Schedule two meetings for next week with new team members.

Each of these is important to the virtual onboarding process. But not all place the initiative solely on the new hire, and some (like simply scheduling meetings) are lighter lifts than others. 

Ultimately, a thorough virtual onboarding covers, but isn’t limited to:

  • Tech and equipment needs
  • An organizational or departmental overview
  • Project management protocols
  • Reporting structure and expectations/KPIs
  • HR and benefits policies
  • Company culture activities that cater to each hire’s behavioral needs

Some virtual trainees will burn through their week one tasks. Others will take longer to absorb the many materials and loads of new information. Be cognizant of each new hire’s preferred pace, give them the appropriate space, and try not to compare efforts—even if you have two people starting in identical positions. 

Onboarding with awareness

Remote work is nuanced. But navigating the virtual onboarding process is less about experience (either as the trainer or trainee) and more about understanding how different behavioral drives take to the virtual workplace.

You can make a potentially trying process smoother for your new employees by catering to their behaviors, acting with empathy, and stressing you’re available to help—at the pace they need.


Andy is a content writer and editor at PI. He's an unashamed map geek, hoops enthusiast, and Goldfish cracker aficionado.

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