8 Mantras To Up Level Your Virtual Onboarding Process

It’s 9 am on a Monday morning, the start to a busy week. A bunch of eager new hires are waiting to join your workforce. So, what do you do? Hand them a bunch of forms that takes them well over half a day to decipher and fill up? Then herd them into a prolonged orientation session that puts most of them to sleep? This might have been the way most companies did things a decade ago. Today, companies have realized that this is a sure-fire way of killing all that enthusiasm. First impressions matter and a good onboarding process is your first real touch point with your new employee.

Why Pull Out the Red Carpet?

Did you know that 20% of staff turnover happens within the first 45 days and 33% of employees start looking for a new job within the first 6 months? So why does it matter? Shouldn’t we consider that if an employee can’t fit in, it’s better that they leave early? That is really not the case.

The cost of replacing an entry level employee is 30%-50% of their salary. This cost escalates to 150%-400% for mid and senior level employees. If this is not reason enough, think about the impact on productivity. It takes 8-12 months for an employee to achieve full productivity. Early employee turnover results in a 1%-2.5% loss in revenue.

An effective onboarding process is your first step to successfully imprinting the organization in the employee’s psyche. Employees who know that they are valued, and an integral part of a larger whole are more likely to stay the long haul.

Get Your Signposts Ready

Imagine you are in a new city. You have no friends and to top it all you can’t make sense of the sign posts, because you don’t know the language! That’s exactly how it would feel to join a company without a good onboarding process. Like with the strange and unwelcoming city, it’s very likely that you’d give up and go to a friendlier, welcoming place as quickly as you could.

Talya Bauer, Ph.D., author of Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success, says that there are 4 distinct levels of onboarding.

  • Compliance – At this level, employees are informed of legal and policy-related issues.
  • Clarification – New employees are informed of their new role along with the related expectations.
  • Culture – At this level, new hires are exposed to the organizational values and norms.
  • Connection – New employees are encouraged to foster personal relationships and information networks.

A Virtual Handshake is as Good as the Real Thing!

Enterprises were dancing around the idea of remote hiring and onboarding when they got catapulted into 2020, the year of the pandemic. Virtual onboarding, the cherry on top of the hiring icing, soon became the cake that saved the day!

Businesses around the world realized quickly that while the world as we knew it had changed drastically, the show still had to go on. That meant continuing to be nimble and moving with the changing requirements. A significant portion of this entailed hiring the right people and bringing them up to speed as quickly as possible. This is where a robust onboarding process played a significant role. As businesses had to grapple with the reality that they needed to maintain social distancing, virtual onboarding became a reality even when you were hired from your own city.

The 8 Mantras of Virtual Onboarding

Companies had to rethink their entire onboarding strategy to meet the new reality of virtual onboarding and come up with strategies to meet the unforeseen challenges thrown up by remote hiring.

Here are some tips or best practices for an effective virtual onboarding process.

  1. Smaller timeboxes for effective onboarding
  2. Traditionally, onboarding was a process that lasts the first couple of days or perhaps a week. Most organizations have, however, realized that an effective onboarding process can last months or even as long as the first year of employment. This is true especially when onboarding employees virtually. It is crucial to break up the onboarding process into bite-sized portions so that you don’t overwhelm your new hire with too much information.

    It is important the first day’s onboarding process helps the new hires:

    1. Reaffirm their decision to join your company.
    2. Understand how their new role aligns with the company’s vision and mission. It is always important for employees to know that they are part of a greater whole.
    3. Build relationships that they could foster and grow in the coming days.

    You could, of course, follow up this onboarding session with an email that helps the new hire understand the nitty-gritties of working with you.

  3. Communication is the Name of the Game
  4. This is not the time to let the new hires be and find their space. Your new hire is in a new environment without being in one physically. That’s the conundrum of working remotely. It’s much more difficult for a new hire to be absorbed into the mainstream of your work life while working remotely. It’s quite easy for them to feel disoriented and left out.

    This is where your robust communication strategy comes into play. You need to replace the frequent in-person pep talks a manager would give a new hire, with scheduled and off-the-cuff touchpoints via e-mails, chats, and video calls. These would, by necessity, have to be more planned and focused than the casual interactions you would have in the office. Most organizations would rely on automated processes to ensure that communication does not fall by the wayside.

    The key is to make the new joinee feel welcome and part of the team.

  5. Buddy System Wins Hands Down!
  6. buddy-system

    Assigning a “buddy” to a new hire is a very effective way of making the person feel welcome and part of the team. The buddy effectively becomes the conduit between the new hire and the rest of the team. The buddy could meet the new hire for virtual coffee and other sessions that foster casual interaction. Thereafter, the buddy helps the new hire figure out the who’s who and what’s what of the team. He/she would effectively be the new hire’s window to the pulse of the organization.

  7. Arm the New Hire with the Tools of the Trade
  8. New hires are typically given their laptops and other gizmos in person during the orientation. But that was in the days of in-office onboarding. The remote hire should also have access to company hardware and software. Getting it to them needs a bit more planning and forethought than the in-office version.

    A good onboarding strategy would account for the smooth handover of technology to the new hire.

    Access to technology does not mean just getting a laptop to a new employee’s location. A good onboarding process also ensures that the new hire is comfortable using the tools your team normally uses. There could be tools of collaboration that your new hire is familiar with. However, it’s always best to assume that your new hire is coming with a blank slate rather than assuming that they would know how to use these tools. An onboarding program that includes these small nuances will ensure that the new hire feels at home in a relatively short time.

  9. Speak ‘Culture’ from the Get-go
  10. Your onboarding process and communication should be infused with your company’s culture and values. People want to work for an organization that has its own culture and identity. It humanizes the organization and makes the new hire relate to the organization quicker. An in-person onboarding process allows the new hire to imbibe the culture and vibe of the organisation in an organic, unforced manner.. In a remote onboarding environment, you will have to rely on your written communication and other touch points like video calls to project the company’s culture and values effectively.

    Look at your onboarding communication from the same angle as your marketing communication. While you are communicating with your customers in your marketing communication, your onboarding communication is where you introduce the company to the new hire. Apply careful thought and strategy to ensure that the right message is being communicated.

  11. Let’s Meet Often!
  12. Video calls can be fatiguing for both the participants as well as the facilitator. However, it’s important to have frequent sessions with the new hires to get to know them better and vice versa. Encourage the team to organize breakout rooms where the introduction is informal and fun. This is an ideal way for managers to decipher the new hire’s soft skills and attitude. The more often the new hire meets with the team to collaborate in non-work environments, the sooner they get integrated with the team. Remember, you need to find a substitute for those water cooler conversations.

  13. Let Birds of the Same Feather Flock Together
  14. People connected by lines. Communication with clients and business partners. Social connections, business relationships. Communicate effectively with customers.

    Finding like-minded people in the office environment is relatively easy. Socializing with your colleagues when you work remotely involves much more focused thought and effort. Most large organizations now encourage new hires to form groups and meet virtually as often as possible. They are also encouraged to form new hire groups in the social media platforms of the company. It helps them meet and share their concerns and angst with a peer group.

  15. Feedback, Feedback—the More the Merrier
  16. You can’t think of everything. While you might have modified your onboarding process to suit remote onboarding to the best of your ability, there’s a lot that could have fallen through the cracks. Encourage new hires to share honest and continuous feedback. If you feel that employees would be more comfortable with sharing anonymous feedback, ensure that this is the norm.

    Of course, it’s easy gathering feedback. But does it then get put in the corner of your virtual office and gather dust? That then defeats the purpose. Your system of acting on feedback should be as robust as receiving it.

While all of these points may seem valid and make absolute sense, it’s quite a lot to keep track of and streamline in an effective manner. What you need is a robust onboarding system that allows you the luxury of automating and customizing your entire onboarding process to fit your brand and culture. It’s definitely worth the effort. A study by SHRM states, “69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding”. It also increases productivity by 50%. So, invest in a robust onboarding process, if you haven’t already.


Harvard Business Review