Published: 28 July 2021

Virtual onboarding is something that we have all needed to come to terms with. The last year has certainly been a time of change, and I think it is more than fair to say that we have all had new experiences and certainly learned a few lessons. One of the big changes in the employment arena has been the shift to a more virtual process. Video interviews, for example, have gone from something that often only happened if the candidate was unable to attend in-person to being standard practice. Dealing with the elevated importance of working from home procedures, from basic health and safety through to contractual changes, suddenly became almost a full-time focus for some HR departments. There are probably hundreds of other challenges we could all mention. However, one of the biggest changes faced by many businesses when taking on new members of the workforce was one of how to onboard the employee. Now, some months into the practice, we are seeing many employers embracing onboarding remotely.

The importance of good onboarding

For an employee, the new working environment is about more than where a desk or chair is placed. We all recognise that settling into a new job is a potentially stressful experience and that it is about a lot more than just a quick tour and being shown where the tea is kept. Virtually, it is no different. The onboarding process is vital to the new team member settling in, but it also underpins the development of job satisfaction. The bottom line is that the happier a new employee is with the introduction to the role, the more likely they are to stay and become a productive member of the team.

Onboarding then is really important to everyone, but how do you maintain that in a remote situation?

These are just a few of the things we have seen being adopted as good practice:

Make remote onboarding based around being remote

It's a mistake to try and emulate the process of physical onboarding. A quick walk around with a phone is never going to replace an orientation tour, so there is no point in forcing unsuitable processes' online'. It's probably a more sensible option to change the approach from looking to replace physical to looking to embrace digital. It may initially seem more time-consuming, but starting again from a digital perspective seems to work much better than changing current practice to fit into it.


Lots of constant contact in small stages is best

Virtual meetings are rarely as memorable as face to face, and it is easier to miss information. Extended online sessions are much better reduced to smaller sessions with more, regular breaks to compensate for screen fatigue. These should also be to a clear timetable because regularity of contact will help stop the new employee feeling remote and isolated.


Encourage open dialogue and discussion of concerns

The lack of physical connection makes it difficult to form friendships and working relationships. The sad irony of this is that remote onboarding is something where these would be very useful. It's worth considering building in one-to-one time with someone who the new employee can see as a person to go to air any concerns over the onboarding process.


Think about the small things as well as the big ones

Probably the most under-estimated resource in many workplaces is the ability to ask the person next to you. Remember that unpleasant feeling that came from not knowing a small, seemingly unimportant, thing in a new job? Well, remotely not knowing what to do is amplified, and what would normally be a small issue can turn into a huge worry. When you consider the process of onboarding, it's worth making sure that the new employee can access the right person or process for the smaller things they would normally just naturally pick up from the work environment.


Have they got what they need to be comfortable from day one?

This could include everything from a mouse mat to the technology needed to attend meetings. Onboarding a new employee who is perched on a stool at a rickety kitchen table is clearly never going to be the best experience for them.


Build in the company culture and social scene

How about a few 'social events' thrown in? Virtual lunches with the team or perhaps a virtual 'quick one' after work. Make sure the new employee knows the history of the business and feels comfortable with the people in the management chain as well as the chain itself.


With the potential for lockdown lifting on the horizon and more people returning to the workplace, it is certain that the number of people Working from Home (WFH) will decrease considerably. Consequently, virtual onboarding will also become less common. However, there is actually still a lot to be said for WFH and virtual onboarding. Many candidates are now looking for WFH as an option, and employers are seeing the benefits of reduced costs from utility spending through to smaller facilities. Virtual onboarding, or at least a mixture of virtual and physical, is probably here to stay. The best onboarding will, therefore, be about embracing the possibilities it presents.