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Welcome new hires with a great virtual onboarding program

Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

June 10, 2022

The first few weeks of a new hire’s journey are crucial to setting them up for success. A great onboarding experience will help them feel welcome, valued, and comfortable with their new role. A bad one, on the other hand, could lead to disillusionment and a quick exit. In a remote work environment where you don’t have in-person interaction, there’s even more pressure to achieve the right balance with virtual onboarding.

According to a survey, roughly 16% of employees leave between the first week and the third month. And 15% of respondents who left within three months said the lack of an onboarding program contributed to their decision to quit. That’s a lot of wasted time, effort, and money.

Scarier yet, it’s so easy to get it wrong. Give new employees too many tasks, and they’ll feel overwhelmed. Be too hands-off, and they won’t feel welcome. Do printouts help, or do they just become drawer clutter? And buddy systems — are they a waste of time?

On the flip side, new employees with good onboarding experiences are 18x more committed to their employer than those with a wobbly start.

It’s so important to get your virtual onboarding process right. But what’s the secret to nailing the process? In this article, we’ll share 15 practical tips that will help you improve your HR online onboarding process.

What is onboarding?

Onboarding is the process of integrating a new employee into the workplace. It involves orienting them with your company’s culture, values, and systems. The goal is to help the new hire feel comfortable and confident in their new role, so they can hit the ground running.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), an effective onboarding program has three main objectives:

  1. Help new employees transition into their roles.
  2. Socialize new employees into the company culture.
  3. Increase job satisfaction and retention among new employees.

Onboarding doesn’t just happen on the first day or even the first week. It’s a continuous process that should extend for at least 12 months. One study found that it takes up to eight months for new employees to feel fully settled into their role.

What are the benefits of good onboarding?

There are countless benefits of having a great onboarding program, both for the employer and the employee.

For the employer, good onboarding can…

For the employee, good onboarding can…

  • Help them transition into their role
  • Socialize them into the company culture
  • Increase job satisfaction and motivation
  • Improve retention
  • Help them progress and grow in their role

The challenges of virtual onboarding

Virtual onboarding presents a few unique challenges. For one, it can be harder to socialize new employees into the company culture when they’re not in the same physical space as their colleagues. Additionally, there may be more technical issues to troubleshoot when setting up remote workers. Another concern is that it’s harder to monitor how a recruit is getting on when they’re working independently every day.

13 ways to make virtual onboarding a success

With that in mind, let’s look at 13 ways to improve your virtual online onboarding process.

1. Define the objectives of your onboarding program

The first step is to sit down and define the objectives of your virtual onboarding program. What goals do you want to achieve? Do you want to reduce new hire turnover? Increase productivity? Boost engagement?

You should also think about who the onboarding is for.

  • What topics will it cover? Safety? Security? Ethics? All of the above?
  • Should the training include special instructions about working life for the youngest employees?
  • What kind of performance do you expect from the employee during onboarding? How will you measure this?

2. Set up a dedicated onboarding team

The onboarding team is responsible for creating and delivering the program. It should consist of representatives from different departments, including HR. A few people who work closely with the new hire should be involved.

When assembling your team, think about the following points:

  • Who should be on the onboarding team?
  • What should the onboarding team do?
  • How can they improve the onboarding process?
  • How can they make sure all new hires are properly orientated?
  • What is the onboarding budget?
  • How often should the team meet?
  • What is the duration of the onboarding program?
  • Do you need to hire any additional staff to support the team?

3. Create a schedule

Scheduling is important. Go too fast, and the new hire will feel overwhelmed. Go too slow, and they’ll get bored.

The best way to find the right pace is to create a timeline of the virtual onboarding program and then work out how long each activity should take.

4. Develop the onboarding content

Once you’ve defined the objectives of your onboarding program and assembled a team, it’s time to develop the content.

In this day and age, there’s no excuse for boring handouts. Your company culture should shine through in everything you do, including onboarding materials.

When developing the content, think about the following:

  • What topics will you cover?
  • What format will the materials take?
  • How can you make the materials engaging?
  • How can you ensure the materials are accessible to all employees?
  • Who will develop the materials?
  • Where will you store the materials (we recommend an online portal)?

If you have designers and copywriters on hand, get them involved in creating the docs. They’ll be able to add a bit of flair and make sure the content is engaging. If not, consider hiring professional designers and writers to create something that carries your brand style and voice.

5. Choose the right delivery method

Once you’ve developed the materials, it’s time to think about how you will deliver them. There are many different options, including:

  • Online courses
  • E-learning platforms
  • Webinars
  • Videos
  • Virtual one-to-one coaching

The delivery method you choose will depend on several factors, including the type of content you’re delivering, the size of your company, and the type of work your company does.

If you have a large company with many new hires a month, then online courses or e-learning platforms might be the best option. To deliver a more personalized experience, one-to-one video coaching could be the way to go.

6. Showcase your company culture

We all know first impressions are important, and it’s just as true in business.

When new hires start at a company, they want to see if the culture is a good fit for them. And if it’s not, they’ll soon start looking for a new job.

Showcasing your remote work culture during the onboarding process will help new hires understand what your company is all about and whether they will fit in.

There are many different ways to do this, including:

  • Organizing social events
  • Arranging for employees to shadow other teams
  • Pairing them with a buddy for a week or two to help them settle in (virtual or in-person)
  • Setting up milestones so that they can celebrate settling in. Starting a new job is hard—settling in should be celebrated. Don’t forget to add birthdays and work anniversaries to the list.
  • Giving new hires a tour of the office (virtual or IRL)
  • Introducing them to the company values
  • Showing them how they can get involved in company life
  • Playing virtual team-building games

7. Set expectations early

If you want employees to hit the ground running, set expectations early on. This means letting them know what’s expected of them in their new role.

You should summarize the company’s goals and how the new employee’s role fits into the bigger picture. This will help to ensure the employee is working towards the right objectives.

It’s also a good idea to present an overview of the company’s systems and processes. In other words, give them a crash course on how things work and where they can go for help if they need it.

8. Get creative with socialization

Socializing new employees remotely doesn’t have to be a challenge. You can use video conferencing to host virtual happy hours or coffee breaks. You can also create online communities, like team chat topics or Facebook groups, where employees can interact with each other and ask questions.

9. Introduce new starters to important people

Give new employees a list of people they can contact if they need help. This might include their line manager, HR, and the IT helpdesk. You should also introduce them to any team members they’ll be working closely with.

10. Give constructive feedback

Throughout the first few weeks, you should give new employees feedback to help them adapt to their roles and then continue regularly after that. Constructive feedback can create transparency, so new employees know how (and what) they’re doing and what they can do to improve.

Here are some key feedback moments:

  • The first day: let them know you’re happy to have them on board.
  • The first week: give them an overview of how they’re settling in.
  • One month: give them a more detailed overview of their progress and what they can do to improve.
  • Three to six months: give them a formal performance review. Give them a chance to share their thoughts on their progress so far.
  • One year: give them a detailed overview of their achievements, and set goals for the next year.

11. Set up an evaluation system

It’s important to evaluate the success of your onboarding program, and there are many ways you can do this.

One option is to ask employees to complete a survey at the end of the program. This will give you valuable feedback about what they thought of the program and how you could improve it.

Another option is to track key metrics, such as employee retention and productivity. This will help you see whether your onboarding program is having a positive impact on your business. Once you have the results, improve, measure, tweak, and repeat!

12. Use templates and checklists

Use templates and checklists to make sure your onboarding program is easy to set up and that you don’t overlook anything. It’s also a good idea to create a knowledge base of onboarding materials, such as job descriptions, company policies, and training materials. In the long run, this will make it easier to keep track of everything and ensure new hires have access to the information they need.

13. Use the right tech

Unfortunately, many organizations still rely on paper-based or manual processes for onboarding, which can be both time-consuming and error-prone. Not to mention, it’s difficult to track the progress of new hires when everything is scattered across different platforms/bits of paper/spreadsheets.

By moving your onboarding process online, you can streamline communication and keep all your documents in one place. Not only does this save time for HR and the new hire, but it also helps to reduce confusion during what can already be a hectic time.

Just because your new employee is remote, it doesn’t mean they need to miss out on crucial company information or feel like they’re not part of the team. There’s a host of technology that can help to improve the virtual onboarding process.

Some of the most popular options include…

  • Video conferencing: use this for everything from one-on-one meetings to group training sessions.
  • Project management software: use this to keep track of tasks and deadlines and ensure everyone is on the same page. You can also use it for performance reviews and feedback as recruits settle in and begin work.
  • Screen sharing: this is a great way to share documents and presentations and provide real-time feedback.
  • Chat apps: use these for quick questions or informal conversations and to create a sense of community.

Final thoughts

You can’t shake hands, but that doesn’t mean your virtual hires need to miss out on all the great aspects of your company culture!

Effective virtual onboarding can make a big difference to the success of your business. By taking the time to plan and develop a well-rounded program, you can set new hires up for success from the start. Pair this with a good HR team armed with all the right project management tech, and you’ll have a happy, productive team all-round.



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