Making sure virtual onboarding doesn’t feel like the second-best option

May 24, 2021
June 26, 2023
Employee Onboarding

Virtual onboarding should never feel like a watered-down version of what’s on offer to employees joining the company ‘in-person’. When the pandemic hit, most of us went into survival mode and were really learning on the job in learning how to onboard virtually.

It was probably a case of mixing the in-person elements we thought would work with trial and error for new remote ideas. But we’ve now reached the point where remote teams are well and truly going to be part of the new normal. So we need to make our approach to virtual onboarding less of a trial and error meets offline hybrid and more of its own bespoke approach tailored around the challenges a remote employee faces.

Redefining expectations, timelines and experiences

What’s useful to an in-office employee won’t necessarily be useful to somebody who’s remote, and it works the other way around too. Their journeys are completely different and it’s important to map those out before structuring the employee onboarding process. Once you’ve established those journeys and differences, you can start thinking about whether any existing resources suit both parties or could be modified for virtual onboarders.

For example, a desk-seating plan would mean very little to someone who’s not in the office, but a visual tree of how those teams and people are structured or work together might be really helpful. However, the documents around annual leave policies and employee perks would most likely be useful for everyone.

You’ve also got to consider that the timelines will be different for remote joiners. By their very nature, they’ll have less contact time with colleagues and potentially fewer spontaneous moments to absorb knowledge from teammates. That’s where you have to consider how social learning and knowledge sharing can be replicated on learning platforms and other tech.

The temptation to just schedule a load of virtual meetings is one you’ll have to resist too, the Zoom fatigue we’ve all felt at points is something you’ll want to avoid in virtual onboarding. You might choose to spread those out but give some structure around self-directed learning in between – the point is that the timeline and experience need to be considered.

Consider the remote leader experience too

It’s natural that our minds jump right to the learner but the virtual onboarding experience is just as important for leaders. For existing leaders, it shapes the relationship with the people they’re managing, impacts how that unfolds for years to come and develops them as leaders too. And for new leaders joining the team, they’ll need assistance in their own ways.

Udemy recently published The Definitive Virtual Onboarding Guide for Distributed Teams and included a section dedicated to the remote manager. From making sure they’re up to speed with policy and able to answer employee questions to ensuring team-building is a priority. But there was one section I really wanted to include and that was setting them up to make quick connections with the right people.

Source – Udemy: The Definitive Virtual Onboarding Guide for Distributed Teams

Ensure virtual onboarding is social in every sense of the word

We touched on it briefly but it definitely deserves its own section – you have to make sure that the social and human sides of onboarding aren’t lost in the virtual world. If we were in an office, we’d learn different things about the company from a bunch of different people. Some people are better suited to just welcoming you, others might be the authority on culture, some will teach you about your job really well and others can help you with the virtual side of things. It’s important that you work out who is best suited to that through the remote lens.

Remote buddies, mentors and internal experts may well have different qualities to the people fulfilling those roles in person – your job is to identify who the best virtual fit is.

It’s also important to avoid the temptation to structure everything around the role, the virtual onboarding experience needs moments where you can just connect with new faces and voices. Those times where you build human connections and find people who’ve got similar interests and hobbies.

Personalising onboarding for the individual

One-size doesn’t fit all the people in your office, so why would that be the case online? The rise of remote employees means that location is far less important in the hiring process and could see people spread out across the world. Even changes as seemingly straightforward as that start to throw in concerns like the working hours, benefits and legal requirements that differ regionally.

But it’s much more than that, it’s about ensuring the resources you’re including and the people you’re connecting onboarders with during the welcome process are relevant. Have they worked on similar projects before? Are they based in a similar timezone? Is this course or shared resource relevant to the role they’re stepping into? Are we including anything that’s irrelevant to what they’ll be doing or need to know in the first few months?

Questions like this help you understand if the course or pathway is really tailored to the individual. Rolling out the same course to every virtual employee might save you time, but will it create a simpler route to ramping up from their perspective…

Self-driven learning as a tool for virtual onboarders

Anyone who has onboarded virtually knows that you’re conscious about how often you’re sending messages. An office shoulder tap really isn’t any worse or more time consuming than an instant message or email, but it definitely feels like it. This is why the capacity to find resources on-demand and at the end of your fingertips is so helpful for people joining remotely.

When self-directed learning is on the table, they can search for the answers themselves and then come to the right person with either follow up questions or those that the company resources simply didn’t answer. Rather than worrying about asking another question, they’re feeling empowered by autonomy and in control of what they’re doing.

Some companies even incorporate that into their handbook and values. With another quick nod to Udemy’s virtual onboarding guide, they give the example of Zapier encouraging people to ask questions intentionally.

Source – Udemy: The Definitive Virtual Onboarding Guide for Distributed Teams

Getting your stuff together so you can get their stuff together

Nothing highlights the difference between the in-person and virtual onboarding experience than when your manager makes a mistake. If you forget to set up somebody’s email or account on a platform, the in-office manager can take them for a tour or coffee while it’s rectified. If someone’s at home alone, there’s nothing you can do in the meantime to mitigate the oversight and prevent employees feeling overlooked. They’re twiddling their thumbs while you fix the mistake.

So part of your virtual onboarding process has to be preventing oversights when it comes to tech access, invites to meetings and sending them the equipment they need for day one and beyond.

Translating and building your remote culture

How much of your culture is tied to the physical office space? Of those elements, which ones could you replicate in a remote setting? And equally important, which new elements is the remote setting bringing to the cultural table? These will understandably be specific to your company, so it’s worth not only discussing them but asking employees for their feedback too.

If you’re a very social team, are there tools that can help you replicate that virtually? If transparency is crucial, how do you prevent information from becoming siloed or trapped behind different logins that everyone might be missing? Again, it’s sadly something specific to your culture, mission and vision – so it’s a case of thinking how the remote culture and landscape aligns with that.

Working out the virtual checking-in frequency

One of the big challenges is figuring out whether you’re checking in too often or not enough. A good example would be performance reviews, because while a quarterly or yearly cadence might work in the office, things might be changing more frequently remotely. If you wait three months to speak with a remote employee who you’re not having those spontaneous meet ups with, how do you know if they’re happy?

A similar rule applies to virtual onboarders. In the office, you might catch up at the end of each week, but perhaps a remote employee would just need a five-minute catchup each morning instead. Again, it’s a personal one that you’ll have to work out within your company culture and with each remote onboarder.

The right learning platform can play a big part in creating the right remote culture! We’ve got some more information on that right here.

Check out our other employee onboarding resources