2020 was the year of virtual onboarding — and not necessarily by choice for most companies. But even as offices start opening back up, virtual onboarding will continue to be a reality for many across the globe.
When we were all forced to take our hiring processes virtual in the spring of 2020, we adjusted fairly quickly. We figured out how to get new hire paperwork filled out and IRS forms filed even when employees were halfway across the country. But there’s still room for improvement in the virtual candidate experience — especially when it comes to onboarding.
Onboarding requires more than a checklist; it is the introduction of your company to a new hire. It’s how you set the tone for who your company is, what your culture is like, and how you treat employees. We may have perfected the paperwork part of remote hiring, but now we need to find ways to successfully incorporate new hires into our teams and cultures when we can’t see them in person every day. Here’s some advice for HR and recruiting teams looking to take virtual onboarding to the next level.
Company Culture Is Critical to the Employee Experience
One of the most critical considerations for virtual onboarding is how you will clearly articulate your company culture and integrate new hires into it. In the office, employees can have those moments in the hallway or by the microwave to chitchat and get to know each other. In a remote setting, where this is obviously not possible, you have to find ways to create digital moments of connection. One way to do that is to facilitate video calls with the purpose of getting people acquainted as opposed to discussing work issues.
Additionally, know that how you behave in a virtual setting will set the tone for your new employee. Working remotely requires a careful balance between the personal and the professional. The lines will inevitably blur. Somebody’s dog is going to bark during an important call. Somebody’s kid is going to pop into the video frame. Somebody on their second day at work might be mortified to have this happen; it’s your job to be thoughtful in handling these moments. Set your new hire at ease.
How we respond to everyday things really makes a difference to people. You must keep the mindset of selling the company to the employee even after they are hired. You want to hire good people, and good people will have options if it’s not the right culture fit.
Pay Attention to Cultural Differences When Onboarding Global Talent
Because culture is so critical to a new hire’s success, you absolutely have to be aware of any potential cultural differences when hiring international employees or employees in different cities.
Get creative. For example, some employees I’ve hired in India are not as direct in their feedback as others on my team. I have needed to adapt by asking more questions to get them talking a little bit more. At this point, I can usually tell if there is some hesitancy, and I can often spur conversations that lead to a better solution.
With cultural differences come different holidays, work hours, and more. When you’re trying to establish the company culture, you have to make sure your actions are consistent with your words. You can’t tell people you are family-oriented and then call them at dinner time. Actions speak louder than your words or policies.
Be Proactive to Integrate New Employees
As new hires get going, encourage them to connect with their coworkers on LinkedIn. This is an easy way for them to interact with the broader team and start establishing relationships.
Within the department, designate a buddy to help your new hire adjust. Being the newest member of the team can be lonely and overwhelming, especially in remote situations. A buddy will help the new hire feel like part of the team. This buddy can answer questions, help with training, and show the new employee how things are done.
One important note: If every onboarding touchpoint is a video call, it quickly becomes too much. Mix things up instead. Try incorporating some self-paced training, perhaps by providing spreadsheets and PDFs for the employee to peruse at their leisure. And there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned phone call to give a break from all the screen time.
Finally, schedule meet-and-greets. If you cannot have a traditional first-day lunch, get a virtual lunch organized within the new employee’s first couple of days on the job. Make sure they can connect with different people within the company, not just their manager or teammates.
Once you set a routine for virtual onboarding, you may find it easier than the methods your company used to use. The process can be streamlined, with everything the new hire needs right at their fingertips. Provide them with a way to ask questions, whether by phone or chat, and the process can be almost fully self-paced.
While some companies utilized online onboarding in some capacity before the pandemic, many smaller and mid-sized companies tried it for the first time when COVID-19 hit. Whether they continue using it once businesses open again will depend on how strong a virtual onboarding process they built. What all companies need to remember is that onboarding must be thoughtful, whether virtual or in person. When you make employees feel welcome, clearly articulate your culture, and tailor the experience to each person’s unique circumstances, you set new hires and the company up for success.
Bill Armstrong is president of Gava Talent Solutions.