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September 8, 2020

Virtual onboarding

How to get close to new employees from a distance

Emily Tschimperle

Onboarding isn’t easy, even in the best of times. But it’s key to making sure great talent feels like they’re part of the company from the start.  That’s how they start being productive and confident from day one…and how you get them to stay.

With company employees scattered around town — sometimes even across the country — getting onboarding right is more important than ever.

Connection is key
Onboarding — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic — requires more than just a “one and done” session. It’s an ongoing process that not only gets the “I’s” dotted and the “t’s” crossed, but also helps the new hire make the connections with co-workers and managers that will make them feel more a part of the company’s mission and culture. 

Remember, onboarding is a period of transition. The new hire is leaving something or somewhere — another job, college, home — and joining a new company with new people, new rules, new social structure, and more.

Investing time and energy into virtual onboarding is an investment in engagement. The more your new hires are exposed to different facets of the company, the more they’ll feel as though they belong. The faster that happens, the better.

Think “virtual” from the beginning
Although many employees will eventually return to the workplace we all left a while back, the idea of virtual onboarding won’t go away. Some companies will continue to hire remote employees or employees from other parts of the country. So virtual onboarding will remain a significant part of the new hiring process.

Onboarding virtually is obviously significantly different than doing it in-person — and potentially more difficult. But the more you embrace the idea of virtual onboarding, the more successful it can be.

  • Use video whenever possible. Right now, seeing people — even on video — is essential. It’s what often passes for human contact these days. Make sure both you and your new hire are using the best possible equipment and software to get the most out of every connection. Avoid phone calls if at all possible.

  • Take your time. Virtual onboarding is an ongoing process; you don’t need to rush it. And it’s not one session and you’re done. You’ll need to plan for several meetings to cover all the bases. Make a special effort to make them feel welcome and confident. That said, don’t make each session exhaustingly long. Build in breaks, either during a session or create “mini” sessions over several days.

  • Make it as easy as possible. Provide a checklist before each meeting so they can see what’s going to be discussed. Feed them information “just in time” instead of overloading them with multiple documents and links right away. Just make sure you give them time to absorb the information before you talk about it.

  • Remember, it’s all about them. Make your meetings as interactive as possible. Take the necessary time to help new hires fill out any paperwork. Help them understand the software they’ll be using (HR, workflow, collaboration, time capture, etc.) and give them the training they need to get started.

Make it someone’s mission to make a new hire feel welcome
New hires need to feel like they’re part of the company, especially during this work-from-home period. They need a mentor to guide them through the ins and outs of company policy and daily company life — and those mentors are essential for introducing new hires to others in the company. So make sure they’re assigned a “buddy” who will be there during the onboarding period — and beyond.

You can also use “breakout” groups to introduce new hires to others in the company and help them start to feel like they’re part of the group. Schedule virtual lunches and coffee breaks. Maybe even send a welcome basket with a card signed by everyone in their department.

Make sure you keep culture front and center. Don’t simply hand the new hire a mission or vision statement and expect them to be able to immediately internalize it. Talk about the company’s culture, what it means personally, and how it affects the business as well as the community. Ask them what they think and if they have questions.

Making them part of the “culture conversation” will help make them feel as though they’re already part of the team.

Onboarding can build a sense of belonging
Writer Daniel H. Pink has discovered through his research that people are looking for meaning at work. We are all looking for meaning in what we are asked to do as well as where we’re doing our work. With new generations entering the workplace, more and more employees are looking for a larger meaning to their work. They need to feel they belong to something that reaches beyond themselves and contributes positively to the world.

The onboarding process, even done virtually, can be the seed that grows into an engaged, involved, positive and productive employee.

Marsh & McLennan can help
If you have any questions on the art and science of virtual onboarding, get in touch with your MMA representative.