Virtual Onboarding

Virtual Onboarding 101: How to Make It Work

The onboarding process is like your first date. Nail it, and you’ll have motivated, productive employees contributing to your company’s success. Fail it, and you’ll run 64% risk of having your employees quit within a year. 


Luckily, we’re here to help! Check out this article for our best tips for a smooth virtual onboarding experience. 

What Is Virtual Onboarding? 

In our increasingly global world, many people work from home or distant destinations. Virtual onboarding means remotely integrating a new hire into their team and tasks. Video conferencing tools and online resources are used for this. 

It is crucial to remember that training is only half of the equation to onboard a remote employee successfully – the other half is the social aspect. 

Successful virtual onboarding is essential for many reasons, such as employee retention. 

Unfortunately, only 12% of US employees say their employer does a good job with the onboarding process. And only 29% of new hires report feeling well prepared and confident upon completion of the onboarding. 

Differences Between On-Site and Virtual Onboarding

Your new hire may feel more isolated and intimidated compared to traditional in-person onboarding. They may feel hesitant to ask questions since they can’t look at their colleagues and judge whether it’s appropriate to interrupt. 

That’s why remote onboarding needs to emphasize making the person feel welcome and let them know it’s fine to ask questions. The social and cultural aspects need to be central since virtual onboarding lacks spontaneous conversations at the coffee machine.

The Advantages and Challenges of Remote Onboarding

One advantage of remote onboarding is that you have a golden opportunity of creating a streamlined, memorable experience. Once you have a solid process in place, it is also easy to reuse with little effort – making it a cost-effective option. 

Virtual onboarding is flexible and allows employees to work from anywhere. Introducing your new hire to employees in different cities and countries is just a video call invitation away – no need for travel or using office resources.

It is possible to make it highly interactive by e.g. video conferencing tools, direct messages, online quizzes and games, and shared whiteboards. 

Virtual Onboarding Challenges

  • Social 

One virtual onboarding challenge is that your new employee will feel isolated. For example, group chats can be intimidating for someone who doesn’t get internal jokes or references to existing projects. It is thus crucial to plan virtual meetings with everyone in the team and management during their first week. 

If you have several new hires, try to coordinate their start date. This can make new employees feel less vulnerable and give them a more positive onboarding experience.

Similarly, a lack of connection can lead to insecurity about their responsibilities. The employee should get a thorough explanation of the scope of their tasks. 

Communication is key for successful teamwork – even more so when working remotely. All workplaces have different routines around communication. 

There’s also the risk of a watering-down of the company culture. Ideally, one of the first welcome calls with the hiring manager or team lead should include a walkthrough of company values.  

  • Technical

Include an explanation of the software and tools used for communication and the best practices. Are they supposed to send emails with questions or feedback to everyone involved in a project, or only to the manager? What type of communication occurs via direct message, and when is email preferred? Straightening those question marks early on removes friction and frustration.

In a recent study, over 90% of employees having virtual onboarding experienced some kind of IT issue. Something to solve before their starting date is permissions, passwords, and if applicable, send them the hardware and material they need.

How Do You Conduct a Successful Virtual Employee Onboarding? 

Wow your new hires with a remote onboarding experience that makes your employees promote your company! Follow the below steps:

Remote Onboarding: Before They Start

1. Make a plan

Create an onboarding schedule to send your new hires a few days before they start. Ensure that you have talked to and sent calendar invites to everyone involved in educating your new hire. 

2. Provide them with tech

If your company offers material like computers or home office equipment, send it well in advance. Bonus points for sending over company swag like a mug or a t-shirt with the logo of their new favorite business!   

Check that they’ll get any logins and permissions they need on the day they start. 

3. Send a welcome email

The onboarding begins before the official start date. Send a welcome email with all the information your new hire needs – and don’t forget to leave the contact details to you, their mentor, or manager. 

Virtual Onboarding: When They Have Started

1. People First

There are two pressing parts for a new hire: feeling part of the team and doing a good job. Feeling socially included is the foundation for doing a great job. Your virtual onboarding should thus consider the social aspects first.

2. Activate the company culture

Company values can be a dry expression on paper – they come alive through your company culture. Engaging your new hires in the company culture provides anticipation and motivation. Find ways of making your company culture come alive early on during the onboarding. For example, let your new team members choose their signature emoji for use in the group chats or make a personalized GIF. 

3. Encourage spontaneous conversations

You can use ice-breakers at the beginning of meetings as a substitute for spontaneous conversations in the elevator or over lunch. If you host meetings on Zoom, you can use the breakout rooms feature to split your employees into smaller groups for more intimate conversations. Also, use the time before a meeting starts while waiting for everyone to join for small talks – such as asking what everyone did during the weekend. 

4. Invite collaboration

If your new hire asks a question related to what someone else is working on, or you know someone in the team is facing the same issue, connect the two and let them collaborate. Direct messaging software like Slack allows you to create channels – you can add your new hire to the channel relevant to their question and encourage them to ask there.

5. Set clear expectations

Clearly defined expectations are key to helping your new employees do a great job. Tell them what’s expected of their role and how it fits into the greater corporate context. Make sure not to overwhelm them in the beginning by starting with a few essential tasks and responsibilities. As the onboarding proceeds, keep adding more. 

6. Engage colleagues

Some processes and programs are best learned online through tutorials. However, a great way to build connections is to invite coworkers to teach on different topics and have walkthroughs of programs. That’s often a more fun and interactive way – plus, it encourages your new hires to pay attention, reflect, and ask questions. 

After a Few Weeks

1. Keep the onboarding going

Studies have shown that employees perform better with a longer onboarding (around 90 days). Pre-pandemic, the average onboarding duration was just about 30 days which may leave employees feeling abandoned and lacking the confidence to execute their tasks properly.

2. Make space for feedback…

Schedule regular feedback sessions during the onboarding as a pulse check. You can also integrate the feedback in the one-on-one meetings with your new hire. 

Some questions you can ask:

  • How’s it going? How are you finding your new job?

  • What do you enjoy the most?

  • Do you need anything in terms of resources or support?

  • Has the job met your expectations so far?

  • How do you feel about your coworkers?

  • What feedback do you have for us regarding onboarding?

3. But also for fun

By now, you have already integrated your new hire by organizing meetings introducing them to other employees and having small talk and ice-breakers. To make them feel welcome, plan a fun activity that’s not work-related. Examples can be a virtual quiz night or wine and cheese tasting over Zoom, or letting employees hold conferences on topics they are passionate about. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid in a Virtual Onboarding Process 

1. Focusing on strategy over social

Yes, you want your recruits to come up to speed quickly. But focusing only on learning and practical matters like getting licenses and logins can reduce employee satisfaction. Integrating social activities and introductory calls with each team member and manager/team lead is crucial – especially in remote onboarding. Happy employees directly translate into increased productivity and revenue.

2. Guessing instead of measuring success

Employee feedback is valuable – and its real power is unlocked when you extract the knowledge into data. Analyze new recruits' feedback and KPIs like employee retention and exit interviews. For example, if an alarmingly high number of employees quit during the first year and report being unhappy with the onboarding, you know where your work lies. 

Also, interview the hiring manager to see how satisfied they are with the recent hires and how that could be related to the onboarding process.

3. Not communicating expectations

Communicate what’s expected in the role – and performance targets for the first month, three months, six months, and so on. Leaving the expectations open and vague leads to frustration and friction and affects productivity negatively. 

4. Skipping personal introduction to coworkers and managers

Isn't it enough with the small talk ahead of meetings? No – a proper virtual onboarding process includes private intro calls with all team members and other people with whom the new hire will work closely. A deeper level of connection comes with one-on-one calls; not everyone is comfortable socializing in a big group. You don't want your new hire to ask, "who's that?" when mentioning their manager after a month. 

So even if you're about to launch a new campaign or product – don't postpone the introductory meetings. Ten minutes with each team member is enough.

5. Forgetting to introduce the new hire

If your company uses a chat program like Workplace or Slack, officially introduce the new hire during their first day – or at least their first week. Encourage everyone to give them a virtual warm welcome. You don’t want them to attend meetings and have team members ask, “who are you?”. 

If you use internal newsletters, announce the new employee there too. Make it casual by including a “fun fact” or something personal.

To Conclude

A successful virtual onboarding has two main pillars: social and systems. Social includes getting to know their team and coworkers, being invited to virtual (or in-person) team buildings or casual gatherings, and being officially introduced through whatever main communication software you use. 

System means that they'll learn all the software and tools and the skills needed for the role. Both are equally important for happy and productive employees staying with your company for years.