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Create a memorable first day in minutes

It’s no secret that remote work is exploding. With more and more done digitally, onboarding is no exception. This raises the question, “Can remote onboarding really be done effectively, and if so, how?” Here are the virtual onboarding pros, cons and best practices you should know.

What Is Remote Onboarding?

The term “onboarding” refers to the process in which an employee is integrated into a new position and work environment. This includes becoming socially and culturally acclimated. When this process is performed digitally with no face-to-face interactions, it is considered virtual or “remote” onboarding.

Should Companies Onboard New Hires Remotely?

Each company has different employment circumstances and onboarding needs, so not every company will find it useful to make their onboarding processes remote. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what would make remote onboarding beneficial or not.

Benefits of Remote Onboarding

Depending on the situation, there can be many benefits to remote onboarding, including:

  • Flexibility. Remote onboarding removes the time and location restraints you’d encounter with traditional face-to-face onboarding.
  • Replayability. During virtual onboarding, you can easily add the option to record each segment. This can be a valuable resource to employees who may need a refresher or have a question you covered during onboarding. This can also save you the time of going over information twice if the employee missed it. Recording the onboarding segments makes it simpler to schedule multiple employees. If someone misses a session, there are programs that track whether a recording was fully watched so you can be assured that the material was covered.
  • Budget friendly. Monetarily speaking, in person onboarding can be expensive. These costs can include renting a location or utility costs to use the office, providing physical packets and technology, traveling expenses for your new hires, etc. Remote onboarding has the benefit of costing less overall.

Disadvantages of Remote Onboarding

Remote onboarding also has some cons that should be considered, such as:

  • Lower engagement. Though this depends on how engaging the onboarding is, doing so virtually does have the potential to lower overall engagement in comparison to an inherently more engaging in-person setting.
  • No face-to-face. There is no replacing having direct contact in a face-to-face environment. Having no face-to-face can decrease communication as there is potential for lag, less collaboration, technical difficulties, etc.
  • Limits the experience. There are many options for interaction virtually, but there can be limits on certain activities in a virtual environment. Additionally, the facility tour or new staff introductions to coworkers becomes less than practical when online.

Tips for Remote Onboarding

As you prepare for your first remote onboarding, it might feel a bit overwhelming. From the software, scheduling, technology, and more, there are many moving parts to organize. However, there is also a simplicity in it that makes it streamlined. Here are some things to keep in mind when working to keep it simple.

Tip 1: Remember That It’s Not “All or Nothing”

Though your organization may not benefit from making the onboarding process 100% remote, converting part of onboarding to be completed remotely may be useful. Paperwork, policies, or training that would traditionally be completed in office can be completed digitally. That way an employee can complete some paperwork prior to onboarding in person. This can contribute to having more time to adjust during the face-to-face orientation.

Tip 2: Keep Compensation in Mind

If you do decide to go the remote route, remember that even though the new employee is not in the physical work environment, they are still investing their time and energy and need to be compensated accordingly. The same is true for cases of partially remote onboarding processes. If the new staff member is taking time to complete documents and training materials online, they must be compensated. If this is made mandatory, the employee must be paid according to their previously agreed upon wages. If made optional, offer an incentive such as a “virtual bonus” to the employees who opt into completing the online portions prior to the in person orientation.

Tip 3: Don’t Forget the Social Aspect

Arguably the most important aspect of a successful onboarding is the human connection. Many times the main focus of onboarding is the logistical aspects, such as policies, legally mandatory training and documentation, procedures, role specific training, etc. The same is even more true for onboarding remotely, so it may take a little more effort to find ways to help employees interact socially with others.

A staff that is comfortable with one another on a human level works better together. Consider holding a series of virtual events to help team members connect.  You could also host a luncheon where the company provides remote employees with a meal via gift card. Another great way to foster connection is to assign remote employees an onboarding buddy so they have someone they feel comfortable going to with questions.

Tip 4: Don’t Rush the Process

Onboarding a new employee should never be rushed. The same is true for virtual onboarding. Make sure to take several mini-breaks to stretch and refresh. Onboarding can be a lengthy process and doing so virtually opens up the possibility for eye fatigue and mental overwhelm. Allow time and space for brain breaks, social discourse, opportunities to ask questions and stretch. Onboarding digitally makes it possible to break the sessions into smaller, bite-sized periods over the course of many days.

How to Prepare for Onboarding a New Hire Remotely

Now that we have a good grasp of the overall process, let’s get into the logistics.

Step 1: Prepare the Technology

Make sure you do your homework when selecting a digital platform. There’s a wide selection to choose from, such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Spaces and more. Whatever the program, make a point to master it inside and out. Do test calls, find the best internet connection, and familiarize yourself with the features and tools and how to access them efficiently.

Step 2: Set the Agenda

Setting an online agenda should not be much different than setting the agenda for an in-person onboarding. The main difference to keep in mind is to schedule more time than you need for each segment. This gives you time to respond to questions, opens up the room for social discourse and, in the case of technical difficulties, ensures you won’t fall behind schedule.

Step 3: Build Excitement (Engagement)

Engage with the new employee often as the remote onboarding approaches. Interact through their preferred communication method to share information they might find valuable, offer opportunities to interact socially with their new coworkers, or just express your excitement to get them on board. This can range from professional to lighthearted depending on your personality. Aim to keep yourself and the business at the forefront of their minds and build anticipation. This makes the onboarding more of an unboxing experience.

Step 4: Follow Up

After the onboarding is complete, don’t drop communication. Check in regularly with your new employee. Ask their opinion on the remote onboarding process, see if they have any questions concerning benefits or their job, or just ask how they are adjusting and offer support.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Remote Onboarding

The amount of time virtual onboarding takes varies greatly depending on the size of your company, the type of position, company offerings, industry and legally required training. The general rule of thumb is that onboarding starts at two weeks with the addition of a third week for connected training or shadowing to help ease the transition and increase the employee’s confidence. For more complex positions that require extensive program or safety training, this can span three months or longer.
This depends on how you create your remote onboarding program. When designing your virtual onboarding process, it’s highly advisable to keep the potential of scaling a priority. If this is done well, you’ll save yourself the headache of scrapping and rebuilding your onboarding process as your business needs grow.
A remote onboarding process in comparison to its in-person counterpart should be nearly identical. However, some things aren’t possible virtually and others aren’t applicable while digitally onboarding remote employees. Delay segments of onboarding that are geared towards social acclimation for when the employee attends their first day in person. For example, when onboarding an employee who will be working in a physical office, it wouldn’t be realistic (or possible in most cases) to introduce the employee to everyone they will be working with or provide a facility tour. If onboarding a remote employee, consider holding a separate virtual event (or events depending on the team size) where the employees gather on a digital platform to become acquainted with one another. Be sure to include ice breakers and social prompts or games to help the process. It can also help to have virtual “breakout rooms” so employees have the chance to chat in a smaller group setting. Depending on the case, it may not make sense to include things such as emergency evacuation procedures for remote staff.

Kayla is the Chief Innovation Officer at Hero Culture, where the passion is to create company cultures of retention using the power of personality.

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