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How to onboard new employees virtually during the pandemic

A workplace solutions expert suggests creating “cohorts” of new employees who support each other and frequent supervisor check-ins to get them up to speed.

How to onboard new employees virtually during the pandemic
[Source images: manopjk/iStock; undefined undefined/iStock]
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COVID-19 has made integrating and training new employees complicated. Here are some best practices to make the process go more smoothly.

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While the coronavirus pandemic has caused major disruptions to the nation’s workforce, many companies have actually increased hiring to meet evolving business demands. For those companies, onboarding a new employee to an organization that is largely operating remotely presents new and unique challenges. New hires must be quickly brought up to speed about what their day-to-day job responsibilities are, get familiarized with the company’s culture, and grasp new skills needed for their position, all through a computer screen and without the benefit of traditional in-person orientation and onboarding. 

To make the virtual onboarding process easier for employers and employees alike, here are some tips to smoothly integrate new hires into your organization that combine a tech and touch approach:

Create onboarding cohorts

The first few days and weeks at a new job are a time when establishing personal connections are especially important to new hires. In the absence of cube neighbors and office happy hours, consider creating cohorts of new employees who can experience onboarding together virtually. A cohort of five to six people who regularly connect with each other can learn the culture of your organization together via videoconferencing and support each other in figuring out how things are done at your company. 

Provide these teams with exercises related to your organization, your history, your customers, or any topic related to onboarding and let them work on these projects as a team. Over time, shift their responsibilities from their “onboarding team” to their “permanent team” as they take on more role-specific work. Establishing relationships across divisions or functions through these cohorts can also create a foundational colleague network your new employees can call on throughout their time at the company.

Make orientations reflective of your culture

Employers should conduct live, interactive onboarding orientations via videoconference that feature dialogue with current employees, provide a window into company culture, and integrate cultural norms into the virtual environment. For instance, if employees typically share weekend pictures with each other on Monday, encourage employees–new and current–to share those images digitally via company Slack or Teams channels. 

Talent leaders should also wear company apparel on orientation calls and encourage current employees to do the same. Also, consider changing your video background to one that represents your brand or culture. There are many subtle hints of your culture represented in your facilities, such as the colors of the walls, the kind of furniture you order, or the attitude of the person who sits next to you that are missed now that we work remotely, but talented leaders can still find small ways to mimic the in-person experience and represent your culture to your employees virtually.

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Pair new hires with current employees

Getting new hires up to speed on the ins and outs of your company can be much easier if they’re paired with a current employee who can help them get familiar with every aspect of the organization. Assigning a current employee to mentor or guide a new hire can help individuals adapt to the culture of the organization and answer questions the employee may be too shy to ask their manager. These mentors and guides should encourage new employees to come to them with any and every question they may have and use them as a resource. When deciding which employees to use as mentors, make sure their schedule permits them to frequently check in with new hires virtually.

Have one-on-one check-ins with managers

The onboarding process can be very overwhelming, especially for a new employee who is going through it online. Employers should ensure that managers are prioritizing frequent one-on-one video check-ins with their new hires to see how they are adapting. These check-ins will not only make a new hire feel supported and cared for, but will also allow them to ask questions they may not feel comfortable raising in a group setting.

In addition, manager check-ins provide new hires the ability to establish goals and metrics for their performance. Performance metrics tailored for new hires can take on increased importance for managers who want to find early wins and get reassurance that new workers are adapting and doing well in their new roles. Frequent meetings allow managers to review current metrics and work with the employee to ensure they’re learning and feeling challenged while also ensuring that new hires don’t get overwhelmed.

While the need to continue hiring during this crisis is an encouraging sign for businesses and the economy, remote onboarding under such circumstances can be a challenge for many organizations. Using digital tools to facilitate a human connection can help new hires get introduced to the company and keep existing employees in a collaborative, motivated frame of mind. During times where remote work is inevitable, it is more important than ever that employers leverage technology to create an interactive onboarding experience focused on engagement and efficiency.


Jeanne Schad is Talent Solutions and Strategy Practice Leader at Randstad RiseSmart, a workforce solutions company.