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4 ways to improve virtual onboarding for new hires

Deprioritizing the onboarding process can have serious long-term effects on employee retention and engagement, so you have to get it right.

4 ways to improve virtual onboarding for new hires
[Source illustration: Александр Медведев/iStock]

Onboarding has always been a critical part of the hiring process. Yet it’s also a part of the hiring process that all too often falls to the wayside once new employees have been hired. With the changes brought about by the global pandemic, including a massive shift to remote work, the onboarding process is now an even bigger—and virtual—part of an employee’s overall experience.

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For leaders, deprioritizing the onboarding process can have serious long-term effects on employee retention and engagement in the workplace. In fact, the lack of a comprehensive onboarding program can even lead to a high turnover rate for new hires. According to data from BambooHR, nearly 33% of new hires look for a newer job within their first six months of starting at a company, and this may be higher for employees who have started new jobs remotely this year. Despite this negative impact, only 27% of companies have a virtual onboarding process. Those who haven’t made the shift to virtual remain apprehensive about leaning into virtual programs, which requires the company to carefully manage every point along the way in order to properly optimize the onboarding experience for a virtual setting.

To help organizations develop more effective virtual onboarding programs, reduce new employee turnover, save your HR team time and money in training, and shorten the time to productivity, here are four practices to consider.

Get personal

Videoconferencing calls with coworkers and management are not always a formalized part of the digital onboarding experience, but it is a crucial part, nonetheless. It’s important not to think of digital onboarding tools as a replacement for human interaction, but rather as supplements to generating a positive employee experience. Managers and team leaders should leverage video technology to establish one-on-one connections. This doesn’t mean that all conversations have to be formal, or even work-related. Connecting with teammates from time to time to catch up on their personal lives lets them know they are seen as a person rather than just an employee—and it helps to replicate the “in office” experience. It also gives managers insight into what employees may be juggling in their personal lives and helps foster a sense of camaraderie.

Think like a new hire

Most onboarding programs are viewed as a long checklist of to-dos, especially when you’re going through them alone in a remote workspace. To make this part of the process more productive, leaders must ask themselves how they can create an optimal virtual employee experience. It starts with thinking like a new hire and anticipating their future needs. Leadership should map out everything a new hire would be expected to know in the first 30 days, 60 days, and 100 days and use that to package up a formal onboarding offering. Facilitating parts of the onboarding with interactive check-ins or coaching can help ensure the employee feels welcome, has the tools and support they need, and stays motivated. Approaching onboarding as a team effort will help boost the employee’s confidence and make them feel like a valued part of the team.

Prepare for a new employee’s arrival

The instinct may be to rush through the onboarding process in order to have a new employee step into existing projects right away. Managers should first carefully prepare the experience, especially now. Instill in employees a sense of “ownership” over their onboarding plan, offering support along the way. By setting clear expectations, establishing timelines, and laying out actionable goals, managers can better prepare their employees for success in their new role.

This is also the time to help employees feel immersed in the company’s culture and values, which can be challenging to convey virtually. Managers should design a schedule of video chats with different teams and nominate a “culture ambassador” to help the new employee learn more about the alternative benefits that might be offered, such as time off to volunteer and how to take advantage of it.

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Starting a new job remotely can also bring its own IT challenges, so making sure the new employee has everything they need to design an efficient remote-office setup is another important step.

Digitize the process

One of the reasons why new hires may not look forward to onboarding programs is because they believe they will get bogged down with endless paperwork that doesn’t focus on the important aspects of achieving success in their new role. The key to combat that is to identify the most important tasks, simplify what paperwork can be condensed, and digitize resources so that new hires can complete everything online and refer back to them when needed.

One way to make completing the tasks more engaging for new hires is to gamify onboarding materials. Transforming written documents into interactive webinars or online modules can not only help boost completion rates but can also lead to increased engagement and retention of the information.

Providing a quality virtual onboarding experience helps the overall well-being of an organization because employees who feel better acclimated at the beginning of their journey are more likely to feel a sense of belonging and loyalty to their employer. In fact, according to research from the Wynhurst Group, employees who had the benefit of a structured onboarding process were nearly 60% more likely to be with the same company after three years. That’s three years of talent development and leadership the organization might have missed out on if that employee didn’t have a positive experience.


Sharon Patterson is the chief human resources officer of LHH.

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