onboarding strategies
Training & Learning

8 Virtual Onboarding Strategies That Lead to Superstar Employees

A great onboarding experience is like a perfect first date. It paves the way for a successful, lasting partnership. After all, 69% of employees who experience a smooth transition into their new role are more likely to stay with the company for at least three years. And yet, a majority of organizations don’t do a good job in their onboarding process.

Onboarding, especially in a remote climate, is critical to setting up your new employees for success and productivity. Implementing remote onboarding strategies that focus on the social and collaborative aspects enables you to closely replicate the in-office experience.

We lined up the best virtual onboarding strategies for you:

1. Use preboarding to make a great first impression

Just like getting ready for a first date, preboarding is your time to prep. Employees joining virtually are already anxious, wondering what their first day and week will entail, and will appreciate a clear preview. Jonah Goldstein, Head of Learning at 360Learning, explains: “The anxiety someone can feel when starting a new job is always exacerbated by not knowing the key details.” 80% of professionals feel nervous before joining a new workplace, and preboarding is the best way to help them get over the initial jitters.

Here's how to paint them a picture of their first few days:

  • Grant access to key information and tools before day one. This could include their work email, Zoom accounts, and calendar invites, as well as payroll software. Be sure to couple it with an email explaining what each tool is for and how it’s used.
  • Digital introductions are useful for building community when you can’t meet face to face. Invite new hires to a social coffee chat so they can put a face and voice to some of the names they’ll see. Have their current team record a welcome video with Wistia or a similar tool, so they feel at home even before they officially start work.
  • Ask for feedback on the hiring process. By doing this, you’re already building a culture of respect and collaboration. Employees who feel respected show more loyalty towards their firms. Plus, you’ll get some valuable feedback you can use to improve your hiring pipeline.

2. Onboard at a steady pace

Nothing can overwhelm a new employee more than too much information tossed at them at once. As Dick Grote, performance management consultant and author of How to Be Good at Performance Appraisals, explains: “[the idea of a new employee] ‘hitting the ground running’ is a farce. You know what happens if you do that? You fall on your face.” Instead, pace out their onboarding:

  • The first week includes a good mix of introductions, how-to videos, and downtime to poke around the different platforms they will use.
  • Only 12% of employees are happy with their company’s onboarding approach, so make sure yours stands out. A 30-60-90 day plan gives new employees a sense of goals and objectives without overloading them. It not only helps them transition but also provides a clear view of the direction their career is headed.

3. Lean on technology to offer a comprehensive social experience

Creating a social ecosystem for new hires to immerse themselves in can help combat the biggest fallout of remote work: loneliness. More people around the world have been feeling socially isolated even before the pandemic, and this has a direct impact on productivity and engagement. But there are ways to help foster real-world connections:

  • Starting a new job in a remote setup can be even more challenging. 56% of new hires who met with an onboarding buddy reported feeling up to speed and productive in their role. An onboarding buddy who is not their manager provides a safe space to ask those “silly” questions.
  • Use collaboration tools like 360Learning that offer a discussion forum. This is particularly helpful in giving employees a voice and helps turn learning into an exchange of ideas and knowledge.
  • Use apps like Donut to connect them with an employee bi-monthly. Show them that the company truly cares about their life outside work.

4. Put a spotlight on company culture

More than ever, employees are paying increased attention to company culture—that means you should, too. 65% of professionals in the U.S. would rather take a pay cut than deal with a negative workplace. A strong company culture leads to better employee engagement and higher productivity. Here are some tips on how to make yours shine:

  • Communicating around workplace culture should be an integral theme of your recruitment process, starting with the interview. Continue that conversation by dedicating a section of your onboarding training to discuss company culture, with one-on-one meetings and videos about company values and mission.
  • Have top leaders send personal emails welcoming employees and outlining workplace benefits and initiatives that promote employee well-being.

5. Balance learning and doing

New hires are eager to prove themselves. But the time it takes to get them fully on board is a reflection of the position, not their capabilities. While learning everything at once can be tedious and unproductive, give them a chance to show their worth. Here's how:

  • Give virtual employees a project in the first weeks but let them know that the managers have their back. 74% of employees look for empathy and a supportive attitude in their managers. A collaborative workplace, even if virtual, will go a long way toward helping new hires feel confident.
  • The COVID-19 crisis has allowed employees to become more autonomous in where to work as well as how and when to work. A typical day at work, especially virtual, may look different for different people. Give new employees the freedom to plan their first weeks by setting up asynchronous tasks in a way that enables learning as well as producing.

6. Embrace Collaborative Learning as an onboarding strategy

Collaboration is the future of work. It has many benefits: It increases knowledge retention, leads to higher engagement, and enables the diversification of expertise. In fact, 60% of managers who are unable to onboard successfully point to a lack of effective working relationships.

Introducing collaboration early on is key to setting a precedent for future tasks that require teamwork. It replicates real-life interactions by making employees subject-matter experts and allows them to share their expertise.

Tools like 360Learning make remote onboarding super easy by making use of these untapped resources:

  • Peer knowledge: Many learning management systems (LMS) still fall short of their promise of helping employees learn. 360Learning makes onboarding—and everything else that follows—inclusive. Those who have worked in the roles you are onboarding for will bring a unique perspective and solid, firsthand knowledge. They know better than anyone what role-specific information new hires need, so equip them with the tools to teach.
  • Peer-led instruction: Your greatest and probably most under-utilized resource is the talented humans you already have employed. Give them a chance to share and teach. This puts less pressure on your human resource team and is an efficient way to turn a boring onboarding process into a thoughtful and intuitive one. Besides, an onboarding course needs to be put together only once and can be used and accessed multiple times.

7. Make it easy to find answers to common questions

New employees have a ton of questions. But they may be hesitant, especially in a remote setting where it isn't possible to pop your head into your co-worker's cubicle with a quick query. Besides, regular employees may get pulled out of their rhythm to answer questions that are easy to find autonomously. Consider these tools for an easy solution:

  • A company wiki, like Trello or Tettra is useful to set up an internal knowledge base that’s readily accessible. It builds collaboration, forges independence, and gives new employees a safe space to find answers to repetitive questions.
  • Encourage an open culture of asking questions in communication platforms like Miro. This way, new employees get used to the idea that this is a company that welcomes questions, and they can search past posts where someone likely had a similar query.

8. Set goals that extend beyond onboarding

The earlier you can start supporting new employees in their career trajectory, the better. 60% of companies report not setting short-term goals for new employees and miss out on an impactful window of opportunity. The long-term goals can then build on the short-term achievements. Help them create a professional growth plan by:

  • Getting a sense of their goals and discussing OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). OKRs are a great way to create focus and alignment, followed by a commitment to achieving goals you are confident they can meet.
  • Scheduling informal check-ins. Take time to forge human connections and have a real conversation to help new hires identify strengths and areas for gaining new skills. This will help build a culture of trust and show them you’re paying attention.

Make onboarding a two-way street to improve your own process

You may think you have perfected your onboarding process, but there is always room for improvement. Modern technology makes it easy for you to create an effective feedback loop that motivates the team to work together and creates an agile learning culture. Get the lowdown from people who matter the most: your new employees.

Want to put these techniques into practice? Our onboarding ebook takes an even deeper dive.

Onboarding playbook