8-Step Virtual Onboarding Checklist from Amazon’s HR Business Partner, Kate Pavlina

Posted in Best Practice Research

“If you think happy and engaged employees just happen, you couldn’t be more wrong”.

That’s the line Kate Pavlina’s thesis on virtual onboarding starts with, quoting Michael Krasman.

You couldn’t find a better summary of everything we stand for at Enboarder, so the moment we read it we knew we’d have to get Kate – HR Business Partner at Amazon – to come and share her insights with us.

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Luckily she didn’t take too much persuading – and our recent webinar, ‘The five keys to virtual onboarding success’ was the result.

We’d highly recommend you watch that for yourself when you have an hour (and read her fab thesis!) but we’ve also pulled out Kate’s key recommendations into a quick-read checklist style article for you.

Let’s do this thing.


1 - Invest in pre-boarding

Kate’s thesis points out that companies who use pre-boarding retain 81% of their first-year hires. Kate emphasizes the importance of pre-boarding to set expectations for new hires’ first day – but also notes that “best-in-class organizations go a step further and provide opportunities for education and forms management”.

The idea is, by getting the boring compliance bits out of the way, first days can focus on more important things. Like, you know, creating amazing experiences.

(Cisco Meraki’s Global Onboarding Manager, Darren Grant, talked to us recently about using Enboarder to power world-class pre-boarding. Check out that case study here).


2 - Prioritize facilitating connection

If you’re a regular Enboarder reader, you’ll know connection’s a topic near and dear to our hearts. We’ve said loads of times, connection is the most important element of great onboarding – because connection is the most important driver of employee engagement.

Kate’s research echoes exactly that, highlighting how building connections helps foster belonging and also encourages informal learning. Some practical tactics to consider:

  • Get managers to make a list and facilitate introductions – and 1:1s – with key people that’ll help new hires be successful.
  • Create a buddy program to pair new hires with a mentor who’ll guide them through onboarding – and beyond.
  • Introduce new hires to employee resource groups to help them connect to people with similar interests or backgrounds.
  • Onboard new hires together in groups, if you can, to foster camaraderie and group cohesion.
  • Set-up team lunches or virtual coffee breaks with various team-mates, to help new hires integrate with the people who’ll matter most.

3- Get managers on-side

If we’ve said it once we’ve said it a gazillion times – effective onboarding isn’t just HR’s responsibility. As Kate puts it, “onboarding is a team sport”. The manager lottery can make or break your virtual onboarding process.

Kate shares some recommendations:

  • Provide formal training and supporting resources for managers
  • Recognize and incentivize positive manager behavior
  • Encourage managers to make time for formal and informal check-ins
  • Ask managers to tailor the pace of onboarding to each new hire’s needs


4 - Show empathy

Empathy is preeeeetty close to our hearts, seeing as it’s basically the entire principle behind Enboarder (check out this piece from our Founder and CEO Brent). So it was no surprise to see Kate calling out the importance of empathy to virtual onboarding.

Here were some of her stand-out tips:

  • Communicate clear expectations and timelines
  • Give plenty of context around tasks and events
  • Ensure managers help new hires priorities
  • Ensure managers give robust constructive feedback
  • Proactively communicate about current events
  • Ensure transparent leadership
  • Be flexible around new hires’ needs

5 - Ask for feedback

A great takeaway from Kate’s research is that 100% of participants gave specific, concrete feedback on how their virtual onboarding experience could’ve been better. As Kate says in the webinar, that means “you’ve essentially already got the answers – you just have to ask. You have the keys to success, right under your nose”.

Virtual onboarding is a rapid-fire learning process. The world’s made a huge transition waaaaay faster than you’d have imagined possible, so we’re all learning as we go. (That’s why our Return to Work Playbook zeroed-in on the need for progress over perfection in all this).

Nobody has the answers more than the actual people you’re onboarding. Ask them!


6 - Get the IT set-up right

Kate’s research found that more than 90% of participants encountered some issue with IT during virtual onboarding.

We often focus on the snazzier sides of onboarding – but tech preparedness is the foundation.

Getting the right laptops ordered, configured and delivered in good time. Setting up the right systems permissions. Downloading the right software so the hardware’s good to go. Including robust and easy-to-follow instructions.

Get the basics right, folks!


7 - Don't short-change new hires

Kate’s research found that 59% of participants reported onboarding lasted one month or less. The truth is, that’s simply not long enough.

In our roadmap to modern onboarding we talked about various ways today’s best-practice onboarding differs from traditional, old-school onboarding. One major facet is length – traditional onboarding typically only lasts a few weeks compared to modern onboarding’s seven months plus.


8 - Don't just 'do'; measure

Kate talks about how onboarding ROI is considered notoriously hard to measure – but it doesn’t have to be. She recommends tying onboarding objectives to tangible metrics, to prove positive ROI.

For instance, you could choose metrics like time-to-productivity, engagement scores, retention rate and hiring manager satisfaction.

For virtual onboarding not only to be a success but be recognized as a success, measuring your efforts is critical.

Over the coming few weeks, we’ll be publishing a lot of content around virtual onboarding – so watch this space. Because even if you’re back at work, or starting to trickle back, virtual onboarding’s here to stay!