Best-Practice Virtual Onboarding [Part 2]: Managers

Posted in Best Practice

This is part two of our content series exploring the four elements of best practice virtual onboarding. Part one is here, if you’re just catching up. 


Logistics. Managers. Connection. Empathy.

Those were the four big themes of best-practice virtual onboarding that Kate Pavlina – virtual onboarding maestra and Amazon’s HR Business Partner – identified in her recent thesis and shared in our virtual onboarding webinar.

In this week’s instalment of this four-part series, we’re digging into the second: managers.

Because we all know managers are make-or-break. And Kate’s findings reveal how much makier-or-breakier they’ve become virtually – as well as highlighting some core actions to make sure you’re getting the fundamentals right.


Managers are the gatekeepers of onboarding success

If you’ve hung around much here, you’ll know how serious we are about galvanizing manager engagement during onboarding. (Like… here are five practical steps to turn managers into onboarding rockstars.)

Our experience has consistently proved that getting managers on-side contributes to better new hire experiences. And better new hire experiences drive better business outcomes.

For example, check out this case study showing why Enboarder was recognized as one of Compass Group’s best ever tech investments, saving 2.5 hours per week per manager!

Plus there’s mountains of compelling evidence showing the long-term value of creating great managers – like Gallup’s finding that talented managers contribute 48% higher profit to their companies than average managers.

The upshot is, managers matter.

But theeeeen this crazy thing called a global pandemic happened. And overnight, managers started mattering even more.


Why manager engagement matters more virtually

Think about new hires’ in-person onboarding experience.

At least in an office, your manager isn’t the sole gatekeeper for every interaction. A disengaged – or even a neutral – manager can have a big negative impact but at least you can work around them.

You can be proactive; make introductions yourself. Ask colleagues for help where managers fall short. Grab IT yourself if you’re missing something.

And you’re having a whole heap of natural interactions that contribute to your experience, outside the manager relationship. You’ve got the office energy to read from; other people to bump into.

It’s definitely not ideal and your manager’s still letting you down – but compare that to right now with virtual onboarding.

Now, taking responsibility for your own experience is about a million miles harder.

Because your manager’s almost certainly the one responsible for making introductions; leading virtual icebreakers; coordinating schedules; assigning a buddy or mentor; setting meetings; proactively checking your progress.

You won’t casually bump into anyone else. A colleague won’t spot you looking confused and offer a hand.

You can’t wander over to IT for ad-hoc support, you have to formally open a ticket. Minor questions you’d normally ask in the flow of conversation become Big Serious Email Threads.

It’s telling that 58% of Kate’s research participants believe not only that the manager determines their onboarding experience – but that their manager determines how successful they are in their new role.

In other words, new hires are recognizing managers as the primary gatekeeper of future success. And that means, the main gatekeeper of all the valuable business outcomes associated with great hiring, like time-to-productivity, productivity, retention and profitability.

Read more: Building a business case for employee onboarding

The truth is, cracking manager engagement has always been important – but now it’s absolutely mission-critical.


Do you want the good news first, or the bad news?

The good news is (and unlike onboarding logistics!), your managers might be doing a better job than you think.

Kate’s research actually found that 42% of participants said their manager was primarily responsible for their positive onboarding experience and had helped them ramp up.

She heard feedback like:

“The whole company gets excited about new joiner training, you can tell. Maybe it's the ‘kool aid factor’ but what they’re doing feels genuine and inspired me to work harder. I wanted to do more and just jump in headfirst - to me that is invaluable, they set a really good tone.”

We know getting managers on-side can consistently be tough but compared to even a year ago, that feels like real progress.

(We won’t flatter ourselves that it’s all our doing, consistently beating the manager engagement drum. Well. We might flatter ourselves just a squeak… Check out how Enboarder helped Eventbrite increase manager engagement to 73%.)

But there’s still plenty of work needed.

Because it won’t come as any surprise to you that 17% reported such a negative manager experience that it’s seriously impacted their feelings about their employer. (And 8% didn’t have a single one-on-one meeting during their entire onboarding experience, which is pretty dramatically awful.)

That echoes our findings a lifetime ago, back in April 2020, that many managers were majorly dropping the ball on supporting remote employees. That research wasn’t explicitly about onboarding but it didn’t bode well for the supportive, engaged, empathetic management experience.

The problem is, as Kate’s thesis shows, the impact of a negative experience can be massively disproportionate to a good experience. (That’s why you need a moments that matter approach to EX).

And that’ll only get more noticeable.

As more businesses work harder to crack the manager engagement nut and virtual onboarding becomes more normal, disengaged managers will stand out even more. And employees will expect better.

In practical terms, that’ll likely mean a poor manager onboarding experience has an even larger impact on new hires’ experience – and their willingness to stay with the business.

Here’s a checklist, to make sure you’re covering off the fundamentals.


A checklist for manager involvement in virtual onboarding

Kate identified three major categories where managers have the biggest impact during virtual onboarding: consistency of experience, personalization and creating a culture of support.

Here are some practical action points to nail each of those three, based on Kate’s suggestions, our own experiences and some ideas from fabulous Enboarder customers. (For more of those, check out these ideas for nailing virtual onboarding from Shopify, Cisco Meraki and Reward Gateway.)

Consistency of experience: 

  • Provide formal manager training around the onboarding experience
  • Actively manage manager performance against onboarding KPIs
  • Publicly call-out and reward managers doing a great job
  • Provide a library of useful central documents, resources and templates
  • Centralize onboarding sessions around HR, company, culture, etc.
  • Establish clear accountability between HR, recruitment and managers
  • Use smart, powerful, multi-level automation (yes, we mean Enboarder 😉)


Kate found that 41% of participants experienced online training where they could choose optional add-ons depending on their interests and needs. Offering those extra training options is an obvious win.

  • Ask managers to be mindful of new hires’ scheduling needs
  • Ask managers to co-set performance goals, to tailor work to new hires’ needs

Creating a culture of support:

In Kate’s research, only 58% of participants had one-to-one meetings with cross-functional business partners – a valuable best practice. And when managers actively took control over the process, scheduling those meetings and making introductions, 100% of participants said their input was helpful.

  • Assign an onboarding buddy for every new hire
  • Nudge managers to meet with buddy pre-hire and set expectations
  • Ask managers to oversee buddy and actively ensure check-ins happen
  • Ensure managers brief their team pre-start, to get everyone involved

Overestimate how much managers matter

A good rule of thumb is to overestimate how much managers matter. And overestimate how much support they’ll need from you. Over-support them. Over-educate them. Over-state your expectations.

Once you start seeing results – which you will – you can dial back from the heavy-handed approach. But start from the assumption that managers aren’t super confident with what they should be doing. That they’ve got heaps on their plate already and they need a major helping hand.

That way, you’ll be much less likely to make retention-threatening, productivity-hurtling, engagement-plummeting mistakes. Because that is how much managers matter!

At the risk of stating the obvious (you are here on our blog, after all), Enboarder makes all this stuff really easy. Across Enboarder customers, manager engagement is 92% – and that’s because we take the boring out of onboarding and make driving manager engagement super simple. 

We’d love to show you how – book a demo right here


Watch this space for part three in this best-practice virtual onboarding series, on creating connection. 

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