How do you jump-start workplace camaraderie when there is no actual workplace?
That’s not a trick question — but it’s definitely tricky. It’s also a reality in the new world of work. The digital age and the rise of hybrid and remote work have transformed how employees experience their first interactions with a company.
Gone are the days of simple office tours, lunch with the team, and chit-chat at the water cooler. Today’s companies must craft a more engaging and supportive onboarding process in a virtual space — one that meets the unique needs of remote workers.
It can be done! It just takes the right tools and know-how. And when it is optimized, good remote onboarding can boost productivity, grow happiness, foster connections, build engagement, and reduce turnover in the first 90 days and far beyond.
So, how can you supercharge your remote onboarding process? Here are 8 steps any organization can take, based partly on our recent chat with Kate Pavlina, HR business partner from Amazon.
Let’s dive in to see how you can get your remote onboarding game on point.
1. Invest in Preboarding
Preboarding is not just a pregame for actual onboarding; it's the first impression a new hire has of their new workplace. A comprehensive, supportive preboarding process ensures they feel valued and well-prepared from the get-go.
Why is pre-boarding crucial? Think of it as laying the groundwork for success. Preboarding is especially vital for remote employees who may not experience the traditional in-office welcome. This can help bridge the gap created by physical distance, ensuring new hires quickly feel part of the team.
Here are a few tips for up-leveling your preboarding:
- Provide essential resources early: Talk to employees about necessary equipment and information, and provide introductory materials about the company they need to hit the ground running.
- Establish early communication: Introduce new hires to their teams via group chats or virtual meet-and-greets. It helps them start building relationships right away.
- Set clear expectations: Provide a detailed outline of what they should expect in the first week — and what is expected of them. Clarity reduces anxiety and sets a clear path forward.
The Essential Pre-boarding Checklist:
- Start the preboarding process immediately after offer acceptance.
- Assign a point of contact for any questions they may have before the official start.
- Use an onboarding platform for consistent preboarding communication and experience.
- Schedule a virtual "meet the team" session.
- Share an agenda for the first week, including any scheduled meetings or training.
- Provide clarity on roles and responsibilities.
- Share company culture and values early.
See preboarding in action. Check out Octave Health’s story here.
2. Prioritize Facilitating Human Connection
Human connection is the secret sauce that holds teams together. Especially in a virtual setting, the significance of authentic human interaction cannot be underestimated. It’s more than just work-talk; it’s about building genuine relationships that enhance the overall work environment.
Why is human connection so essential? It fosters trust, boosts morale, and often leads to better collaboration. The feeling of belonging to a close-knit team can work wonders for anyone's motivation and commitment.
Here are a few tips for fostering human connections:
- Implement a buddy system: Fast-track human connection in your company by pairing new hires with a more seasoned team member who can show them the ropes and be a friendly source of support.
- Organize virtual team-building activities: These can range from online game sessions to virtual coffee breaks or happy hours.
- Establish regular check-ins: Encourage both formal and informal check-ins between new hires, their managers, and colleagues.
The Connection-Building Onboarding Checklist:
- Issue a pre-start questionnaire to get to know the new hire.
- Get managers to make a list of key people for introductions.
- Implement a buddy or mentorship program.
- Introduce new hires to employee resource groups.
- Schedule virtual icebreakers.
- If possible, group onboard new hires together.
- Organize team lunches or virtual coffee breaks.
- Include remote employees in informal internal channels.
3. Engage Managers and Define Their Roles
Managers play a pivotal role in the onboarding process, acting as the main point of contact and guiding new hires through their initial journey. Defining their role and ensuring they are engaged sets the foundation for a successful onboarding experience.
Why are managers crucial in virtual onboarding? They shape the new hire's perception of the company and provide real-time feedback, support, and mentorship. Their involvement indicates the company's commitment to a smooth transition and employee success.
Here's how to make managers the heroes in your onboarding story:
- Clarify expectations: Outline what is expected of managers during the onboarding process and provide them with the resources they need.
- Encourage regular feedback sessions: Managers should provide constructive feedback and also solicit feedback about the onboarding process.
- Emphasize the importance of mentorship: Managers should act as mentors, guiding new hires through challenges.
- Over-support them: Begin with the assumption that managers need more guidance and training. Once they're soaring, you can gradually scale back.
The Manager Engagement Onboarding Checklist:
- Provide formal manager training around the onboarding experience.
- Publicly call-out and reward managers doing a fantastic job.
- Use smart, powerful onboarding automation tools.
- Ask managers to oversee buddy programs.
- Encourage managers to seek feedback on onboarding and adjust accordingly.
- Schedule regular check-ins.
- Allow managers to customize the onboarding pace per individual.
4. Cultivate Empathy and Understanding
Virtual or not, it’s important to understand the emotional roller coaster that new hires might be riding, and adapt the onboarding experience with empathy.
Why empathy? It recognizes the human in the digital realm. Remembering that behind every screen is a person, possibly nervous, excited, or overwhelmed, can tailor the onboarding process to be more humane and receptive. Recognizing the human side of this experience makes a new hire feel seen and supported, not just processed.
Here's how to weave empathy into your onboarding:
- Be proactive: Recognize the impact of external events and offer resources.
- Prioritize mental well-being: Encourage managers to schedule regular “how are you doing” check-ins.
The Empathetic Onboarding Checklist:
- Clearly communicate expectations and timelines.
- Give context for tasks and events.
- Assist managers in helping new hires prioritize.
- Offer robust and constructive feedback.
- Keep communication transparent, especially about current events.
- Be accommodating to new hires' unique needs.
5. Seek and Implement Feedback
Feedback will be vital in ensuring your onboarding process is on track. Remember that onboarding needs differ for onsite, hybrid, and fully-remote employees.
Why is ongoing feedback important? Because it helps you to continuously improve the onboarding process. Be sure to get feedback from each group and share all of this feedback with your greater organization to improve your virtual onboarding process across the board.
Tips for ongoing feedback:
- Ask your new hires: You won’t find a group with better feedback than the actual people you’re onboarding, so ask them! Encourage new hires to share their insights, concerns, and feedback on the hiring and onboarding process, fostering a culture of open communication.
- Solicit feedback from managers and teams: Be sure to check in with everyone involved in the onboarding process.
The Feedback and Support Onboarding Checklist:
- Use digital tools and surveys to solicit feedback on every aspect of the onboarding process.
- Ask managers and teams to weigh in on their experience of onboarding new members.
- Solicit feedback specifically about virtual onboarding.
- Differentiate for onsite, hybrid, and remote employees.
6. Get the IT Set-Up Right
While it might not seem as glamorous as team bonding or buddy systems, getting the IT set-up just right is the unsung hero of the virtual onboarding experience. A seamless IT experience helps new hires feel confident and capable, reducing any unnecessary tech-induced stress.
Why is IT crucial? Well, think of it as your virtual onboarding's backbone. A robust IT structure ensures that new hires have the tools and resources they need to dive into their roles without a hitch. With the modern workplace becoming increasingly digital, especially in remote environments, a hiccup-free IT experience can set the tone for an employee's entire journey with the company.
Essential Tips for Stellar IT Onboarding:
- Streamline Access: Ensure new hires have access to all necessary platforms, systems, and software from day one. A locked account or forgotten password can be a big dampener!
- Provide Comprehensive Guides: Consider creating user-friendly tutorials or guides for company-specific software or tools. Sometimes, even the tech-savviest among us appreciate a good step-by-step walkthrough.
- Offer IT Support: Assign an IT point of contact for new hires during their first week. Having someone to turn to can drastically reduce the feeling of tech overwhelm.
The Ultimate IT Set-up Checklist:
- Confirm all account creations and permissions: email, internal systems, and software platforms.
- Share a directory of IT resources, tutorials, and FAQs.
- Ensure timely delivery and setup of necessary hardware.
- Make sure new hires know who to contact for any tech-related queries during their onboarding phase.
7. Don't Short-Change New Hires
When you’re remote onboarding, it's easy to overlook the small gestures that can make a new hire feel truly welcomed and valued. Investing in their early experience goes beyond the basic necessities; it's about making them feel seen and appreciated as part of the team.
Why does this matter? Well, everyone wants to feel like they've made the right choice in joining a new company. Those little extra touches, the bonuses that they might not have expected, can solidify their decision and set a positive trajectory for their tenure.
Tips for Making New Hires Feel Like a Million Bucks:
- Personalize Their Experience: Send a welcome package with company swag, a personal note, their favorite 3 o’clock munchie, or a welcome gift and card signed by the team. It shows you've been expecting them and that they're not just another number.
- Celebrate Their Arrival: Announce them in a company-wide email or newsletter. Making them feel like a celebrated addition to the team can be a huge morale boost.
- Provide Growth Opportunities: Offer them additional training resources or access to online courses. Demonstrating that you're invested in their professional growth from the outset can create a lasting positive impression.
- Introduce Flexibility: Be considerate of their personal circumstances, especially if they're adjusting to a remote working setup for the first time. Some flexibility in their initial weeks can ease the transition.
Checklist for Wow’ing New Hires:
- Send new hires a welcome package with company goodies or swag.
- Arrange for a personal welcome message from the team or leadership.
- Discuss and set clear WFH boundaries to ensure they have a good work-life balance from the start.
- Facilitate team introductions, icebreaking, and bonding activities.
- Deliver special treats for team lunches or happy hours.
- Encourage video calls.
8. Don't Just Implement — Evaluate and Measure
Rolling out an onboarding program isn't a “set it and forget it” deal. The true magic happens when you continuously evaluate its effectiveness, gather feedback, and iterate. Because what works today might need adjustments tomorrow.
Why is evaluation essential? It's simple. Continuous assessment allows you to stay ahead of the curve, ensuring your onboarding process remains relevant, effective, and in tune with new hires' needs.
Key Tips for Effective Evaluation:
- Track Metrics: Whether it's the speed of the onboarding process, satisfaction scores, or early retention rates, tracking the feedback we mentioned earlier, along with key metrics, can offer invaluable insights into where you're shining and where there's room for improvement.
- Pilot New Ideas: Don't be afraid to try out new onboarding techniques or tools. Pilot them with smaller groups and measure their effectiveness before a broader rollout.
- Stay Updated: The world of HR and onboarding is always evolving. Attend workshops, webinars, or conferences to stay informed about the latest best practices.
Your Go-to Evaluation Checklist:
- Organize an annual onboarding review session.
- Schedule regular check-ins with new hires to understand their onboarding experience.
- Encourage managers and team leads to provide feedback on the onboarding process.
- Set KPIs for the onboarding process and monitor them closely.
- Keep a human-centered approach, ensuring the onboarding process caters to individual needs and experiences.
- Regularly review and update onboarding materials and resources to ensure they remain current.
Final Thoughts on Effective Virtual Onboarding
We hope you find these checklists useful. But remember, remote onboarding is more than just a checklist; it's an ongoing process that requires empathy, continuous learning, and adaptation.
Looking to see some of these steps in action? Check out our webinar featuring Kate Pavlina, HR business partner from Amazon, "The five keys to virtual onboarding success."
Looking for more tips and tricks to create a better onboarding experience for your employees? Check out our Experience-Driven Hybrid Onboarding Blueprint for the best practices we’ve gathered from our experiences serving hundreds of happy customers, and be sure to follow our resources page for more great content like this!