3 essential tips for creating a virtual onboarding program

Man working on laptop in kitchen

5 mins, 44 secs read time

Whether it’s done in person or remotely, one thing is true time and time again – onboarding can make or break a new employee’s overall experience at a company. Onboarding is the first impression created that informs how new employees will show up and navigate the role you hired them to do. It not only provides important foundational context that sets the employee up for success throughout their time with your company, it also creates a sense of purpose and belonging for them – key reasons people stay employed with you for the long haul.

When onboarding is done right, it creates intrinsic value for your business.

But what do you do if, like many of us, your company is now onboarding in an all-remote setting? Having a solid virtual onboarding plan is just as important as having a plan for in-person onboarding. Whether you’re unexpectedly working remotely or you’ve had a distributed work plan for a while, investing in your virtual onboarding program now will continue to pay off down the road.

Whether you’re actively hiring or plan to hire soon, your hires will all need a quality virtual onboarding program when the time comes. We’ve made it easy to engage and support your new hires by identifying three areas of focus:

1. Communicate with intention and transparency

A key part of a successful virtual onboarding experience is building in certainty for distributed new hires. Use a new hire kickoff deck that allows managers to intentionally communicate about things like working hours and communication norms for the team and company during a virtual kickoff meeting. Create the space for new hires to talk about how they best like to communicate by asking questions such as, “Do you have a preferred method of communicating?” Don’t forget to also ask what they need to stay virtually connected to their team.

Another way to create certainty is by sharing ways for new hires to virtually meet the team. At Greenhouse, all our new joiners have access to Greenhouse Onboarding before they start. The welcome experience in GHO is tailored to their specific team and work location (even if that’s a remote location). New hires get access to info like what to expect during their first few weeks of onboarding and can make connections with the broader team through the tool by sharing fun facts, personal hobbies and interests before their first day begins.

Lastly, asynchronous (pre-recorded) work is common on remote teams. Our onboarding team partners with managers to provide a detailed onboarding plan to all new hires. Being a little bit more prescriptive than you would be in person (where folks have the opportunity to run into someone in the kitchen) is key. Fill up their calendar with virtual introduction meetings, provide a structure for those conversations – we call them “listening tours” at Greenhouse – and designate when it’s time to do self-paced learning or autonomous work to remove the unknown or fear of not being productive.

2. Create belonging and facilitate connection

Most importantly, belonging and inclusion start on day one. If you have employee resource groups (ERGs) or community-based Slack channels, share them with new hires on their first day. Let them know how they can get involved and contribute to the culture by sharing a piece of themselves with the company or building community.

Next, think of all the opportunities you would have to form connections in person: How can you replicate those, virtually? Schedule time to get to know each other better, minus the water cooler. For example, at Greenhouse, we transitioned our previously in-person “meet the new hires” standing calendar invite at our New York HQ to a virtual team meeting. Our Customer Success team recently virtually welcomed a new team member with homemade welcome signs – a small gesture that made the new team member feel a greater sense of belonging.

Even when new hires are onboarding virtually from different locations, it’s important that you continue to onboard in virtual cohorts or classes. We’ve seen how this creates a shared experience and strengthens cross-functional relationships. It’s also important to coach your managers to check in often during the first few weeks. For example, can they double the amount of 1:1s they’d normally have or assign a team buddy to regularly check in and answer any questions?

Think up creative ways to bring new hires into the fold. If you’re able, send new hires a care package of employee swag so they immediately feel like a part of the team. Other ideas might include storytelling, by recording a video of your leaders talking about historic cultural moments at the company, by creating a new hire FAQ or by sharing a company culture “dictionary” on your intranet.

3. Tighten up your operations and invest in the tech

Onboarding across locations creates more variables, so it’s important that you tighten up your operations. For one thing, it allows your onboarding team and new hires to be successful in their roles and, for another, it creates equity regardless of location. So, how can you create a clear allocation of responsibilities, or automate tasks and email reminders for the onboarding team and new hires? Greenhouse Onboarding helps you keep track of who is responsible for which tasks, which helps onboarding teams align and avoid blockers. You can also use the Greenhouse ultimate onboarding checklist to make sure you aren’t missing anything in those critical first 90 days.

Another significant operational tool we use at Greenhouse is a remote onboarding guide for managers. It clearly outlines what additional tasks are required when you’re onboarding remotely and how to translate in-person onboarding activities to virtual experiences.

Last, and certainly not least, removing technology obstacles from the first week can really pay off and improve a virtual onboarding experience. Can your IT team have a virtual IT onboarding session before your new hire’s official first day so they can hit the ground running without technical difficulties? What additional tools can you offer your remote or distributed team members? Using technology like Donut and the Zoom whiteboard feature can really increase collaboration and make for a better, more inclusive, distributed experience.

A quality onboarding experience, virtually

Regardless of your new hire’s onboarding location, communicating with intention, fostering belonging and connection and investing in your operations will create a more engaging onboarding experience. Giving every new hire a sense of purpose and belonging enables them to carry that positive experience with them throughout their employment lifecycle. And so, as the world moves in a more virtual direction, building out a successful virtual onboarding program will not only help you win as a hiring team, but also as a business.

Interested in learning more about how Greenhouse Onboarding can elevate your new hire experience? Request a demo today.

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Eliza Casscells

Eliza Casscells

is a People Programs Manager at Greenhouse with over 10 years of experience implementing management, onboarding, performance management and learning & career development programs. She is passionate about aligning data-based talent management programs to company culture while fostering continued growth.

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