Virtual onboarding: 4 ways to put culture first

Amy Woodward April 02, 2020

When done right, virtual onboarding enhances the employee experience and engagement.

With the sudden rise of working from home, teams are hustling to update their processes and workflows to find the best and most productive ways to work remotely.

The arrival of a new hire adds a layer to all this.

How to make sure the onboarding process goes smoothly and your new team member both gets a good grip on their responsibilities and feels like a part of the team?

The first days and weeks in a new job are crucial: according to research by Glassdoor, a great employee onboarding can improve employee retention by 82 percent. And we want those new talents to stick, don’t we?

Creating an electronic onboarding binder and using shared task management tools are rather easy and quick to set up, transferring and cultivating your company culture is another matter when everyone is working from home.

Good news is, there are ways to leverage the whole team in the onboarding process so you can put culture first. Here’s how we’ve approached it at Alaya, to make the most of the tools and teams and cultivate our culture—despite the physical distance.

1. Start before the first day

Under these remote circumstances it’s even more important than before to make sure your new employee has what he or she needs on their first day to be able to connect or call in.

Create an onboarding plan and send a welcome email with all the necessary logins and passwords before the first day. This way, when day one arrives, you can focus on introductions, covering important topics, and getting to know the culture without technical glitches slowing you down.

Remember to share the onboarding plan with the whole team and set the goals for the first weeks so that everyone is on the same page.

Calendar planning of onboarding

Get the calendar out & plan for the week before their first day

2. Dive deep into your business

A good goal for the onboarding week is to give the new person a deep dive into the business, including who to go to for which questions, what makes your company tick, and some of the main challenges. Set time aside for face-to-face meetings with not only their direct supervisor but all the teams the newcomer will be working with.

It’s a good idea to include some reading in the virtual onboarding binder for the newbie to get familiar with in between the meetings so that they can deepen their understanding of the business. Before getting operational, this is the time to learn about your company and get to to know the team.

3. Break the ice with informal catch-ups

The formal 1:1 with the boss and the team is important—but nothing forges close relationships in a team better than informal opportunities to catch up and talk about something else than work. 

Now that we don’t have the luxury of those spontaneous chats around a latte anymore, the new hire is at risk of feeling excluded from the rest of the team. Since you’ve already set them up with your tools the week before, you can easily organise shared lunch dates, virtual afterwork drinks, workouts, or invite them to an informal Slack channel for jokes and personal updates. As career transition expert Melisa Llarena suggests, you can connect over activities too: Try a round of virtual Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, or other virtual team building games!

Team lunch with our new team members at Alaya

4. Set up a buddy system

With initial introductions made and the ice broken, how to make sure the onboarding goes on after the first week? One way to make this happen among the everyday work is to assign an online buddy to every new employee. Try mixing it up with someone from a different department which will also promote cross-department communication. This encourages regular informal chats, makes asking questions easier, and as a side product, a trusted colleague can help the newcomer to understand the company culture every step of the way.

Set up a buddy system for newcomers

A trusted buddy can help the newcomer to understand the company culture every step of the way

Finding the perfect process takes time

A great culture is at the heart of every company and often differentiates the good from the great.

Amid all the tips and information, remember to be kind to yourself and your team. This situation is new for many and it will take time to adapt and find the practices that work for you right now. Try out different things to see what works best for you.

After all, the onboarding process goes on for weeks and months (some argue it should last 90 days) so there will be plenty of opportunities to course-correct when needed.

Cultivating your culture when physically apart becomes ever more crucial, while also more challenging. But it can be done, when we are deliberate and purposeful, and will set your team up for success for the entire employee experience.

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