By Julia Figliotti Riley
Think back to the last time you brought on a new hire before COVID-19 hit. You may have had a week-long onboarding process complete with handshakes, in-person paperwork, office tours, meet-and-greet sessions and team lunches, and various training. Perhaps you asked an existing worker to answer questions, exemplify the company culture, and help the new employee settle into their role and new work environment. Now, whether your workforce is operating on-site with safety measures in place or running 100% remotely, you may want to rethink how you bring on new employees.
Even in the best of times, onboarding to encourage retention is a challenge. For many businesses, in-person interviews and integrations into the workforce are out of the question for the foreseeable future. So, the question becomes: How might we rethink the onboarding experience in today’s digital and distributed world, to ensure new hires feel welcomed, valued, and set up for success?
Going above and beyond from behind a computer
Now that so many organizations are working remotely and communicating virtually, it’s important to invest additional effort into the first few days of a new hire’s career. Consider the traditional onboarding events and checkpoints that your company hosts to welcome incoming employees. What have they looked like in the past? Ask your existing workforce: What made the onboarding experience special for you? What helped you get excited about working for this company? What made you feel valued?
Then, take that feedback and incorporate it to build a virtual onboarding experience that not only welcomes your new employees, but sets them up for a full and vibrant employee experience in their tenure with your company, and encourages retention and growth within their role.
3 ways to create a positive virtual onboarding experience
After years of in-person operations, it’s time to reconfigure your best onboarding practices to build an effective virtual experience. Follow these tips to create an onboarding experience that helps new hires thrive in a pandemic and post-pandemic world.
1. Build and reinforce culture over time
It was true before 2020 and it’s true now: Onboarding should last beyond the first 90 days of employment, with check-ins, follow-ups, and feedback along the way. For that reason, try reimagining the experience and investing multiple months into virtual new hire onboarding. Highlight different aspects of your company culture along the way, and build a strong communication strategy to introduce these foundational concepts to new hires. This will help present and familiarize new employees with the company mission, values, and expectations without overwhelming them with messaging. In addition, utilize the company’s style, tone, brand, and media to reinforce the culture they’re joining.
2. Integrate managers into the experience
Meeting a new manager – whether in person or virtually – can be a stressful part of onboarding, so encourage your leadership team to integrate themselves into the new hire experience. Managers are the bridges between the workforce and executive team, and it can make all the difference if a new employee feels they can ask questions, raise concerns, or receive guidance from someone they trust. Ensure your managerial team understands how to connect with their workforce – like through regular 1:1s embedded into the onboarding schedule – so new hires feel comfortable, welcomed, and as though they truly belong.
3. Understand what works – and what doesn’t
It’s likely that you’ve built your virtual onboarding experience around what has worked in the past. And while that’s a great starting point, it won’t be enough for our new normal. As we all live through this pandemic together, we’re learning that what may have been effective for our in-person operations doesn’t quite fit the needs of a digital, distributed workforce.
So, measure what works now. Find out where any information gaps may exist and where new hire understanding is strong. Ensure new employees are engaged and feel like they are a part of the company – and if not, adjust accordingly. To gather this data, you can of course ask for feedback from new hires and their managers. But for companies with thousands or tens of thousands of employees, that approach might not be viable. Leaders should consider leveraging internal communications software that can not only provide a more tailored experience for the individual, but also measure engagement and provide the data and analytics to help you adjust your content and messaging to best engage incoming employees.
From onboarding to the ongoing employee experience
In this age of uncertainty, each new hire deserves a personalized onboarding experience that lasts beyond their first day, week, or month. Now is the time to take advantage of all that technology has to offer when communicating to new employees. Utilize strategic communications to drive a successful virtual onboarding program, and invest in a journey that fully welcomes new employees into the company and culture, and sets them up for a positive, productive employee experience throughout their tenure at your company.