Successful virtual onboarding

Inducting new starters effectively from a distance is a challenge many of us now face in our more virtual worlds of work. In this article I explore what made a good friend of mine’s onboarding experience so positive despite it all having to happen remotely as the country went into lockdown.

As the government announced in March this year that the UK were going into lockdown, a good friend of mine was just about to start a new job as Head of Learning and Development for a firm in the city. Before she even set foot in the door the entire office was instructed to work from home immediately. This sudden change in ways of working could have had a hugely detrimental impact on her induction experience but the combination of a forward-thinking and supportive manager, well organised IT systems and her own proactiveness meant quite the opposite ended up happening. 

Here is what she has to say, five months later, about what made her remote onboarding experience such a success.

What the company did for me:

1)    Got the tech in place

I had a working laptop delivered from before day one along with an IT induction, so I knew exactly how to access all of the systems I needed. This might seem obvious, but it is crucial when working from home as a new starter as you often do not know who to contact or what you are doing wrong. 

2)    Organised my induction diary

My diary was organised for me for the first two weeks so that I met all the key people virtually. I’d expect this as part of a good induction anyway, but all the more important when virtual as it isn’t always easy to pick up who the key people are, and if you’re left to put the meetings in yourself it’s unlikely that they happen in your first week, so you’d end up twiddling your thumbs with very little to do!

3)    Daily check-in video calls with my manager

My manager caught up we me at the end of every day for the first 2 – 3 weeks and made sure I knew she was available at any time to chat (the latter has continued). I was a bit worried that the daily catch ups would feel a bit micro-managed, but they were actually great – she did not expect progress reports or anything like that. It was genuinely to see if I had what I needed, answer any questions I had and keep me updated with what was happening in the team and business. These catch-ups were also a great way to build a relationship with her as she was always up for a chat, particularly if we did not have much work stuff to talk about.

4)     Frequent “Chat-Calls” with the team

At the start of lockdown, we had a daily HR chat call, which was just for a chat, not for work. The intention was to keep us bonded (or in my case to bond!), to stay in touch and ensure no one felt isolated, and it really helped me to build relationships with the team. I actually got to know the team really quickly and on a much more personal level than perhaps I have done with other teams that were not even remote. Our chat call still happens but as some of us are working in the office again now and not as remote, it is twice a week and optional. 

What I did to help myself:

1) Agreed my goals quickly

I got my goals in place more quickly than usual so that I could really focus efforts on what I was supposed to be doing, which helped me to structure my days at home and feel like I was contributing.

2) Proactively booked in calls with a purpose

I was proactive in putting lots more intro calls in the diary but linked them to the work I was doing so it did not feel like lots of ‘hi, I’m the new girl’ calls – they all had a purpose. That is probably the hardest thing when working virtually for me, particularly when onboarding virtually – you lose all opportunity to get to know new people through chats and all business interactions become task based. I know if I had been in the office I would have made coffee friends (as I drink at least 1 coffee an hour!) just by bumping into people in the kitchen. It is hard to replicate this when working virtually. 

3) Contributed immediately to the business

I used the sudden shift to remote working to immediately contribute to the business. It is something that I have done a lot of work on in the past so luckily I was able to quickly pull some stuff together for the new place to help them get used to it. This consisted of webinars for individuals and managers, a weekly email of resources and even organising exercise classes. I think most people have found it helpful and now know who I am, which is a real win for me as it would have been so easy to remain invisible to the majority while working from home. 

4) Headed into the office as soon as it was safe

I now make the effort to come into the office whenever I can. I know some people still do not feel comfortable coming into offices and commuting, but for me personally it has made a real difference to start to get to know even more people and be seen as part of the company.

The Challenges:

It has been really difficult to get to know the culture of the company because I do not get many opportunities to see people interacting with each other, formally or informally (outside of my team). Before COVID, I had been planning to shadow lots of different meetings to get to know people and see what they are like in action. Without doing that, it has been harder to know what will work here.

It has also been difficult to diagnose what the business really needs, as I have not had the opportunity to see anything live. Instead I have had to put suggestions together, caveat them with a massive ‘I’m new’ clause and invite feedback so that people tell me where the holes are. You have got to have a thick skin for what comes back with this approach, but it is definitely helped me learn what is needed more quickly.

This experience is a great example of how well virtual onboarding can work and much like in-person onboarding a huge part of its success is down to how prepared and committed the manager is to the process. If there is one top tip we can all take away from this experience that echoes what we have been hearing form our clients at LeadEQ, it is “always aim to ‘over-communicate’ during a remote onboarding process”. This will mean a lot of virtual meetings and conversations with the whole team, but it is these interactions that make all the difference.

Elisa Hill

Development Consultant