Your new employee is starting soon, and you want to ensure they’re set up for success. But how? What is needed to ensure a successful and effective onboarding experience? Add in the fact that your new employee is remote, and everything must be completed virtually. It can become overwhelming.
This scenario is quite common and can cause a bit of trepidation for HR teams or staff members that operate as de facto HR. But remember, just because an employee is remote doesn’t mean that the onboarding process should be any less fun, informative or engaging. Utilizing technology and a little creativity, there are plenty of ways to successfully onboard remote employees in 2023.
What is onboarding?
Before jumping into some successful virtual onboarding ideas, let’s first clarify what onboarding is. For many, onboarding and in-processing seem synonymous – they’re not. An effective onboarding program encompasses much more.
Onboarding is the process of introducing a newly hired employee into an organization and is an important part of helping employees understand their new position and job requirements. Onboarding helps new hires learn about their new role and the organization’s culture, mission, vision, and values.
As an HR consultant, when I work with organizations on developing an effective onboarding program, we focus on the following key elements:
- In-processing: Creating a streamlined (and ideally) self-service approach to completing new hire paperwork, enrolling in company-sponsored benefits, and getting set up on specific company systems.
- Welcoming new hires: Starting on the right foot with gifts, personalized messages, and small perks that help individuals feel excited about their new role and employer.
- Training: Learning the company’s mission, vision, values, culture, and history. Plus, job-specific training on their role, responsibilities, and key competencies needed for success.
- Team building: Nurturing relationships across the organization with shared intentional experiences and team-building activities.
A comprehensive process that includes these components and spans the first 90 days of employment can significantly impact the new hire’s success in the role and retention within your company.
Onboarding Ideas for Remote Employees
Now that you know what onboarding is, you may wonder what activities are best for virtually onboarding remote employees. Here are 19 unique onboarding ideas you can implement right away as you bring on new employees.
Create a seamless handoff from hiring to onboarding.
Several applicant tracking systems (ATS) support transitioning from executing your final hiring steps, such as employment background checks and electronic signatures, to onboarding seamlessly. Because many ATS like BambooHR integrate with popular HRIS software, it automates workflows and advances newly hired employees to the next step, in-processing. Therefore, it is to your advantage to ensure your ATS and payroll systems “talk” with one another effectively, resulting in a much smoother experience for your new hire and HR team.
Establish self-service options for completing new hire paperwork.
New employees will need to complete several forms for them to be fully in-processed and for your company to be compliant. Make this process simple by utilizing HR software or payroll software for small business that offers a self-service option. Note minimal data entry on your end, automated workflows, and a guided employee experience are important in an efficient virtual onboarding experience.
Make tech setup simple.
Receiving and gaining access to the tech resources needed to do their job is essential. Make the tech setup easy by ensuring all required software is preloaded and providing clear directions for any special installation. Since there are varying levels of proficiency and comfort around tech, ensure your new hire and tech POC have dedicated time scheduled on the first day to walk through the setup process and can troubleshoot any issues.
Mail a welcome gift box.
Instantly make your new employee feel like part of the team by sending a remote work toolkit that contains branded items, home office essentials, and items that promote wellness. Make the items practical, functional, and specific to your company culture and mission. A reusable tumbler, coffee mug, or water bottle with your logo is always an easy win.
Other gifts that your new employee will appreciate include headphones, a webcam cover, a journal, a candle, a desk plant, snacks or treats from a business local to where your company is headquartered, or a gift card from a favorite meal delivery provider to cover lunch on their first day.
Give a home office stipend.
For staff working remotely, provide a one-time (or annual) stipend for purchasing office supplies, accessories, or essentials to curate a productive work environment.
Personalize a welcome message from the team.
Create a video (press record at the end of your next team Zoom call), digital card (Kudoboard is a fun and easy option), or physical postcard (create and print on Canva) that has photos and well wishes from current team members. Consider including where each person is based, their job title, a fun fact about each team member, or a personal welcome message from each person.
Send a schedule of the first days of work.
Ease nerves and answer questions in advance by providing your new hire a schedule for the first week of employment. On the agenda, include the purpose of each meeting or task, the participants, and related links for the online meeting location(s).
Develop a “Getting to Know You” questionnaire.
This is a great way to learn more about your new hire and help coworkers make meaningful connections. My favorite questionnaires learn more about an individual’s work and communication styles, habits, preferences, strengths, hopes for the new role, and fun facts about themselves.
If specific assessments have been adopted by and integrated into your team, such as Enneagram, Strengthsfinders, or DISC, ensure your new hire also completes the assessment. Provide various opportunities for team members to share responses from the questionnaire and any other assessments to learn about each other and integrate this knowledge into collaboration and teamwork.
Celebrate milestones during the first few weeks.
Often, we pack the first day or two with welcome activities, and the newness and hospitality trickle off with each passing day. Keep the momentum and good vibes going with a whole team celebration at the end of the first week (or the first month) to communicate how excited everyone is about the new hire.
Document a glossary of terms digitally.
Every industry, every company, and every team has its own terms, acronyms, and slang. I call it “alphabet soup,” which can be confusing and off-putting to those unfamiliar. A simple way to become more invitational and develop an open work environment for new hires is to maintain a digital resource or learning management system (LMS) that defines key terms. This resource should be easily accessible and updated often to ensure everyone on the team is “speaking the same language.”
As new employees navigate the complexities of the job, day-to-day responsibilities, and workplace culture, it is helpful to have a trusted person to ask questions and gain greater insight into the organization. I’ve seen organizations have great success implementing onboarding buddy programs, where an employee supports a new hire in their transition into the organization.
An ideal work buddy is an employee who is passionate about the company and their work, exemplifies the company values, understands how to successfully engage organizational systems, and can provide sound guidance and support as new hires build relationships across the team.
Host a company 101 orientation.
Introduce the organization to your new hires. A virtual new hire orientation is a great way to share more about the company – the mission, vision, values, culture, norms, structure, history, client base, and org chart. To avoid being overwhelming, consider breaking the orientation into segments over the first 90 days and presenting the information in interactive videos and live conversations.
Develop a 30- 60- 90-day plan.
Not strictly just for your new virtual team members, all new hires can benefit from a 30- 60- 90-day plan. Establishing goals for the first 90 days and identifying milestones for 30 and 60 days provide the support needed for individuals to begin contributing early on with direct guidance along the way. This sets expectations, provides opportunities to contribute and realize success, and sets the tone for communication, collaboration, and work styles in the remote environment.
Sponsor virtual coffee dates.
Relationships amongst team members are important. A great way to nurture relationship-building between new hires and existing employees is to sponsor virtual coffee dates each week. That way, the new employee can have a casual conversation with key leaders and team members.
Schedule virtual coworking sessions.
Working remotely can sometimes feel isolating and lonely. Beat the blues with optional coworking sessions, where teammates who crave more connection can work independently in a virtual hangout space. This can become an ongoing offering within your organization or a great weekly practice for the new hire, their manager, and teammates during the first few weeks of onboarding.
Gamify elements of your onboarding process.
Integrating games can make onboarding more fun and engaging. Create an onboarding BINGO game card that can guide coffee date chats, develop a team scavenger hunt that helps facilitate introductions and sharing, or design a trivia game that reviews company facts covered during the first few weeks of employment.
Tour the office virtually.
When you have a hybrid workforce with some employees onsite, consider organizing a virtual tour so remote employees can see the physical office space. For fully remote teams, encourage individuals to share a glimpse of their workspaces. Whether it is a picture or video of their desk, workstation, or full home office, this is a fun way to offer a glimpse of what falls outside the ever-present Zoom video box. Of course, team members should be encouraged to show as little or as much of their remote workspaces and coworkers (both human and furry ones) that they are comfortable with.
Curate a team productivity playlist.
Music can help get you in “the zone” during the work day. It can also offer insight into individuals on a personal level. Curate a team playlist featuring one of each member’s favorite songs that help them be productive throughout the day. Invite the new hire to contribute their pick and share the link to the updated playlist with the whole team.
Host a bi-weekly Q&A session.
As the owner of the onboarding process, build time into your schedule to spend 20 minutes with the new hire every other week or at a regular interval that you can both commit to. Answer any questions they have and check in on how they’re adjusting to the role, team, and company. Be a resource and trusted supporter in making their onboarding experience pleasant and effective.
Ideas for virtual in-processing
Creative ways to welcome new hires virtually
Training new employees virtually
Team building strategies to connect with new hires
The Bottom Line
Successful onboarding experiences are intentional, comprehensive, and aim to support new employees for several months. When conducting virtual onboarding processes, it is important to incorporate in-processing, welcoming, training, and team building. Leverage technology to include multiple opportunities to learn from and engage with team members, and build strong connections to support team cohesiveness and staff retention.
Virtual Onboarding Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
The four most important elements of successful onboarding include
- In-processing: Ensure a new hire can complete the required paperwork and get set up on various systems simply and quickly.
- Welcoming: Select special and meaningful ways to welcome the new individual onto your team that communicates, “We are glad you are here.”
- Training: The onboarding experience should also include training related to the company and the role.
- Team-building: Seek to build connections across the organization and within the new hire’s team to support ongoing collaboration, communication, and cohesiveness.
It can take several months for a new employee to acclimate to their new role, team, and employer. Therefore, the most effective onboarding programs span many months. A good place to start is by designing a process that lasts at least the first 90 days of employment.
A good remote onboarding experience seeks to build connections and set your new team member up for success. It incorporates several members of your team to support the various onboarding elements, is employee-centered, is mindful of what the employee needs to be successful, and is formalized to ensure it is effective and repeatable.