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Five Ways to Onboard New Hires Virtually

In a virtual world, a holistic employee onboarding programme can help you recruit, engage and retain top talent.

September 28, 2021 | By Emily Chung

Person waving to the camera on a video call.

Whether in-person or virtual, one of the primary goals of an onboarding programme is to ensure that new hires feel they made the right decision in choosing to work for your organisation. An effective onboarding programme can assist in attracting the right talent, which can lead to better engagement and retention. While onboarding includes orientation, job- specific training and equipment setup, it should also go far beyond it—unfolding throughout the first 6-18 months of employment.

Consider these four activities when onboarding virtually

Virtual onboarding can be as overwhelming to you as it is to the new hire. Whether you have a solid onboarding process in place or are working to develop one, it’s important to take a step back and imagine—or reimagine—how you’re going to guide new hires through a virtual workplace.

When developing your onboarding programme, ask yourself the following questions to help streamline the process and identify potential challenges:

  • How will you get new hires connected to the organisation and its mission and culture on Day 1 and beyond?
  • How will you walk them through their day-to-day processes, and what collaboration tools will you use?
  • How ready are you to support new hires virtually with your current technologies and processes?
  • Are there guidelines and rules you’ve set for virtual working? How will you share those and when?

1. Plan ahead to prepare your new employee

Ramping up new hires to productivity quickly helps them gain confidence and makes a big difference in improving individual and team morale, increasing retention and fostering a high-performance culture. To ramp up new hires for peak performance, ensure that hiring managers have a process for greeting new hires before their official start date. This will help engage new hires during the uncertain phase from offer acceptance to their first day on the job, especially when recruiting and hiring is 100% virtual. New hires want to know what to do and what to expect as early as possible from signing their offer letter or else they may find themselves worrying: Do they know I’m coming? I’m working from home; what do I do to get started? Do I need to call someone to tell them I’m “here”? What if my computer doesn’t work?

Tips to reduce “new job” anxiety:

  • Send a welcome email with a plan for their first day soon after offer letters are signed. This could be a simple email to say, “Hey, I’m so happy you decided to join,” with an attachment that explains what’s to come or a welcome packet that sets expectations for Day 1. In addition, ask for permission (or check with your recruiter) to use their personal email address to share Day 1 information. That way you can continue communications, even while the company laptop is being provisioned.
  • Make key introductions. Relationship-building and peer networking are deeply important to each of us, so a powerful first step is to connect with your new hire right away. Set up an initial welcome meeting via your company’s collaboration platform between the new hire and your team while keeping in mind differing time zones.
  • Prep your existing team. Schedule individual meetings with key members to “meet” your new hire. A best practice is to get these set up and scheduled and inform the new hire of the meetings on Day 1.

2. Give your new hire a virtual buddy

Activities that pair new hires and experienced team members help forge relationships and build the trust necessary for high performance while boosting loyalty. Start by identifying the right people as “buddies,” or mentors. This can become a stretch goal or part of a team member’s standard individual goals to share the accountability across the team for onboarding new team members. Never let the buddy role come as a surprise—it should be valued as an important and rewardable role. When assigning a “buddy” to a new team member, ensure that expectations are clearly laid out and the process is easy to follow. In addition, consider each employee’s workload to ensure that buddies have room on their schedule to devote time each week to assist with onboarding. Otherwise, you risk some inconsistent and even nonexistent “onboarding.”

3. Conduct synchronous learning

The initial reaction to virtual onboarding may be to conduct the process asynchronously in a fully self-serve mode, leaving the new hire with a link to more “training” and a very solitary experience. It’s important to spend time with new hires synchronously, even if virtual, to create relationships and bond. During these connections, new hires get to hear messages about company culture, values, history and who’s who, leading to more comfort for reaching out to the others they’ve seen in a virtual meeting. Don’t underestimate the power of spending time together virtually in an organised and structured way.

4. Connect new hires with subject matter experts (SMEs) and cohorts during orientation

Use internal SMEs to tell stories and build credibility with new hire audiences. Many times, SMEs find they enjoy talking to new hires so much and get renewed motivation and energy from the process that they jump at the chance to come present at the next new hire orientation session. This is your opportunity to make a great first impression and help validate that your company was the right choice.

5. Set clear expectations using 30-, 60-, 90-day onboarding plans

A ramp-up plan is a documented onboarding plan that is time-bound and provides clear expectations for what “good enough” looks like at 30-, 60-, 90- and 180-day milestones and how to get there. In a virtual world, it can be a blend of self-serve overviews, microlearning, e-learning or videos, as well as onboarding tasks and outcomes like, “set up 15-minute meet-ups with each of the leaders in the organisation” or “contribute documentation to a wiki page.”

Depending on the role, prioritise tasks that a new hire needs to do on the job and align them to a certain period. Then, pick activities that will get them hands-on as quickly as possible to prepare them to perform actual work within the time frame desired.

Remember—we’re human

You can’t succeed in a remote world without the technologies themselves. But at the end of the day, there is a person sitting behind that screen. It’s important to remember that communication can make or break your new hire’s virtual onboarding experience. Encourage the continuous learner mindset and share information with your network on virtual work, remote work guidelines and virtual leadership. For some, this will seem very basic, but for others, this will be a very stressful time. That’s why it’s important to remember that there is a human element side of this that people are experiencing.

To better support new hires during virtual onboarding, organisations must lead differently and think differently about workflows, communication and collaboration. Leaders must be adaptive to remain empathetic and flexible—not only keeping in mind the health and well-being of the employees, but also creating a virtual, agile work culture that starts even before Day 1.