By Jan McGuire
Providing a thorough onboarding experience for a new team member is critically important to any organization's success. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, right? Most of us are familiar with what to do – and what not do – during those first few days and weeks of welcoming a new team member into our office environment. But what does onboarding look like during times of remote operations?
It might be different and challenging, but now is not the time to skimp on making your new employee feel welcome and prepared to take on their new role. Here are a few things to keep in mind. And special thanks to Angie Joens and Ashley Rowe for providing their personal experiences!
Let’s start with the obvious: coordinate all IT, phone, data, and other office needs so the staff member can have access right away. We don’t want to stumble right out of the gate, so be sure you know how these internal processes may have shifted during remote operations and be sure to make your requests promptly.
Be inviting. It's essential to show your new employee what your organization's culture is like, so send them a (digital) packet of information in advance of their start date so they can read up on the organization. If they are new to your community, encourage them to take a virtual tour of your campus.
Be welcoming. Providing a warm welcome during virtual onboarding is just as, if not more, important than when working in-person. Have organizational swag you'd typically have at their desk - water bottle, pens, coffee mug, etc. delivered to your new hire’s home. Schedule a Zoom meeting on their first day to introduce them to the team. Just like you would do in person, let everyone say hi, introduce themselves, and share how they might be working with the new employee.
And consider a Zoom happy hour at the end of the first day or week. Much like you'd go out to lunch on their first day, an end-of-the-day happy hour – or a morning coffee talk - allows the new person to get to know people better and to talk about things other than work. (But DON’T do lunch! No one wants to watch other people eat on a Zoom call!) And consider scheduling one or two of these without a supervisor so a new team member can get to know their colleagues.
Be prepared. Prepare an onboarding schedule for the employee's first few weeks and provide it to them on their first day. Schedule virtual training sessions for any necessary processes and systems the new hire needs to learn. And consider follow-up sessions to give them a chance to ask questions once they’ve worked with the information. But as is the case when onboarding in-person, be mindful not to over-schedule a new employee’s first few weeks as it can be overwhelming.
Be ready. Anticipate questions and provide the necessary information upfront. Be mindful that they won't have the benefit of being in the office surrounded by veteran team members. What details do they need to get started on a project? Is there something you can share with them for reference that will help? Who needs to review/approve the work when it's done? What is the timeline for completion? Think of things you wished you had known when you first started your job. If it’s been too long to remember, ask recently hired team members the same question.
Be clear and be present. As a supervisor, set clear expectations. Whether it's getting through specific training, reviewing materials, or starting to tackle new tasks, establish clear expectations beginning on Day 1. Supervisors should also check-in daily, just like you would do in-person. Be it at the beginning of the day or at the end, a daily check-in helps build rapport with your new hire, shows them you are there to set them up for success, and provides them with a chance to ask questions.
Above all, be flexible. Unique times call for unique understanding. Show a new hire the same grace you've had to show your current employees. They may have children starting virtual school, no childcare, a family member to take care of, etc. Remember, we're all in these crazy times together!
And looking ahead to when you return to in-office work, encourage all employees to re-introduce themselves when they see the new employee around the office. Let’s be real, I’m not sure I remember what I look like in professional attire with my hair fixed, so don’t expect the new hire to remember your name and role – especially when you’re not in your Zoom-attire!
We'd love to hear your tips and tricks for successful virtual onboarding in the comments below.