Research by the Human Capital Institute reveals that companies that invest in onboarding are “more likely to benefit from increased engagement levels as well as decreased time to proficiency. Consider the following data points:
- Research by Glassdoor found that organizations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%.
- 88% employees in a Gallup survey strongly agreed that their organizations do not do a great job of onboarding.
- Digitate finds that a negative onboarding experience doubles the odds that an employee will look for new opportunities.
Over several months, LS International’s executive search consultants (including myself) have worked closely with HR teams, hiring managers and candidates to make “virtual onboarding” smoother and more effective. In a work from home scenario, the relatively routine aspects of onboarding, such as enabling email access and completing payroll formalities can be easily accomplished. Yet, most onboarding programs still appear to focus on processes and paperwork, when their real focus must be on facilitating networking and integration so that the new team members feel welcome and are infused with excitement and a sense of belonging.
Achieving these objectives through virtual onboarding means overcoming challenges such as:
- Access to the necessary infrastructure (devices, connectivity, reliable availability of electricity etc.)
- Familiarity with the virtual tools being used
- Time zone differences
- Variabilities in language proficiency (including accents)
- Absence of body language cues
Virtual onboarding must allay fears and foster camaraderie
Starting a new role in a new organization is daunting and stressful. New hires rely on HR managers and executive search consultants to get a good idea of the role, the organization’s culture, people, processes, growth opportunities and so on. But for a number of reasons, there could be gaps. Also, during the selection process, candidates form impressions and expectations about their role, their managers and the organization’s culture. All this can collectively can lead to fears and concerns in the new hires.
Your virtual onboarding process is the starting point of how new employees experience your organization and is thus a “moment of truth” for both the new hires as well as the hiring managers. It must help allay the fears of the new hires by enabling them to interact with managers, direct reports and peers who have been around longer and thus understand the culture of the organization. Virtual onboarding must help new employees start building networks in the new organization. As Olivia Pradal, Head of Revenue Management at General Mills told us, “… on-boarding is key because it enables you to connect with the right people so that they later think about involving you in the right discussions”.
Virtual onboarding must address what’s often taken for granted
Although the spirit of virtual onboarding is not very different from that of physical, in-person onboarding, there are important differences. In an office setting, walking to a neighbor and asking for information or help is easy. In a virtual, remote working scenario, new hires will need to first call, message or email someone- and there may be time lags associated with responses. When people meet in an office, there’s always time for a friendly greeting and a few minutes over coffee to find out how they are doing. When everyone works from home, such opportunities are not automatically available. Virtual onboarding processes must consciously create them.
Matthew Thom, Strategic Revenue Management Director at General Mills believes how planning is critical to make a virtual onboarding a success: “I made sure that the new starter had a really thorough and clear induction plan. Identify the key people that your new starter needs to meet with and ensure they have regular time with those individuals. Check-in regularly with the new starter to understand how things are going and what support they need”.
In the same line of reasoning, Ana Kordic, Head of Marketing DACH Mattel, said about what they do to enhance the effectiveness of their virtual onboarding, “Having a structured onboarding list, regular check-ups on progress and involving the person from Day One in both formal and informal discussions (are all important). “Informal discussions are just as important, so I want to emphasize that”, she added.
Ten tips to make your virtual onboarding more effective
- Make sure that as many of the basics are in place before the onboarding session begins. Olivia is grateful that the team had “my email account created” and “arranged all the onboarding meetings before I arrived, so I did not lose time arranging my calendar”. This “really enabled to save me time and energy and to be more focused on the business questions right away”. This may seem like a minor detail till you know that she is based out of France, her line manager is in the UK, other colleagues are in Switzerland and factories are in France (she has not been able to visit them yet).
- Ana believes that new hires must be encouraged to go “beyond the official onboarding to get to know the people and how they interact with each other and to get a sense of the company culture”. Sharing telephone numbers and asking stakeholders to reach out to new colleagues is a good way to ensure that networks start getting built quickly. This also gives individuals the freedom to continue conversations beyond the meeting scheduled as part of the onboarding process.
- Strike a balance between letting new hires dive into “work” and “onboarding”. If this is not done, the entire time during onboarding may well be spent in administrative or procedural formalities, leaving the new hires somewhat frustrated. Olivia recommends that initial meetings be limited to 30 minutes especially when the new hire needs to e-meet a large number of stakeholders. Otherwise, she says, “you will spend your first weeks in virtual meetings, not allowing time to dive into your projects”.
- Design your virtual onboarding programs to foster a sense of collegiality by proactively getting people to get to know each other as more than just a work colleague. As part of the onboarding process Ana says that she now gets the entire team to participate virtually in a number of team-building activities. “Anything from brief sunrise meetings to check how everyone is doing, share what they did over the weekend, to making a virtual Halloween party with the team and spending several hours together is helpful to get to know one’s colleagues beyond the role that they do”. All this, she says, has “helped the newcomers integrate and understand the company culture better”- a primary objective of onboarding.
- Insist that the colleagues the new hires are scheduled to meet are prepared for the conversation and cover different aspects (while reinforcing key messages). This reduces the risk that people will “wing it” and thus missing out key information or not addressing the new hire’s concerns fully. Also, make it mandatory for everyone to be part of these calls. If important work comes up unexpectedly, see if the executive can join the call briefly and excuse himself/herself after promising to reach out to the new hires later.
- Check that all participants (especially the new hires) are familiar with the virtual platform to be used for the onboarding (e.g. Zoom, Google Meet or Microsoft Teams etc.) so that time is not wasted on the actual call.
- If a company laptop and mobile phone are to be provided, ensure that they are pre-loaded with all relevant software. Schedule a call with a member of the technical team to address any questions the new hires have.
- Use the onboarding program to clearly demonstrate that the company lives its values– say, for example, putting customers first or open and honest communication etc. Proactively ask for feedback on the onboarding program and implement suggestions to improve it. Use this to demonstrate values such as “continuous improvement” or “your voice matters”.
- Structure the onboarding program so that it does not end up as a dull and dreary series of presentations. Encourage breakout sessions or buddy conversations right from Day One so that people can choose what they want to do. Of course, everyone will need to complete all planned interactions over the course of a week.
- If new hires are geographically dispersed and the organization does not have a local office or other presence, provide information on who else lives in that city who can provide support.
Above all, remember that like other business processes in your organization, onboarding too can benefit from continuous improvement. Seek feedback from stakeholders such as the consultants who helped with the executive search with whom the candidate may have shared experiences about the onboarding.
I hope the above tips, distilled from our experiences, will help you make your virtual onboarding processes more effective so your new hires can start contributing sooner. Good luck! If you have used any specific ideas or techniques to make your virtual onboarding process more effective, I’d love to hear from you. You may leave a comment or drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.