Virtual onboarding is tricky – you can't give your hires an office tour or host a traditional orientation. The remote world is here to stay. So the question becomes: how can we make Work From Home (WFH) employees feel just as connected and productive from behind a screen?
There’s huge pressure to make an excellent first impression. Not only are you integrating new members into your programs and tools, you’re also weaving them into the fabric of your company culture.
What is virtual employee onboarding?
Virtual employee onboarding is the entire process of welcoming a new member to your team remotely. Every step has to function in a digital terrain – whether you’re sending paperwork, assigning that freshly-popped Email ID or introducing the workload.
While the goal of virtual onboarding is the same as physical onboarding (i.e., familiarizing hires with the company and their role), it has to follow its own process to be effective. Employers should be particularly mindful during online onboarding to ensure new hires start off on the right foot.
The importance of onboarding for new employees
Did you know that 20 percent of employee turnover happens within the first 45 days? Your new hire has no stake in the game yet. It’s up to you to show you’re just as invested in them as you want them to be in their role.
When onboarding virtually, you’re also building a remote culture. Any issues that show up in this process will likely appear in other aspects of the employee experience. Fifty-two percent of employees said that companies providing a poor onboarding experience also have a mediocre working environment.
Differences between virtual and physical onboarding
The virtual onboarding process is more than a round of electronic signatures. You’re trying to take a tangible experience and convey it on screen. Meanwhile, your employee is likely jumping from Zoom to Zoom while navigating their desktop for the first time. This experience can be overwhelming and isolating. As your new hire’s support system, it’s also your job to ensure they don’t feel so alone.
That’s easier said than done. How do you replicate the spark of in-person interactions? You might start to dwell on the list of things you “just can’t do.” You can’t sit and have coffee together. You can’t bring everyone into the kitchen for cake.
Let’s banish that list from your mind. You and your employee are partners in navigating this new world. With each challenge comes a unique opportunity to build something even better.
Elevate your onboarding. Here are some simple tips to help you craft a welcome that’s just as warm as in the days of water cooler talk.
21 virtual onboarding ideas for new employees in 2022
1. Write a personalized email
HR will likely send a generic outreach to get your employee their paperwork, devices and login information. Add a vital human element with a separate personalized welcome email. This can give a general outline of their first day and open lines of communication if they have any questions.
Most importantly, let your new hire know how excited you are to have them on board.
Impact: Personalized emails pump up new employees while kickstarting the team-building process.
2. Send a warm welcome video
In remote hiring, videos are a creative way for new employees to put faces to names and get a feel for the company culture.
The welcome video can include a company overview and a featured message from your CEO. You can also incorporate key personnel and team leads or provide a virtual tour of the office(s) for an added element.
Impact: A welcome video is an impressive way to showcase your values and culture. Initially, this might be a heavy lift. However, once complete, you can showcase this content for each new hire.
3. Launch a buddy system
You know how having just one friend at a party makes it easier to socialize with everyone else? The same rule applies to a virtual “All Hands” meeting.
Work buddies help new employees fight anxiety and loneliness. A buddy is almost always a peer who volunteers to support the process of settling into a new work environment. Your hire will most likely feel more comfortable in group settings if they have a buddy to count on.
Buddies can set up standing check-ins to support your hire’s progress. They can also chat regularly through communication tools like Slack.
Impact: Buddy programs help new employees feel comfortable and strengthen the sense of community in an all-remote or hybrid setup.
4. Create a digital onboarding kit
A digital onboarding kit is a remote essential. It should include all vital info, such as login access, a virtual onboarding checklist and an organizational who's who. Share this before or on the employee’s first day.
You can also create process guides with productivity tools like Scribe to kickstart employee training.
Impact: In the absence of an in-person guide, the onboarding kit helps employees integrate within your systems and connect with others.
5. Mail them some company swag
Everybody loves free stuff. A company swag box helps remote employees feel like part of the team. This box could include branded apparel, accessories, stationery items and so much more. You can even outsource swag box curation and shipping.
Impact: Swag is a unique way to show that you value your employees. Also, by providing something tangible, you’re building a brand ambassador.
6. Introduce bulk hires in small groups
When organizing a virtual team orientation, use breakout rooms to introduce new employees in smaller groups. You’ll make the onboarding process more personal, prevent overwhelm and foster connections between team members.
Impact: Orientation in small groups makes team-building easier and increases everyone’s comfort level.
7. Host an icebreaker event
Interactive virtual onboarding icebreakers help newly-hired employees open up and interact with one another. Fun ways to introduce new team members in a virtual space are games like “Dumb Charades” and “Have You Ever” on Zoom. And if you love Slack, you can also integrate Donut, a platform designed to connect remote employees at random.
Impact: Onboarding icebreaker questions and games add some much-needed fun to the work environment, bringing employees together to build a close-knit culture from the start.
8. Initiate a social media event
When looking for fun ways to introduce new team members on social media, host a giveaway that involves direct interaction. You might hold a photo-sharing or funny reel competition with a chance to be promoted as a winner on the company page.
Impact: Light social media games and contests promote employee engagement both on and offline.
9. Build an online lounge or chatroom
Digital lounges allow employees to socialize and learn from one another in a stress-free environment. A digital lounge could be a dedicated event placed on everyone’s calendar or a general chatroom that is open and available to the entire company at all times.
Impact: Promote interaction among new and veteran employees while enabling them to pool ideas and solve problems.
10. Encourage participation early
New hires want to feel included. Even if they aren't ready to take over things independently, engage them early on. For example, you can provide online learning resources to sift through or allow access to current projects so that they get up to speed.
Impact: Build your employee skillset and confidence while promoting their agency.
11. Offer thorough tech support
Employees need training and support to manage a new roster of digital tools. Provide instructions and a thorough walkthrough of your communication platforms, project management systems and job-specific software.
You can also allow new hires to shadow other employees or provide detailed user guides. Document your processes to save time and ensure consistency.
Impact: Detailed user guides and standard operating procedures (SOPs) positively impact the entire company, and make sure new employees are on the same page as everyone else.
12. Gamify onboarding with a scavenger hunt
Engage your new hires in unique and memorable ways! You can take inspiration from Deloitte to build an interactive gaming experience. Activities like this encourage communication and teach collaborative skills that positively affect working relationships.
Impact: Scavenger hunts promote company culture and educate new hires while reinforcing team cooperation.
13. Organize a virtual team lunch/dinner
Social get-togethers increase natural bonds. You can absolutely recreate this experience with your WFH crew. Schedule a virtual lunch or dinner for all remote employees, and then let them take off a few hours early. Send a gift card or meal kit as a bonus.
Impact: A virtual team lunch enables team members to develop interpersonal relationships. New hires are more likely to quickly settle in if they have the chance to socialize during or shortly following their first week.
14. Conduct fun-filled themed meetings
A themed meeting need not be onboarding specific. Let all of your employees express their creativity and have a little fun. Kick off your session with assorted questions or encourage everyone to show up in costume. Whether it be movies, books or something else entirely, a theme is sure to initiate conversation.
Impact: While not exclusive to onboarding, themed meetings can spark workplace friendships and team building while expressing your company culture to new hires.
15. Quiz them!
After their first week or so, shoot over a light-hearted quiz asking questions about different aspects of the organization. This is more than an educational tool. Quizzes can also encourage some friendly competition with the potential for swag prizes.
An onboarding form with “Getting to Know You” questions is another way to show employees that the company is just as invested in them as they are in it.
Impact: Quizzes are an engaging way to encourage participation while educating your new hires.
16. Host (virtual) happy hours
Much like virtual lunches, a company-wide event paired with social activities allows new hires to mingle with their colleagues. You can send virtual happy hour kits, host movie nights or watch a game together. Virtual Karaoke is also a big hit (sorry, autotune not included!) Consider hosting one event a month. This way, each round of new hires can join in on the festivities.
Impact: Online events strengthen company culture and support a memorable onboarding experience.
17. Infuse team-building games into your intro
Virtual team-building activities are a great way to make a highlight out of an otherwise mundane intro. Whether you’re holding a group orientation or introducing a new employee to their team, do away with any initial awkwardness by encouraging some fun.
Ice breakers can be more than calls for fun facts. Games like virtual bingo or pop culture trivia are unique ways to get team members talking and work your new hire into the fold.
Impact: Your new employee can comfortably make connections, and your team gets to let loose. It’s a win-win!
18. Offer digital perks
It’s tough missing out on in-office perks. There’s nothing quite like free coffee, snacks or enjoying someone else’s cake after singing an off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday” with everyone from Sales.
Remote-centric perks can be swag, snack boxes, gift cards or discount codes. You can even host a virtual pizza party with company-provided Digiorno.
Impact: Remote perks build morale and can be used to inspire virtual events.
19. Hold personal check-ins
Ease first-day jitters by following up with your new hire one more time before they start. This gives you a chance to confirm they have their materials (like the trusty onboarding kit we mentioned earlier) and to answer any final questions.
After they’ve started, keep a healthy check-in cadence. Remember, your new hire can’t just knock on your office door, and they might find it intimidating to wait for your availability to flash green on their screen. By building in time, you’ve shown you’re committed to supporting their transition.
Impact: Check-ins can confirm that the process is going smoothly while increasing your employees' comfort level.
20. Prepare a 90-day onboarding process
New hires have to cope with two challenges: addressing job responsibilities and adjusting to company culture. Go easy on them. Let them take their time.
Develop a 30-60-90-day plan together. Generally, use the first 30 days for process acclimation. Days 30-60 can focus on collaboration. Leading into day 90, your employee should master their efforts and take on more responsibility.
Impact: This is a time-consuming but vital task. 90-day onboarding processes ease the transition from a “new hire” to “employee.” Use direct milestones to gauge progress.
21. Ask for feedback
Once onboarding is complete, send your employees a survey or feedback email. A simple "How was your onboarding experience?" will do. Also, remember to reach out at regular onboarding intervals for input on what they liked and what could be improved.
Impact: Feedback surveys show your employees you value their input. Direct feedback serves as the foundation for strengthening the process for the future.
Wrapping it up
A remote team can feel as tightly knit as one sharing four walls. It starts by prioritizing the employee experience from the beginning. These unique virtual onboarding ideas help you support your new hires, strengthen their productivity, and make them brand ambassadors from the start.