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Virtual Onboarding: A guide for new starters and employers
by
Anne-Louise Westad
, 18th February 2021
5 min read
Insights
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2020 saw the rise of a global pandemic, obligatory facemasks, queuing for supermarkets and of course, remote working. The latter being a double-edged sword; people may be saving money from work-related expenses, clocking up extra hours of sleep and avoiding the dreaded ‘rush hour’, but what employees are now lacking is office camaraderie. It’s hard enough moving your entire work life into your home, but for those going through the ‘virtual onboarding’ process, it’s a whole other ballgame. This article explores how to succeed as a new starter, best practices for managers and a virtual onboarding experience Q&A.

How to succeed as a new starter

First of all, you need to prepare for a different type of onboarding and manage your expectations. This is unchartered territory for both you and your company so the process may not be smooth sailing. 

  • Set up a designated workspace and make sure you have all the tech you need. If you can, create a separate space for yourself to work in, try to ensure a professional background for calls and ask for a monitor, keyboard and a mouse if you require them. Set up your work email as soon as possible, organise necessary files and bookmark all the software and remote access pages for your company.

  • Write a daily to-do list. Set out a list of realistic, achievable tasks to keep you focused. You can use your calendar to block out hours of the day for specific tasks or head-down work and project management apps like Asana or Monday.com.

  • Be clear in your communication. Speaking in person gives you visual and audio cues that help you communicate. Conversing remotely removes a lot of that extra information so make your messages extra clear and concise. Speak out when you need assistance or support.

  • Take the initiative. Try to be proactive from day one. If you’re unsure of how to do something, try finding a solution online. Spend time looking over your responsibilities and work out the most efficient way of completing daily tasks, this will then enable you to focus on the bigger picture.

Best practices for managers

It’s challenging enough to find a qualified new employee in the midst of a pandemic, but once you do, making the person feel like a member of the team can be especially hard. To retain new hires, you need to make sure they feel included. 

  • Go through your new starter’s responsibilities and collaborate on a personal development plan. Have this in document form which they can use as a reference and know what they’re working towards from day one. Having a list of responsibilities helps the new starter fully comprehend what is to be expected from them. Set up a call to go through them and see if there’s anything they want to add giving them a degree of control. Then create a personal development plan to build momentum.

  • Organise virtual meet-and-greets. Ensure current employees reach out to new starters and schedule a face-to-face call with them. This will allow the new starter to understand the wider business and role of each team member as well as making them feel welcome. Spread these out over a few days so you don’t overwhelm the new starter with too much information or video calling.

  • Bridge distance through frequent connections. Instead of asking direct reports to get in touch as needed, proactively manage the frequency of connection. This way you have a finger on the pulse of your new team members and accommodate those who are sometimes hesitant to reach out and add more to their manager’s plate. Be sure to set aside time with your new starter to have catch-ups and updates via video call, it will help build a more personal relationship.

  • Provide stability through consistent weekly meetings. In these unprecedented times, consistent weekly meetings provide predictability and structure. Establishing an ‘All-hands in’ company meeting on a certain day of the week or a bi-weekly social fosters a sense of connection and fun.

  • Help build camaraderie between the new starter and team members. This drives equal participation in meetings. Newcomers need support and amplification. Encourage them to engage and contribute to team meetings without them feeling targeted. If they’ve mentioned something to you prior to the meeting, bring it up rather than asking for an opinion on the spot.

  • Give lots of feedback. Small and frequent performance guidance prevents major corrections down the road and allows everyone to stay in sync despite the distance. Expressing appreciation will also feed people’s need for recognition and providing timely corrective feedback will reduce errors. 

Q&A: The virtual onboarding experience

For this Q&A, we spoke to two new starters, one who recently joined a Big Four Audit team and the other an early stage Startup. They shared their different perspectives as well as some brilliant advice for those who are about to embark on the virtual onboarding experience. 

1) First of all, what’s your favourite aspect of working remotely?

Big Four: More sleep!

Startup: It's much easier to fit more hours of work into the day, so there's less of the initial commuting stress. It also helps that everyone else is online - if there was a divide between people working in the office and working from home, then there would be communication issues.

2) What did you find most difficult about joining remotely?

BF: I enjoy social interaction and I think it enables working relationships to prosper. I am not able to engage with colleagues on a friendly level. I also find that it is much harder to learn and develop the skills required within my industry remotely.

S: The lack of social interaction with work colleagues. It's getting easier and easier to join virtually from a work point of view, but what's lacking is the ability to converse casually with your colleagues, therefore gaining trust is difficult.

3) How do you avoid distraction / stay productive?

BF: I try to keep my phone out of sight. I also make a todo list at the beginning of each day and reflect on it just before I finish - this provides a sense of achievement. 

S: Getting out of the house before work is definitely important - even if it's just walking to the station and back as if you were commuting, it helps to mentally prepare for the day ahead! Especially when most people are sleeping and working in the same room!

4) Are you well equipped working from home?

BF: Yes - I have been provided with a monitor, mouse, keyboard etc.

S: Yes I am well equipped.  My company offers a '£100 make your office more comfortable' grant, so we all have the equipment we need. Wifi is of course always a problem, but everyone is understanding of these issues. 

5) Do you feel supported by your company?

BF: Yes - they have provided extensive support to facilitate a healthy and productive working from home environment. 

S: Very - mental health is spoken about frequently - we have weekly socials online so everyone knows what's going on in the wider company. The employees are praised for their work perhaps more frequently than in the office.

6) Is there anything you think your company could be doing to improve your WFH experience?

BF: Not really - it is just very hard to learn the required skills. I hope they remain sympathetic to our situation and understanding of the difficulties. 

S: It’s difficult to build relationships with the wider company without being in an office and contributing to random conversations, so a sort of group chat where people are constantly posting articles or just having general discussions would help.

7) Do you have any tips for someone about to start remotely?

BF: Ask lots of questions - don't be afraid to shout out for help. It can feel uncomfortable if you feel you're constantly nagging but better than just sitting around and/or getting it wrong. Ultimately, your team wants you to succeed and that might mean answering a few extra questions here and there.

S: Don't be concerned by the eerie silence in the first few weeks - it's just as hard for managers to integrate and onboard people into the team as it is for the new employees to join! Stay positive!

 

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