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In a hot job market and in the middle of the Great Resignation, employee onboarding is more critical than ever. Employers are eager to find employees, but employees are scarce these days. Once recruited and a job offer has been accepted the next steps in their interactions with you as a new employer are critical.

Onboarding is obviously one pivotal stage in the new employee experience. Handled well it can start employees off on the right track, acclimate them to the new organization and their new colleagues, and help support their decision to work with you. Not handled well and it can lead to turnover and, potentially, contribute to a poor employer brand reputation, says Melanie Lougee is head of employee workflow strategy with ServiceNow.

“In a remote work environment, where onboarding is often an employee’s first interaction with a brand, it’s more important than ever before to get it right,” she says. “Unfortunately, remote work has also exacerbated a lot of the friction that comes with the onboarding process.”

As Fast Company reports, according to a McKinsey study, “one of the top reasons people have resigned is they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work.” That sense of belonging can be nurtured through a successful onboarding experience.

Of course, in a work environment that is still often hybrid or remote, employers and their HR teams need to be adept at onboarding employees in a virtual environment. While the content and context of onboarding in both physical and virtual settings should be the same, there are some important distinctions, opportunities and, yes, barriers that need to be addressed.

The Problem With Virtual Employee Onboarding

Virtual onboarding is, in many cases, failing according to an article in Human Resource Executive. The article points to research from Gartner which indicates that employees who have been hired over the past year feel more disconnected than ever—“32% of employees hired in the past 12 months feel a sense of belonging to their organization.” Virtual onboarding, according to Human Resource Executive, needs a redesign to help boost employee satisfaction.

Sally Stetson, the principal and co-founder of Salveson Stetson Group, quoted in Human Resource Executive, says that: “the modern onboarding process should never be a single email or phone call but rather an engaging process designed specifically for digital consumption.”

Here we take a look at some best practices for creating connection during virtual employee onboarding.

At the Outset: Get the Tech Right

Technology plays a critical part in providing a satisfying and successful onboarding experience—yours and the new employee’s.

It’s important to ensure that employees have the right equipment and internet capabilities to help them participate in the virtual onboarding experience, says Maggie Laureano, vice president of human resources at Bureau Veritas North America. To ensure this, Laureano suggests shipping critical equipment and anything necessary for the new hire to begin work to their home and ensuring it’s available to them for their first day of work. “Connectivity in this environment is of utmost importance,” she stresses.

Companies also need to consider everything an employee will need to be able to work—and work effectively—from home.

Help New Employees Hit the Ground Running

In addition to ensuring employees have the right technology to connect virtually for the onboarding process, Laureano recommends that, prior to Day One, employees should be sent their Week One schedule which should include:

  • An agenda of virtual meetings with their manager, colleagues, team, HR, IT, etc.
  • Information about a virtual team meeting to welcome the new employee.
  • Information about a virtual new employee orientation to the company, followed by individual virtual meetings with HR/benefit staff to walk through benefit coverage and enrollment, and with an HR business partner to conduct department specific orientation.

Laureano also recommends assigning the employee a “buddy” who can help them navigate their way and answer questions they might be reluctant to ask their direct managers.

Making a big impact can make a big difference. Think beyond the typical “video conference” when approaching employee onboarding.

Go Big When They Go Home

The competencies required by leaders today, says Brackney, have changed. Emotional intelligence, he says, is more crucial than ever. “While business leaders without this skill could get by prior to the pandemic by relying solely on delivered results, it’s no longer possible in today’s environment,” Brackney says. “Effective leaders must have an innate sensibility to pick up on cues from people, a desire to do it and the ability to pivot when necessary.”

Lougee herself was one of the first to go through ServiceNow’s virtual onboarding program in April 2020 right in the midst of the pandemic. She recalls: “My laptop was at the headquarters for orientation but a colleague who lives nearby dropped it off on my doorstep. I left her a bag of toilet paper and face masks as ‘thank you!’ I was up and running, fully connected in under a day.  Of course, the very next class of new hires had their laptops delivered home because that step had been automated as well.”

Onboarding, Lougee stresses, should be a “cross-departmental responsibility” and not something that is just owned by the HR department. Virtual onboarding, she says, “requires communication and collaboration across IT, HR, facilities and more to ensure employees have the tools, technology, and information needed to be successful.” That’s especially true in a hybrid work environment, she says.

Like Laureano, Lougee also points to the practice of sending employees an “office in a box” as a great way to make a good first impression. They might also want to consider “using a ‘corporate Geek Squad’ to provide tech support for employees regardless of where they are working.”

In addition, Lougee says, organizations should think beyond just the first 30 days when onboarding a new employee. “Managers should create personalized plans for employees that take them beyond their first 30 days on the job, including training, resources, events, and mentors to set them up for long-term success,” she suggests.

Everything an organization does during the critical first days, weeks, and months of a new employee’s tenure can help boost engagement, loyalty, and longevity. Even little things can mean a lot as can special gestures to really drive home the company’s mission, vision, and values.

Special Touches Can Make a Big Impact

Bureau Veritas plants a tree on behalf of each new employee as part of their corporate  social responsibility program, says Laureano. “We give them a certificate and associate the growth of the tree with the development of their career at Bureau Veritas,” she says. That’s a great way to make a powerful impact while conveying in a very powerful way the company’s commitment to the environment.

Bureau Veritas also takes some additional steps to make sure new employees feel welcomed. They:

  • Send a handwritten welcome note to the employee’s home.
  • Send Bureau Veritas swag to the employee’s home (e.g., lanyard, polo shirt, water bottle).
  • Organize a virtual lunch or happy hour with the team to welcome the new employee.
    Organize virtual team events like Bingo, crazy hat, wear your favorite sports team jersey—or asking team members to share their baby pictures and having the team guess who they belong to.

“These virtual events break down barriers, and create camaraderie and fun amongst the team,” Laureano says.

Virtual onboarding isn’t likely to go away, even after pandemic fears have subsided. As so many companies, and their employees, have learned just how effective a remote or hybrid work model can be, many will continue to join organizations virtually. Thinking clearly and creatively about how to help remote employees feel connected can help organizations beat the odds that they become victims of the Great Resignation.

Download the eBook, Designing the Future of Work: The Guide to Digital Solutions for the Human Enterprise, to find out how technology can be used to create human connections at work.

eric hansen
Eric Hansen

Eric Hansen works as an Account Executive for Class. He is passionate about education technology and helping others learn. When not working, he loves spending time in the Utah mountains, mountain biking, fly fishing and camping with his family.

eric hansen
Eric Hansen

Eric Hansen works as an Account Executive for Class. He is passionate about education technology and helping others learn. When not working, he loves spending time in the Utah mountains, mountain biking, fly fishing and camping with his family.

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