16 Steps to Effective Virtual Onboarding (with Checklist and Sample Schedule)

September 2, 2020
 

New employees encounter a lot of information on their first day. Starting a new job during a global pandemic can add a whole new level of stress. Not only that, but many people are juggling work and childcare and some are navigating remote work for the very first time.
 

What’s the best way to welcome these new hires to your team — especially if you’ve transitioned to a remote workforce during COVID-19? Virtual employee onboarding through a computer screen can be just as effective as traditional onboarding done in an office. But if you’ve never onboarded employees in a remote setting, it can be a challenge to create an experience that’s engaging and informative, one that puts them at ease during this period of major uncertainty.
 

In this guide, you’ll find virtual onboarding tips to help you adapt and optimize your onboarding experience to make sure new hires get off to the right start:

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What is virtual employee onboarding?

The goal of virtual employee onboarding is the same as in-person onboarding. It helps your new hire get familiar with your company and its mission and values, makes them feel welcomed and included, facilitates connections with the team and provides them with the tools and training they need to start making an impact sooner.
 

The only difference is that virtual employee onboarding is accomplished through video conferences, webinars, pre-recorded videos, text resources, instant messenger and interactive online training that new hires can access through their desktop, laptop or mobile device.
 

According to a 2019 Indeed survey¹, 76% of people say they can usually tell within the first six months of starting a job whether they’ll stay with the company for a while. In jobs where people left within the first six months, almost 4 out of 10 said a more effective onboarding process could have helped them stay longer. That’s why getting your onboarding process right is so important.
 

¹ Source: Indeed survey, n=1,000
 

Related: Recruiting and Hiring When You’re Remote
 

Onboarding material for digital experiences

The average new hire has over 50 activities to complete during their onboarding period. Here are some ways to help your new remote employees check off their list of to-dos in an engaging, enjoyable and effective way:
 

  • Cover the right information. A successful onboarding process typically covers key company information (e.g., policies, values, mission, products/services), an overview of teams and departments, HR/admin tasks, software and role training, and where to find the resources they need to be successful (e.g., company wiki).
  • Tailor digital onboarding material for the most impact. Adjust your language for a digital format, add more detail and create content in different formats to avoid “Zoom fatigue” (e.g., PDFs, 1:1 training/screensharing, online training videos, IMs, phone calls).
  • Be as flexible as possible. With many people balancing the demands of work and home life, let new hires know that you understand what they’re going through. Consider allowing them to work through some onboarding materials at their own pace by offering text resources and videos they can browse through independently.
  • Train new hires at a slower-than-usual pace. Avoid putting unnecessary pressure on new employees by taking it slow rather than inundating them with large amounts of information all at once — especially during COVID-19. Spread out onboarding tasks over the course of a week or more to give your new hire the time they need to absorb important information.

Rehiring furloughed or laid off workers? You may want them to participate in certain parts of your onboarding process again. For example, certain states may require you to provide rehired employees with some of the new hire paperwork and notices they’ve received before.
 

How to virtually onboard employees

Without being able to meet in-person, it can be challenging to make your new employee feel like part of the team. Here’s how to build a personalized and engaging virtual onboarding experience that will prepare new hires for success.
 

1. Have them complete new hire paperwork

Consider using an e-signature tool so your new employee can view, edit and sign tax documents, various contracts or agreements and other new employee forms from the comfort of their own homes. The Department of Homeland Security also recently relaxed Form I-9 requirements for remote employees during COVID-19, making it easier for you to collect necessary paperwork remotely.
 

2. Create an agenda for the first week

What would you like your new hire to learn and do during their first week? Come up with a schedule for their first week, making sure to build in breaks between video calls and enough check-ins and touchpoints so they don’t feel ignored or overlooked.
 

Jump to Sample virtual onboarding schedule
 

3. Email them a welcome message

Include relevant information they need to know before their first day, such as when to expect equipment, the agenda for their first day and week, and links to join initial video conferences. You may also want to provide early access to your employee intranet for your new employee to explore prior to day one. Here’s how to write a new employee welcome email (with examples).
 

4. Deliver work equipment

Send new hires the tech equipment they need to be successful (e.g., laptop, mouse, keyboard, monitor, headset). If possible, download and install company-specific software and programs before sending any equipment to your new hire’s home address. Include initial IT setup instructions to help them get logged onto their computer and work email for the first time.
 

Related: Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Policies: Pros and Cons
 

5. Send a welcome kit

Make your new employee feel valued, appreciated and part of the team by mailing them a welcome packet that includes your employee handbook, benefits information and company swag (e.g., sweatpants, notebook, pen, popsocket). You can also offer unique welcome gifts like a voucher for coffee or lunch delivery on their first day.
 

6. Assign a welcome buddy

Working remotely can be isolating, so consider assigning your new hire a go-to person who can meet with them regularly to guide them through the first few weeks or months on the job. A welcome buddy can also introduce your new hire to the right people and share information, tips and advice to help them settle in and be productive sooner.
 

7. Add them to all relevant communication channels

Because asynchronous and real-time online communication are both essential for a remote work environment, make sure your new hire is added to all the right calendar invites, pre-scheduled meetings, email groups and messaging apps (e.g., Slack) so they don’t miss any important messages or updates.
 

8. Inform your current team of their arrival

Send a new employee announcement to inform your team of the new hire’s arrival. Make sure to CC the new employees so they can see any welcome messages or GIFs their new teammates send. You can also announce their arrival in a #general channel on Slack or during team meetings to give them a warm welcome.
 

9. Get them online as soon as possible

Give your new hires a “tour” of your virtual workspace. Schedule a virtual orientation with a member of your IT team to get your new hire set up with their technology and software (e.g., login credentials, VPN, project management applications). Make this the first meeting of the new hire’s day — especially since their only connection with your team will be through technology.
 

10. Meet the team (no handshakes required)

Traditionally, a new employee is introduced to their coworkers and new team members on their first day. To do this virtually, set up a video introduction with the new hire’s team or department. Have current employees go around and briefly explain what they do, including a fun fact about themselves.
 

Help your new employee get to know the team in a more casual setting by scheduling virtual team lunches for the first week. You can also set up brief one-on-ones or small group video chats between the new hire and their coworkers to help them understand how they’ll be working together.
 

11. Hold company orientation

What do you want new hires to know about your company, team and culture? Develop a new hire orientation course that covers the following key company information:
 

  • Company history
  • Why you do what you do
  • Organizational structure
  • Mission and values
  • Overview of the company’s products and/or services
  • HR policies and procedures
  • Details about benefits enrollment
  • How departments work together

Depending on the size of your company, you may want to loop in several people to help host company orientation, including HR staff, the hiring manager, the new hire’s welcome buddy, heads of different departments or other relevant team members. Onboarding several people at once? Consider holding a group new hire orientation to save time and let the new employees get to know each other.
 

12. Keep onboarding interactive

Studies show that interactive activities are six times more likely than videos or text to help people learn and retain information. Gamify your video onboarding sessions with polls, mini quizzes, intranet scavenger hunts, Zoom breakout rooms and ice breaker games to make onboarding information stick.
 

13. Go over role responsibilities and expectations

According to a 2019 Indeed survey², 44% of new hires who left within the first six months said receiving clear guidelines about what their responsibilities were could have helped them stay longer.
 

Set up virtual job shadowing or job training sessions to help new employees learn their new role, or to get a higher-level understanding of what other teams and departments do. Give them a specific number of tasks to complete over the days and weeks following their training, making sure to provide points of contact to set them up for success. Finally, work with them to create goals for their first 30, 60 and 90 days on the job.
 

² Source: Indeed survey, n=438
 

14. Schedule frequent new employee 1:1s with manager

Keep one-on-ones between the new hire and their manager more frequent at first until they’re ramped up and more comfortable with their responsibilities. Take the time to learn about the new hire’s working style, preferences and quirks. This is also a great time to provide quick feedback on their first few work tasks to make sure they’re on the right track.
 

15. Build in spontaneity

Spontaneous interactions between coworkers can help new hires build connections with their team and gain a better understanding of the company culture. In an office setting, random conversations usually happen when grabbing coffee, waiting for a conference room to clear or when passing by a coworker’s desk. In a remote environment, these spur-of-the-moment interactions have to be more intentional.
 

Find opportunities to spark conversations between your new hire and the rest of the team. If your company uses Slack, for example, you can use the Donut integration to pair your new hire with people across the company for virtual coffee meet-ups.
 

16. Collect virtual onboarding feedback

Make your new hires feel valued and heard beyond their first day and week. Send a survey to collect feedback about your virtual onboarding process. Cloud software company ServiceNow collects onboarding feedback from their new hires after one week and again after 45 days on the job.


Virtual onboarding checklist

 

Before their first day

  • Have them complete new hire paperwork
  • Create an agenda for the first week
  • Email them a welcome message
  • Deliver work equipment
  • Send a welcome kit
  • Assign a welcome buddy

Day one

  • Add new hire to all relevant communication channels
  • Inform current team of their arrival
  • Get them online as soon as possible
  • Meet the team
  • Hold company orientation

Week one (and beyond)

  • Keep onboarding interactive
  • Go over role responsibilities and expectations
  • Schedule frequent new employee 1:1s with manager
  • Build in spontaneity
  • Collect virtual onboarding feedback

Sample virtual onboarding schedule

 

Day one

9:00am – 10:00am: Get set up with IT
10:00am – 10:30am: 1:1 with manager
10:30am – 11:00am: Welcome Zoom call with the team
11:00am – 12:00pm: Meet & greet with welcome buddy
Break
12:30pm – 1:00pm: Short intro to the company
1:00pm – 2:00pm: Virtual lunch with the team
Break
2:30pm – 4:00pm: Company orientation
4:00pm – 4:30pm: Watch video training on company culture + values
Break
4:45pm – 5:00pm: Check in with welcome buddy for Q&A (Slack or Zoom)
 

Day two

9:00am – 10:00am: 1:1 with manager
Break
10:30am – 11:30am: Virtual job shadow
11:30am – 12:30pm: 1:1 with coworker
Break
1:00pm – 2:00pm: Virtual lunch with the team
Break
2:30pm – 3:30pm: Interactive onboarding activity
3:30pm – 4:00pm: Q&A with HR
4:00pm – 4:30pm: Independently read through onboarding materials
Break
4:45pm – 5:00pm: Check in with welcome buddy for Q&A (via Slack or Zoom)
 

Day three

9:00am – 10:00am: Virtual job shadow
Break
10:30am – 11:00am: Meeting with Marketing department
11:00am – 11:30am: 1:1 with coworker
Break
12:00pm – 1:00pm: Virtual lunch with the team
Break
1:30pm – 2:30pm: Goal-setting meeting with manager
2:30pm – 3:30pm: Independently read through onboarding materials
Break
4:00pm – 4:30pm: Check in with welcome buddy for Q&A (via Slack or Zoom)
 

Day four

9:00am – 11:00am: Start on first task/project
11:00am – 11:30am: Coffee break with random team member
11:30am – 12:00pm: 1:1 with head of email marketing
Break
12:30pm – 1:30pm: Virtual lunch with the marketing department
Break
2:00pm – 3:00pm: Continue with first task/project
3:00pm – 4:00pm: Independently read through onboarding materials
Break
4:30pm – 5:00pm: Check in with welcome buddy for Q&A (via Slack or Zoom)
 

Day five

9:00am – 10:00am: 1:1 with manager
10:00am – 10:30am: Coffee break with random team member
10:30am – 11:30am: Continue with first task/project
Break
12:00pm – 1:00pm: Virtual lunch with the team
Break
1:30pm – 2:30pm: 1:1 with team member
2:30pm – 3:00pm: Independently read through onboarding materials
3:00pm – 4:00pm: Continue with first task/project
Break
4:30pm – 5:00pm: Check in with welcome buddy for Q&A (via Slack or Zoom)


Successful virtual onboarding is more than just a one-day checklist — it can take several weeks or months. The good news is as long as you touch base regularly, communicate clear performance expectations, provide the right technology and encourage new hires to connect with their coworkers, you’ll be in a position to build a remote team that’s productive and happy.
 

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