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A Guide to Virtual Onboarding for Remote Teams

Ready to take your virtual employee onboarding process to the next level? Read our in‑depth guide to learn the necessary information to do just that.

When the world experienced one of the most hazardous pandemics in 2020, remote teams and working from home became the way of life for many companies. With businesses forced to maintain social distancing in office spaces, virtual onboarding became the go-to for companies looking to hire new employees.

While remote work was something that businesses were practicing before the COVID-19 pandemic, the sudden need for employees to work remotely due to social distancing regulations meant companies had to re-think their onboarding methods. Moreover, with large and small businesses hiring remote workers today to cut operational costs, building and maintaining an effective onboarding process has become even more necessary.

A 2022 McKinsey & Company study revealed that 35% of employees in the U.S. can now work from home full-time, while 23% can do so part-time. This shows the importance of virtual employee onboarding and why any company looking to welcome new hires into their remote team should take it seriously. This guide will provide useful virtual onboarding ideas and tips to ensure your remote team functions efficiently.

What is virtual onboarding?

Virtual onboarding refers to the process of welcoming employees to your organization remotely instead of having them physically present in the office. It’s an online induction process that helps the new hire get acclimatized with the working culture of your organization and learn more about their role. The remote onboarding process includes the following:

  • Activities like introducing the team.
  • Providing access to resources.
  • Having virtual training sessions.
  • Setting up communication tools that help new employees learn more about the company and their position.

When conducting a virtual onboarding program, it's important to create a checklist of activities and tasks that you need to do. This will ensure you take all the necessary steps and don't miss anything. It should also align with your company’s mission and SMART goals.

Benefits of virtual onboarding

An effective virtual onboarding process benefits employers and can also be a great way for new hires to understand the company culture and their expected role. Here are some of the main benefits of virtual onboarding:

More flexibility

One of the most significant benefits of a virtual employee onboarding program is its flexibility. Unlike in-person onboarding, new hires don’t need to be present in the office to go through the onboarding process. This allows remote employees to attend from anywhere, giving them more options and freedom to choose when and how they should attend the sessions. For companies, this means they can have multiple new hires join their team without worrying about scheduling conflicts.

Increased efficiency and productivity

Efficiency and productivity is the key to any successful business. With virtual onboarding, employers can allow new hires to hit the ground running with little disruption to their daily operations. This means new hires can start contributing to the team immediately, saving time and resources. For instance, remote onboarding can help new hires get up to speed with the company’s tools and processes without spending long hours in one-on-one meetings or training sessions.

Boost employee retention

Your company's virtual onboarding process can greatly impact employee retention. The onboarding experience sets the tone for a new hire’s relationship with the company, and a positive onboarding experience can help create an immediate bond between them and the organization. With virtual onboarding, employers can create a personalized experience for each new hire, helping them feel comfortable and engaged with the company from day one. This can help boost engagement and morale, leading to higher retention rates.

Lower Costs

Unlike in-person onboarding, onboarding virtual employees doesn’t require new team members to bear the costs of travel, accommodation, and other expenses associated with in-person processes. The remote environment created by new technologies also allows new hires to access all the necessary resources and materials quickly, eliminating any time wasted setting up. Plus, virtual onboarding provides remote employees the same access to resources and materials as their on-site counterparts, meaning employers don’t need to incur additional costs.

Limitations of a remote onboarding process

While the virtual onboarding process is an efficient and cost-effective way to welcome new employees, it does come with a few limitations. Here are some of the potential downsides of this new hire onboarding model:

  • Conflicting time zones. If your new team members are distributed across different time zones, arranging virtual onboarding sessions that work for everyone can be challenging.
  • Difficulty building personal connections. Virtual onboarding sessions can lack the same warmth and attention that new hires get with an in-person onboarding experience. This can make it difficult for new hires to build personal connections with other team members, affecting employee engagement and morale.
  • Lack of engagement. New team members may feel disconnected from their colleagues and the organization due to a lack of face-to-face interaction. This can lead to decreased attention during onboarding sessions, resulting in new hires not retaining shared information.
  • Security threats. As is with any virtual environment, the virtual onboarding process is vulnerable to security threats. Unauthorized access or data breaches can leak sensitive information about your organization.

How to onboard remote employees

How you go about onboarding virtual employees can be the difference between a successful onboarding experience and one that falls flat. Here are some steps to help you create an effective onboarding plan for your remote team members:

Provide them with the basics before their start date

Also known as pre-boarding, this step includes providing new employees with the necessary equipment and resources for remote work, such as laptops, access to the company’s network, software licenses, and reading materials like your organization’s employee handbook and company newsletter. Ideally, you should do this before their start date, so they have time to set up and test that everything works properly. You can also set expectations of their roles and responsibilities by providing them with job descriptions.

Create a program for their first week

The first week is the most important part of the virtual onboarding process as it sets the tone for how they adapt to the company culture and their work. Therefore, you should create a program of activities to onboard new hires and ensure they smoothly transition into their role. This program should include crucial virtual meetings they must attend, a timeline of their training, and orientation sessions that teach them about their position.

Welcome them to the team

The key to making new hires feel like part of the team is introducing them to their colleagues. Consider setting up video meet-the-team sessions where new employees can meet their future colleagues and understand how to interact with the different personality types in the workplace. Another way to make them feel part of the team is by assigning an onboarding buddy for the new hire who can answer any questions and guide them through your company values and team dynamics. An onboarding buddy also serves as a great support system for the new hire and helps them feel comfortable in a remote work environment.

Check in and follow up regularly

A successful virtual onboarding process requires constant communication and feedback. During onboarding, check in with new employees regularly to understand how they adapt to their new job and the team. This could be in the form of regular video calls or emails, depending on what works best for your team members. Additionally, follow up on any training videos or resources shared with them, and don’t forget to provide positive reinforcement when they meet their goals.

Virtual onboarding best practices

You might have all the onboarding resources and materials ready, but your virtual onboarding will only succeed if you implement them correctly. Here are a few best practices you can follow to ensure an effective process:

  • Use technology to your advantage. Software solutions, like video conferencing tools, project management software, and team collaboration software, can make the onboarding process smoother and more effective by helping you build a personalized experience.
  • Send new hires a welcome package. A welcome package lets remote employees feel more connected to their new team. You could include items like a company mug, t-shirts, or notebooks with their name on them.
  • Ask for feedback. Regularly ask your new remote employees about the virtual onboarding process and how they adapt to their roles. This will help you identify potential issues and improve the process.

Deliver an effective virtual onboarding experience

Now that you know what virtual onboarding is and how it works, you can create an effective onboarding process for your remote team members. With the right onboarding plan and resources, you can help your new employees get up to speed with their roles quickly without compromising the quality of the onboarding experience.

At Mailchimp, we have various tools that can support your virtual employee onboarding process. From automated emails for welcoming new remote hires to workflow automation tools that streamline the onboarding process, Mailchimp has you covered. So get started today and ensure your remote team can confidently take on their roles.

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