First impressions are everything: The new importance of virtual onboarding

Starting a job is stressful even under the best circumstances. Add to that a global pandemic and remote working – you’re looking at a pretty daunting cocktail for the new recruit! The first day sets the tone for an employee at your company. And while the onboarding process has realigned to virtual, it’s still no excuse for not putting your best foot forward.
According to Fast Company, staff who had the benefit of structured onboarding were nearly 60% more likely to remain with the same company after three years. How you usher an employee in will have an enormous impact on engagement, productivity and potential. So in the absence of physicality, a greater importance needs to be placed on onboarding to allow for inclusion. Of course it’ll take some time to work out the kinks, but that’s why we’re here to help.
Time well spent
We know learning crucial information over time rather than cramming it in over the span of a few days is preferable. It leads to a higher and more successful retention rate, so it makes sense to spread your virtual onboarding programme out. An Indeed study found that 44% of new hires who left within the first six months said that clear guidelines about what their responsibilities were could have helped them stay longer. So don’t rush! Send through important documents to peruse before their start date along with handy, easily digestible guides to alleviate first day jitters. Give them time to acclimate without too much stress of the unknown. Finally, try to break learning up into manageable short bursts to allow for flexibility. Working from home is a different beast, so keep this in mind.
Consistent communication
There’s no such thing as under-communicating when it comes to virtual onboarding. Without face-to-face interactions and sly watercooler conversations, it is IMPERATIVE that you stay in regular contact with your new hire. It can be a very isolating time so make sure they know they’re not alone. Add them to broader company chat groups, introduce them to the team with virtual catch-ups, message them, call them. Even assigning a virtual buddy would be advantageous. Someone who can act as a sounding board for figuring out all the little idiosyncrasies of a company. Essentially, you want to be supportive and open. As LinkedIn state: ‘What managers are expected to do hasn’t changed much. But the how has.’  
Technology is key
The immediate bridge between successful and unsuccessful virtual onboarding is technology. Without seamless access to the appropriate software and applications on the first day, it’s going to be a bit of a bumpy ride. Instead, ensure that a laptop (and other required tech) is shipped to the new hire’s house prior to start. Have it pre-loaded with all the necessary systems they will need, explaining sign-ins and other downloads. The easier and more straightforward this process is, the faster they will integrate. Even consider a test call before the official start date to iron out any bugs.
Keep up with culture
In a recent survey of 3000 U.S. professionals, it was discovered that 70% would leave a company over bad culture. Although a new hire may never see the inside of your office, keeping the inherent culture and values front and centre is so important. You can start by detailing what the ethos of the company is. Go through the goals and motivations and intertwine these into the whole orientation. But also remember, small things matter. Organise a company swag bag for the new employee and have them be an ambassador from day one! Distance will always be the difficulty though. So make sure they’re kept abreast of any social activities to foster a sense of belonging.
SHRM noted that enthusiasm for work peaks at the start of a new job but wanes by about 22% shortly thereafter. It has never been more imperative to make sure employees feel valued and connected while onboarding remotely. It may throw up a whole new set of issues, but by taking the time to streamline your onboarding plan for digital deployment, you can easily side-step them.