6 July 2020

The Virtual Onboarding Process

How do you onboard new team members using remote working? Why is it so important? How can the process be adjusted to suit the new normal of online working? Milla Clynes, Head of Operations at Harvest, discusses it in this article.

Virtual Onboarding

One question that keeps coming up in our discussions with our clients is around remote onboarding. A lot of companies are still hiring, and people are starting new jobs during this remote working period, which poses a challenge for new hires, their managers and teams.

Why Onboarding Is Important

First, let’s agree on what we mean by onboarding. A lot of the time when we say onboarding, we really mean induction, or the activities in the first day or week of the new hire starting. Induction is usually a training session put together and delivered by HR with some inputs from the business, to help the new employee orientate around the business and any relevant policies. However, when we talk about onboarding, we are talking about the much broader process of integrating a new employee into the business and the team – this includes activities before the start date, as well as in the first week, month and anything up to 90 days after joining. It’s a collaborative effort between the employee, their line manager and team, HR and other stakeholders and is an ongoing process that is managed alongside the probationary process. Studies show that up to 1/3 of new hires quit a job within the first 6 months – a good strategic onboarding process can help reduce this number.

The society of HR Management in the Harvard Business Review (March 2020) identified five types of onboarding:

  1. Operational (the logistics, checklists of immediate requirements)
  2. Knowledge (information needed on the company/job/product/service)
  3. Performance (short term goals and milestones, setting expectations in line with the probationary process)
  4. Social (making the employee feel included, understood and welcomed as a person)
  5. Talent (identifying, acknowledging and making use of their prior experience and planning their future professional development)

When you look at those five types of onboarding – it begins to make sense that the onboarding process needs to change to take account of remote working to be successful.

From a new employee’s point of view, there are a number of things going on in their heads also during onboarding, HRD Connect (March 2020) identified these five common stressors of new employees:

  1. The desire to make a good first impression
  2. The pressure to make an instant impact in their role
  3. Financial considerations
  4. The search for psychological safety and equity
  5. Making a cultural connection and fitting in to the organisation

Add to this list all the other distractions they might be facing in the current remote working situation, kids and partners at home, looking after older relatives, bad internet connections, working with unfamiliar technology, and safety concerns for family and loved ones. Together this makes a challenging journey for anyone completing a virtual onboarding process.

The Virtual Onboarding Process

What can be done to make the process better? Consider the onboarding plan as a journey in three phases that starts pre-joining (once the employee accepts the job offer and hands in their notice in their previous role. It continues through the activities that you have planned for day one and week one and should continue for at least 1-3 months in line with the formal probationary process). Here are some suggested activities for each of these phases to make the process a success.

Pre-Joining Activities

  • Keep in contact with the new employee regularly through their notice period – introduce them to their new team ahead of joining, if possible
  • Get them online as soon as possible, give them access to self-managed resources, videos, articles, blogs etc. about the company story and any other useful resources that would help them get started in the new role
  • Get them excited about the company and team they will be joining

First Day and Week Activities:

  • Ensure hardware and technology is set up/shipped and ready for them on day one
  • Introduce the new employee to their team (if you haven’t already) and arrange for introductions to any stakeholders they will be working with
  • Give them access to a digital employee handbook
  • Add them to all relevant communication channels, mailing lists and meetings they need to be in – this is a huge bug bearer of new employees even under normal circumstances!
  • Pre-empt all their logistics questions and make sure they can get answers quickly
  • Consider assigning them a buddy that they can connect with throughout their onboarding
  • Arrange for as much 1:1 time as possible with their line manager in the first week – to ensure they get a good introduction to the role and the team

First 1-3 Months’ Activities:

Let’s use the five types of onboarding we discussed earlier to structure our 30/60/90-day onboarding plan:


  • Create a checklist of all requirements and encourage the new employee to keep track of everything
  • Give them a calendar of activities for the first week at least, so they know how the onboarding will begin


  • Give them information about the job, role, products, services etc. This should be delivered in bite-sized chunks and spread out over several days/weeks (rather than all in one go)
  • Consider how you can use self-managed resources here and blend them in with discussion and Q&A type sessions
  • Also consider who in the team or organisation has the answers and could interact directly with the new hire


  • Set short-term goals and focus the new employee on their role milestones in line with the probationary process
  • Make sure that the employee understands your expectations around when they should become productive – they could be putting undue pressure on themselves if this is not clarified


  • Find ways to make them feel included and understood – ask them questions and listen to them
  • Make them feel welcomed as a person – arrange a social gathering (virtually), such as a coffee break or lunch where they can interact with the team more informally
  • Don’t forget about stakeholders outside of the immediate team, make connections and facilitate building relationships with them also


  • Spend some time understanding their previous skills and experience and discussing how that can be used effectively in their new role
  • List and highlight skills they will need to develop to perform their role effectively
  • Discuss what their continued learning journey might look like and assign them onto relevant learning interventions accordingly.

If You Are the One Being Onboarded Remotely:

Here are some tips on how to make the onboarding process work for you, if you are the one onboarding remotely into a new job:

  • A lot of the onboarding process in the office happens through short, informal interactions in the corridor and coffee stations – try to find ways to mimic these interactions by scheduling 10-minute 1:1 chats with your team members and key stakeholders.
  • Figure out what mentoring support you will need – HBR recommends finding two types of mentors for your first few months: someone who can help you get things done (operations/processes etc.) and someone who can introduce you to the right people (connections)
  • Communicate to people that you are new and that you are looking for support – don’t be afraid of reminding people of the fact that you’re not quite there yet.
  • Keep a record of your achievements and how your onboarding is going – what’s working and not working for you, any obstacles you faced and highlight any unresolved issues with your line manager at your regular check-in meetings.

Onboarding virtually is definitely a challenge; it is difficult to convey the company culture in the way you could in the office. However, it is our reality for now, and if you want to hold onto new employees and ease their integration into the team, it’s not a time to cut back on onboarding but rather do more of it. Once the time comes to begin to blend face-to-face meetings into the process safely, the new employee can slot right in smoothly and seamlessly. A good virtual onboarding process will make a new employee feel understood and cared for. It will also reaffirm their confidence in having made the right move, and the company’s confidence in having made an excellent hiring choice.


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