Article by Obelisk

Starting a new job can be stressful and overwhelming in the best of times, but doing so while working remotely in the midst of a pandemic, makes it all the more complicated. When I started my new position remotely, the prospect of not being able to go to the office and meet new colleagues in person was daunting. Luckily, just as remote employees can work online, new hires can also be onboarded online. ‘Onboarding’ refers to the practice of welcoming new employees to an organization and orienting them in their new positions.
Starting my new position remotely made me experience the importance of small moments of connection during the online onboarding process. Both through the absence of their natural occurrences when working online and through the presence of their occurrences thanks to active effort of my colleagues.

Heart warmed by a new colleague’s spontaneous proposal to schedule a coffee-call, I started delving in the literature about best practices for online onboarding. While there is no one-size fits all solution since all companies and employees are different, there are several general best practices that can get you a long way. To get you started, I selected five best practices to create positive online onboarding experiences for your new colleagues:

Best practice # 1: Start your onboarding process early to give new hires a head start

The preboarding phase is the period of time between new hires accepting a job offer and their first day at work. This phase is an opportunity to connect and build excitement by, for example, sending new hires a welcome message to let them know you are excited for them to join your team. If you want to go the extra mile, you can send new hires a personalized video in which you introduce their new team members. Starting a new job often involves meeting a lot of new people which can be very overwhelming. Hence, by introducing the team members in advance, the new hires will already recognize some familiar faces on their first day.

Best practice # 2: Make it snackable and tailored

Many companies still hold on to the traditional onboarding process which requires new employees to participate in hours (or even days) of training. This can be very time- and energy-consuming when done online. To avoid overloading new employees with more information than they can absorb at a time, it is important to tailor your onboarding program to the learning curve of your new employees.
An online-friendly alternative to long onboarding sessions is a tailored program that combines self-paced learning with several short plenary sessions. Giving new hires information ahead of online meetings, will allow you to shorten the live plenary sessions. Reducing the duration of the live plenary sessions to approximately 20 minutes will help participants to stay focused and avoid zoom-fatigue.
Additionally, supplementing these short live sessions with self-paced learning modules is especially useful if new hires have different backgrounds, expertise, and experience levels because it allows everyone to learn at their own pace within a given timeframe. To optimally tailor the onboarding program to the new hires’ individual needs you can create different tracks that compensate for their prior experiences or lack thereof.

Best practice # 3: Check-in regularly

Digital meetings often give you the feeling that everything needs to be efficient and to the point. Hence, all the small-talk that normally happens spontaneously in the office, is often lost when working remotely. Therefore, it is crucial to schedule moments to connect and check-up on your new colleagues. Checking in regularly allows you to check-up on how your colleagues are doing, exchange feedback, questions, and assess their progress. During the first week it is advisable to schedule daily check-in calls. Afterwards you can decrease the frequency of these check-in meetings to once every week, two weeks, or month until about 6 months after their first day of work.

Best practice # 4: Schedule one-on-one or small group meetings

Scheduling short but frequent virtual meet & greets will give new employees a chance to get to know their colleagues in a less intimidating way. Accessible and fun ways to schedule these meet & greets in is through coffee-calls, chatroulettes, and break-out rooms during larger meetings. Ideally, these meet & greets should take max 10 to 15 min, to avoid disrupting schedules too much and avoiding pressure to keep the conversations going. Such short meet & greets should lower the threshold to contact each other afterwards to ask questions or to get to know each other more closely.

Best practice # 5: Buddy up

Partnering up the incoming employees with an experienced colleague will help newcomers to simultaneously expand their social network and gain the knowledge and support they need. This buddy will be the designated go-to colleague to reach out to if the new employee gets stuck, is in need of advice, or wants a listening ear to talk to.

Hence, with a bit of good will, planning, regular check-ins, and scheduled meet & greets, your new colleagues will hopefully soon realize that even though they are physically alone in their home offices – they are in this together with their team members.