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Virtual onboarding – How to do it right?

by Kartikay Kashyap

There are multiple challenges with virtual onboarding since there is no face-to-face interaction. 

An employee’s onboarding process, often overlooked, is actually one of the most important steps in their career. Onboarding plays a crucial role in retaining an employee, connecting with them, and fostering team bonds. In fact, early attrition is a major challenge for many organisations. The employee leaving the company within three months of joining can be averted if the employee is onboarded correctly. It is, however a much more difficult task to onboard a remote employee. 


The companies felt really challenged during the lockdown when they hired people remotely. Many organisations found that people who were hired during the lockdown left the firm within a year where they did not even meet their team members in person. Most likely, the employee was missing a connection.

Challenges with virtual onboarding process

Companies had no choice but to implement a virtual onboarding programme amid the lockdown. But as expected, there were challenges. Let’s see what they are – 

No face-to-face connect 

In a virtual onboarding process, there is no face-to-face interaction between the new hire and the other stakeholders who are part of the onboarding process. As it is often said, when you connect with someone over a call, the experience is good. When you connect on a video call, the experience is great. But, when we meet someone face-to-face, the experience is the best. Virtual onboarding lacks physical interaction which is a big challenge. The employer fails to create a real connection with the new hire. 

Demands a lot of screen time

There are certain roles which demand a lot of orientation and training before getting into the real job. Onboarding through zoom calls demands a lot of screen time. The employee may fail to match the real expectations on the first day of the job. Moreover, spending too much time on a screen is not possible for people and they lose interest. 

New hires may feel ‘unaccepted’

Lack of physical interaction with the team can result in creating doubts amongst the new hires. It would be difficult for them to create an emotional bond with the team and the manager. When there is no emotional bond even the team fails to understand and include the new hires part of the team. A work from home set up misses the element of a formal office set up which also plays a role in creating a professional bond amongst people. 

Tools and equipment required for work 

When you are working from the office, the delivery of the laptop and setting up of the email and all other software required for carrying out the role is delivered hand to hand. Moreover it is done on the first day itself. But in a work from home set up it is difficult to deliver all the equipment and tools fully ready for work. If the tools and equipment do not reach on time, the employee will not be able to start the work on the first day of his/her job. 

Understanding the work culture 

Like many say, culture exists when people exist. In a virtual onboarding process, the HR team will be able to explain the culture of the organisation to the new hires theoretically. However, people will not be able to experience it practically. This only happens when you visit the office and meet people in person. This will not align the new hire with the true values of the organisation and can result in an early exit. 

How to implement a smooth Virtual Onboarding Programme

Since the programme will be virtual, all the interactions and sessions will happen through virtual platforms that support virtual calls and video conferencing features. But still, as mentioned above, there are a lot of challenges with the same. As HR, we will have to create a virtual programme so meticulously that there is no room for any ambiguity or suspicion in the mind of the new hires. Just like how content creators keep their target audience in mind while they create content, the HR will have to keep the new hires in mind while the HRs are creating and lamentinging the virtual onboarding programme. 

Assign an informal mentor

When a new hire joins a team, he/she has a lot of questions and doubts. So they need a mentor or a buddy who they can reach out to anytime. It is better that the buddy is not their direct manager so that they can ask any question to them without any hesitation. This will allow the new hire to understand the team, the function and how things work in the organisation. Moreover, having a buddy or a mentor in the organisation can calm the nerves and anxiety of the new hire. 

Make a connection before the person joins

Making a connection with the new hire from the very first day is very important. Reckitt Benckiser, a global FMCG brand sends a welcome kit to the new employee at home before the start date. The welcome kit has a small welcome note and some company products. These small gestures help the organisation to create a better connection with the new hire. Such small gestures create a big impact and the employee also values it. This starts a new beginning with a strong foundation and a possibility of a longer relationship with the employer. 

Set up the technology in advance

The hardware, accessories and laptop should be sent to the employee way in advance from the start date. The tools and application required to carry out the role should be updated. This ensures that the employee can start work from day one without any technical challenges. If possible, experts also suggest that all the IT and technical training sessions should be finished before the person joins. This way he/she is fully aware of all the ethical practices of conducting video conferences and video conferencing tools. 

Establishing a relationship and team bond

When we are onboarding employees virtually, the most challenging part is establishing a bond between the new hires and other stakeholders. We have to accept the fact that face-to-face interaction would be very difficult for anyone. So, whatever the technology allows, we have to make full use of it. Organising formal and informal meetings virtually so that the employee can understand the rules and policies of the company through formal interactions. And also informal interactions with the team mates over lunch, coffee/tea breaks will allow the new hire to establish a virtual connection with the team.

Also, try to ensure that the new hire is also part of stakeholder get-togethers. That may not have much relevance to the person, but are helpful to create connections across the organisation. The HR can make a week-long calendar for the new hires and try to also give breaks in between so that they do not feel exhausted. 

Culture training

Since there is no physical connection, water cooler conversations and cafeteria coffee chats, it gets very difficult for the employee to practically experience the culture of the organisation. But HRs can do a little better to make this possible. Rather than using simple PPT presentations, we should make use of all the mediums and technology that we have at our disposal to explain the work culture.

Some companies use videos and animations to explain the history of the company. We should ensure that all information that the employee will require is part of the video or whatever content we are using. From explaining the soft part of the culture, to the company’s tone and level of formality, dress code, virtual etiquette on videoconferences, messaging norms, and working hours. The new hire should not have any queries at the end of all, that should be the end goal. Moreover, the buddy who can explain to the new hire how things work in the organisation. Also, in a virtual set up, it is easier to set up calls and virtual meetings with the buddy and other stakeholders.

Explaining the expectations

We do not want the new hire to feel confused about what he/she needs to do on the first day. It is better that we connect the new hires with their managers. This way they can convey the exact expectation from the new hire for the first three months. Also, it is better that the new hires also meet the leadership teams. They can better explain the vision, mission and goals of the company. This way, the new hires are aligned with the organisational goals of the company. 

Following the above steps can better ensure a smooth and successful onboarding process. But it is needless to say that we should keep learning from our processes and improve the same with time. There are still some companies who are working remotely and virtual onboarding continues to stay. Since the danger of COVID 19 has subsided over the past two years, companies can invite new hires to visit the office even during a virtual onboarding process. They can meet their team and other colleagues in person to make a better bond.