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“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

In the world of human capital management, first impressions are especially relevant as new hires decide if they want to stick around during their first months. A great onboarding experience can drive long-term employee engagement and retention. However, 88 percent of employees believe that their company doesn’t do a great job when it comes to welcoming new employees.

The rise of remote and hybrid working models has exacerbated this issue, with many new hires feeling unsupported as they embark on the next step of their careers alone in their homes. In this context, rethinking virtual onboarding strategies has quickly become a top priority for HR teams globally.

While virtual onboarding is likely to lean heavily on the power of SaaS solutions, a dependence on technology doesn’t mean forgoing the human touch. In this post, we take a look at different strategies that organizations can implement to help humanize the virtual onboarding experience and set new hires up for success.

Let’s dive in.

Why the Social Element is Essential For Effective Virtual Onboarding

Onboarding is not about the company, it’s about new hires. So, providing them with a supportive network to show them the ropes, offer technical advice and provide career guidance is the core of a successful onboarding program.

Traditional onboarding is usually associated with administrative paperwork and corporate training rather than with the construction of social and professional relationships. However, as onboarding typically implies several meetings with HR, team members and managers, there is a certain degree of collateral networking that occurs as a consequence of the traditional model.

Yet, in a business environment where joining a new team virtually has become commonplace, many new hires face an extra level of complexity when it comes to socializing during their onboarding.
As such, the first priority for organizations looking to onboard remote employees should be to structure the experience to promote a sense of community. Not only is workplace loneliness a very real problem for new hires, but, according to Harvard Business Review, it is one of the main factors contributing to high levels of employee churn.

Organizations can look to improve new hire retention by creating an onboarding schedule that both encourages and enables relationships, even if they are purely digital. From video call coffee breaks to virtual check-ins, a “camera-on” attitude can help overcome the isolation often experienced by remote employees during their virtual onboarding.

Personalize the Virtual Onboarding Experience Prior to Day One

One of the most important goals of any virtual employee onboarding program is to help new hires settle into their roles as quickly, effectively and efficiently as possible.

An easy way to expedite this “settling” process is to actively engage new hires during the phase known as “pre-boarding.” This refers to the pivotal period of time between when a candidate accepts an employment offer and their first day of work.

Most organizations tend to classify pre-boarding as the completion of certain administrative tasks prior to the start of official employment. But in reality, it is a unique and often overlooked, opportunity for organizations to deliver personalized value in the time before a new hire’s first day.

Most new hires will likely be navigating the transition from the relative security of a current employer to the uncertainty of a new role within a new organization. With all of the social, professional and personal change that such a transition is likely to bring, deficient communication from your organization can exacerbate hesitation.

But beyond the basics of email subject line personalization, it is an opportunity to engage new hires in a way that recognizes their unique skill set, knowledge and talent.

With the right onboarding platform and tools, organizations can provide new hires with fully branded, relevant and targeted pre-boarding communications based on any number of parameters, including role type, seniority level and geographic location. These might include:

  • Welcome messages from their team members
  • A virtual office tour to familiarize them with their surroundings ahead of time
  • Local lunch spots or recommendations
  • Role-specific training that will set them up for success
  • Their agenda for the first week to start building excitement

When done right, personalized communications during pre-boarding lay the foundation for a long, prosperous and mutually beneficial remote employment.

Power Your Remote Employee Onboarding With Virtual Mentors

Over 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies provide various mentoring programs for their employees, aiming to enhance performance, increase retention, and improve overall organizational output.

A final high-touch strategy organizations could incorporate into their virtual onboarding processes is a formal mentorship program. Although it might be more traditionally associated with leadership development for existing employees, mentorship in talent management has long been renowned for its ability to positively impact employee engagement, retention and inclusion.

As organizations look to optimize their virtual onboarding processes, mentorship must evolve from the post-onboarding. This means it must go from a passive “self-serve” option that most companies currently employ after new hires have completed their first weeks to a formal program during pre-boarding and onboarding.

Virtual mentors help guide new hires through the stages of remote onboarding, easing the burden of other HR stakeholders while stimulating engagement.

From a social intelligence perspective, the warm welcome of a virtual mentor will go a long way in assuring new hires that, while geographically dispersed, they are not alone.

Beyond providing new hires with plenty of structure and resource materials, organizations might also want to consider assigning mentors and mentees in groups. Although this may depend on the number of new hires in any given onboarding cohort, it will provide an initial network, helping employees build social capital and connect with colleagues across departments.

To Conclude…

As unforeseen business challenges arise, so do countless opportunities for innovation and success. The shift to remote work and dispersed teams is no different. Those organizations willing to rethink their virtual onboarding practices – from personalization to mentorship – will be well-positioned for success.


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