The Stages of Virtual Onboarding: Dos and Don’ts of Hiring Remote Employees

Sue Gammons, Business Coach

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How can we make virtual onboarding run as smoothly and naturally as possible?

This past year, Covid-19 has sent most of the world into remote work. We are lucky to have the technology that allows us to work with limited exposure to people to maintain the safety of our employees. With this unprecedented situation undoubtedly comes many unforeseen struggles. Onboarding new employees, for example, is typically a process that requires face-to-face contact and presents a new type of challenges to hiring managers and recruiters.

We’re here to tell you that virtual onboarding is different, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating. Following this list of Dos and Don’ts will help you to help your new employees have a smooth transition into your company.

Virtual Onboarding Stage 1: Hiring

Do: If possible, have face-to-face in-person interviews.

Face-to-face conversations allow you to read body language, which is essential to gauge his or her attitude towards the job or certain tasks of the job. Non-verbal communication often tells us more about a person than their resume, and their words could tell us in a phone interview. It radiates the type of energy that the person will bring to the team. In-person interviews also allow for easy clarification for both parties. As opposed to pre-recorded video interviews where the candidate submits their recorded answers to the application site, questions or concerns can be answered immediately.

If face-to-face in-person interviews are not an option, a video call is the best option. Although you don’t get to meet the person physically, you can at least read their facial expressions, which builds deeper connections than a phone interview or pre-recorded video interview. This connection is the most critical factor in creating a successful remote work environment- that is why a face-to-face interview is the best method, if possible.

Do: Look for candidates who have qualities like collaborative, self-starter, independent, resourceful, and tech-savvy.

Finding out a candidate’s skills goes beyond looking at their resume. Behavioural interview questions allow candidates to explain their experience and skills for specific aptitudes. Apart from the skills critical to the actual job description, remote work requires employees to be independent,intrinsically motivated, and resourceful. Because they will not have a team member sitting next to them to quickly tap on the shoulder to answer a question or review a document, the candidate should be able to handle working alone and on a computer most of the time.

It is important that the candidate understands this from the start, and that they work effectively in this environment. The best way to find an employee with the desired set of skills is to get to know them as a person, understand their strengths and weaknesses, and find what they are looking for from the job.

The fact of the matter is that some people are more efficient at working alone, and some people do better work in teams, and as a manager, you must understand the type of person you are hiring to be able to look after their wellbeing.

Do: Be crystal clear about your expectations.

To continue off of the last point, this means that the job description and preliminary interview should tell the candidate exactly what they will be expected to do, the skills they are expected to have, and who they can go to if they have questions. This will help the candidate know if the job is something they actually feel confident doing, and it will help you as the manager to find someone who truly meets the mark.

It is also your responsibility to let the candidate know what they are expected to accomplish daily, weekly, or monthly. In the hiring stage of virtual onboarding, this mainly involves clarity in the job description and interviews. Clear expectations will elicit better productivity and focus.

Don’t: Skip the skills assessments.

Skills assessments are important for any job, but in a remote environment, they are even more important. As mentioned above, the candidate must have the skills required by the job and the ability to take initiative and work efficiently and independently. Evaluating skills through skills assessments may involve purchasing new tools that allow the assessment to take place online. There are many resources online that have skills assessments for remote workers, and the investment is worth it in the long run.

For some jobs, skills assessments might mean including talent “tryouts” in the virtual interview process for something like a customer service position, or a position which requires the candidate to be multilingual. For an art or heavy writing position, you might ask for a sample of work. The good thing about remote work is that most hard skills that would be required by the job can also be evaluated remotely. Soft skills are difficult to evaluate in general, but solid behavioural interview questions can give you a good sense of the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.

Skills assessments can save you the money and time of extra training by proving that your candidate has the talent required to excel in the job.

Virtual Onboarding Stage 2: Training 

Once you find the perfect candidate for the position, it is time to train them. Follow these tips to ensure your new employee finds their virtual onboarding process seamless.

Do: Invest in virtual training catered to the employee.

Training can be synchronous, asynchronous, or blended. Some things like company policies can be taught in videos asynchronously, but other things need a facilitator. The type of training depends on the job, so it is definitely not one-size-fits-all. Synchronous training will require the manager to take time to actually sit down and teach the employee what they need to know. This is often the most beneficial way for the employee to learn because managers can clarify expectations, employees can ask questions directly, and it builds a relationship between the employee and manager.

Furthermore, if the company does not already have access to conferencing platforms or a learning management system, look into these kinds of tools to facilitate the virtual onboarding process. They often come with tools such as polls, assessments, learning checks, and surveys which can be useful in tracking progress. Other applications like Slack or Microsoft Teams are great ways for the employee to keep in communication during the training process.

Don’t: Think you can rush through training because it is remote.

A remote worker will often need more time to learn their job and how to navigate the company than an employee who was hired in the office. It is important to take time to let them take everything in and avoid information overload. Since they will be using new platforms and company systems, let them become familiar with those systems first and reach out to internal contacts before diving headfirst into the job. Starting immediately with lofty goals can often be overwhelming.

By making sure these expectations are thoroughly taught and understood in training, the employee will have a better foundation and understand their role in the company. Training is also the time to build a foundation of a relationship between manager and employee: build trust through constant communication and support, whether that be on a video call or a direct message on the company’s platform. If you want to get the most out of your new employee, make sure that they feel confident in their training by investing time and energy (and sometimes money) into the process.

Don’t: Expect employees to watch company videos and be ready to work.

Virtual onboarding will probably require at least some element of company videos. But you can’t expect the employee to watch those videos and then successfully do their job. Kevin Eikenberry, CEO of the Remote Leadership Institute, advises new remote hires: “in a perfect world, in a conversation with your boss they’ll say here are the priorities and here’s the work. But you still may be sitting there on day eight with nothing more than a job description, when a job description isn’t the whole job. If you don’t know the priorities, boundaries, or benchmarks, if you don’t know what ‘good’ looks like, then you’ve got to ask.”

As managers, there are a few takeaways from this. First, make sure your employee feels comfortable to reach out to you by being empathetic and sensitive to his or her needs. Simply by asking them, “how can I be of assistance to you today?” shows that you are there to help them be successful.

Next, we must be clear with our expectations. Show them an example of good work versus bad work. Give them small goals to work towards in daily or weekly increments. Provide clarity on how their role fits in with the rest of the company.

Making sure that employees have the resources to be successful starts with being available to them as a mentor, and none of this can happen without intentional communication.

Virtual Onboarding Stage 3: Managing

Because training is more than watching a series of videos and taking a few learning checks, there may not be a distinct line between training and being on-the-job. Here are a few ways that managers can help this transition in virtual onboarding go smoothly for each employee.

Do: Track progress.

Progress should be measured in metrics that are determined by your organizational needs. For example, some positions might require the employee to take online courses, take a few baseline tests, and then measure progress based on those test results. Other positions may measure progress through client satisfaction or time required to complete the job.

Tracking progress requires a baseline measurement, and it is also encouraging for the employee to see their growth in the position. Find the right baseline success measurement for each role, and then give honest feedback. It is also a good idea to ask for their feedback on your performance so that you can tailor your management style to get the best out of each individual. This can be through an anonymous survey or a video call- whichever method elicits the most honest results. Feedback is necessary for management and employees to make adjustments and continue to grow, even while working remotely.

Do: Make a communication plan.

Managing a new hire in virtual onboarding will require constant communication to measure progress, answer questions, and do check-ins on how they are handling their new job. Each employee is different, so the communication plan with a new hire may not look the same as someone who has been with the company for a few years. Maybe your communication plan includes three individual video calls per week, and then one call per week with the whole team. Note that these calls don’t always have to be with the same person.

Whatever plan works for you is acceptable; the goal is to make sure the new hire doesn’t feel left out of the loop or left behind.

Because the new hire may not have had the chance to meet everyone in the office, it is important to create that sense of camaraderie. Create opportunities for the new hire to meet their team members and feel like they belong.

Another unique way to build a sense of belonging in the remote workplace is to give the new hire a peer mentor. This would be someone who has experience in the company but is not necessarily a supervisor. Think of it as a “buddy program.” This mentor would be able to answer questions informally and guide the new hire through the day-to-day parts of the job that aren’t related to the tasks they are performing.

For example, if you are just hired, it might be uncomfortable to ask your boss what to do if you need to miss work one day. A peer mentor could give guidance free of pressure and judgment.

Finally, Kim Kaupe, CEO of The Superfan Company suggests building community by getting everyone in the company, or everyone in the same department on the same call once per week even if it is only 15-20 minutes. Then, you can talk about your lives, what you have accomplished this week, or what your goals are for next week. For a new hire, this is very important because they need to know they belong and they are appreciated, not just by the manager, but by the company.

Communication in virtual onboarding and in the transition to remote work is a common struggle for many businesses. Luckily, there are experts who are trained to analyze the business and its needs and come up with an individualized plan. If your business finds communication to be a point of weakness, it might be useful to consider hiring a business coach to coach the team in order to strengthen communication between all aspects of the business.

Don’t: Assume that no questions = no concerns.

If you talk to your new employee and ask them, “do you have any questions?” they might answer “no”, even if they are still not confident in their role. Instead of asking if they have questions, ask how they are finding themselves in the role. Ask how you can be of service to them. Ask if they have had any particular challenges, or if there any tools that you can provide to make their job easier.

All of these things require intentional communication and involve building a relationship with the employee. Showing them that they are appreciated and that the work they do is meaningful is motivating, which helps to build performance and loyalty.

As more and more companies transition to remote work, we will need to provide the training and resources for our employees to succeed. Virtual onboarding is different, but it does not need to be more difficult. For more advice on how to hire, train, and manage remote employees, schedule a 15-minute call with one of our corporate coaches to learn how you can make virtual onboarding a seamless transition for your company.

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Sue Gammons Business Coach

Sue Gammons, Business Coach

I’m an Accredited Executive Coach with 10+ years’ experience of coaching business leaders to shift mindsets, unlock potential, enhance leadership capability and impact. Whether you’re are looking to e...

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The Stages of Virtual Onboarding: Dos and Don’ts of Hiring Remote Employees