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Virtual Onboarding: Insights from the Experts

Virtual onboarding provides an opportunity for companies to connect with and engage new remote hires. Discover key tips and considerations from business leaders.

The letter "J" for Justworks.
Justworks
Apr 19, 20217 minutes

With so many companies looking to establish a solid virtual onboarding program that leads to high levels of employee engagement, retention, and — of course — productivity, Justworks partnered with customer Cultivate Advisors to share tips and best practices via an Ask an Expert webinar. This session focused specifically on virtually onboarding and integrating new employees into the team.

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Together, Justworks’ HR Consulting Manager Moses Balian and Cultivate Advisors’ CEO Casey Clark covered virtual onboarding best practices and shared their perspectives on many of the tough questions submitted by participants. Discover how they answered some of the small business community’s questions on virtual onboarding here, then view the full webinar for additional insights.

Adapt Onboarding for Remote Workers

Adapting onboarding practices to meet the needs of remote workers is critical to employee employee engagement and productivity. Casey opened the webinar by sharing insights regarding some of the pain points companies experience with virtual onboarding:

  • Relationship building: So many company cultures are established by relationships that are formed. As new remote employees are coming on, navigating how to best build those relationships has become a challenge.

  • Peer-to-peer learning: So often, organizations transfer most skills or how-to information to new hires through peer-to-peer relationships, rather than formal training. With remote employees, this happens a bit differently.

  • Attrition considerations: Even in a pandemic, companies are finding that top performers are still able to move on and find other job opportunities. Once things open back up, if you don’t have relationships with those who stayed and haven’t gotten them excited for and bought-in to your culture, chances are that they’re going to look for another place to work.

Emphasize Relationships in Onboarding

To meet the needs of remote employees, it's crucial to focus onboarding on relationship building between new hires and their managers and peers. While not everyone may be excited to join another Zoom meeting, it's important to consider that everything is new to new hires. As Casey pointed out, “They really need that relationship time.”

To meet the needs of remote employees, it's crucial to focus onboarding on relationship building between new hires and their managers and peers.

Rely on Technology Solutions

Technology tools can really help simplify the administrative aspects of onboarding, while also providing engaging platforms for relationship building.

  • New hire set-up: Solutions like Justworks streamline the administrative aspects of the onboarding process, from initial set-up to payroll, benefits, electronic signature features, and even I-9 verification. Moses explained, “The entire process happens within Justworks on the employer login side. Employees fill out information, and the employer validates.”

  • DHS/remote I-9 solutions: Documents still need to be examined, consistent with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) technological solutions. In response to a participant’s question, Moses clarified, “At least through March 31, 2021, the DHS is allowing webcam viewing of I-9 documents. They have also extended who can serve as an authorized representative.”

  • Relationship-building platforms: Technology can also help new hires start to build relationships with peers and learn what they need to know to do their jobs. For example, Casey recommends speed networking and weekly virtual lunches with peers. From platforms like GlueUp and SpeedNetworking.com for speed networking to Donut for break-time roulette, there are many helpful remote team collaboration tools.

Management Involvement and Buy-In

The role of managers has to evolve in order to effectively onboard remote employees. Getting managers involved and bought-in requires designing a vision for what is needed for growth in a remote environment.

Moses mentioned that many companies are in the habit of working with 30/60/90-day plans for new hires and asked Casey to share his thoughts on that approach. “There is a place for 30/60/90-day plans with regard to the performance of a new employee," Casey replied. "But these plans solve a different problem than onboarding, which should emphasize belonging, inclusion, and making sure people feel welcome in your culture so you can retain them.”

Casey recommended that 30/60/90-day plans should be kept, but that managers consider calling them "partnering meetings" instead. After the initial onboarding phase, these meetings can be used to slow down and dig into what the employee really wants in terms of development track, skills, and growth plans. “There are things that are more important now, when new employees are just starting, and we need to move a little bit faster,” Casey said.

Onboarding a new team member is a lot of work, but it should be prioritized above many other manager tasks.

Here are a few additional tips for manager involvement during virtual onboarding:

  • Pulse checks: “Managers need to focus on pulse,” said Casey. “What is the pulse of that employee? What is the pulse they are experiencing in the organization? Prior to virtual onboarding, this was leveraged in meetings, in the conference room, or over lunch. That’s gone in the virtual space.”

  • Project management check-ins: It’s also important for managers to hold what Casey calls “check-in project management discussions or calls with employees to get a sense of how they are feeling and if they are getting the training they need.” How often? “Way more often than with the 30/60/90-day approach,” he said.

  • Daily checkpoints: Casey recommends encouraging leaders “to do daily checkpoints to kick off the day.” He explained, “This is the same thing as if you showed up in an office, said hello, shook hands, hung up your coat and asked ‘What are we doing today? What are we focused on?’ It’s amazing what that does for the emotion and psyche of that person, who now recognizes that they're not in this alone.”

One roadblock to getting managers effectively involved in the virtual onboarding process is that many managers feel like they’re too busy or don't have time. Casey recommended having a conversation with managers around productivity and prioritization. Onboarding a new team member is a lot of work, but it should be prioritized above many other manager tasks.

“Slow down and teach the skill of communicating why this is important and why this is happening. Help them get in the shoes of other people," Casey said. "That will help make the emotional connection that current employees need in order to really understand what new employees are experiencing."

Morale & Motivation in the Virtual Workplace

The virtual workplace is definitely different than the in-person work environment, and the same is true of the virtual onboarding process. Casey suggested being outcome-driven regarding skills and tasks, and using a graduated learning model to give people more time to acclimate.

Figure out how to accommodate different learning styles into your virtual new hire training.

"Remember that it takes longer to retain information in a remote environment," he said. "You don’t just host a training and then everyone is perfect right away. Let them spend more time shadowing and in active experimentation.”

Another pro tip? Figure out how to accommodate different learning styles into your virtual new hire training. This could include allowing time for active experimentation and shadowing, as well as role playing, a video element, discussion of tasks, and informal peer-to-peer learning. Getting current employees involved in helping to train new people not only benefits the new hire, but it also helps develop existing employees to learn by teaching.

For more advice and information on virtual onboarding, explore our breakdown of virtual onboarding best practices. Or, for a quick overview, download the virtual onboarding checklist.

And for more help navigating the unique challenges of remote work, take a look at other topics in the Justworks webinar series. Check the schedule for upcoming live events and catch up on past sessions.


Casey Clark, CEO of Cultivate Advisors, is a passionate entrepreneur who got his start owning a home service franchise. After nearly a decade, he successfully exited his role with 90+ franchise owners and over 600+ employees. Casey went on to create Cultivate Advisors with his business partner. The mission of Cultivate Advisors is to partner with committed entrepreneurs in propelling their business beyond expectations.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.