Virtual Onboarding

How to Get Your New Hire on Board – Online

Their résumé sings. They cruise through your application process. And nail the final interview. But within a year, or less, your best candidate moves on.

Onboarding helps you to hold on to talented people – and get the best from them. But in the COVID-19 era, with the rise of remote working and global teams, you may have to do this online. In this article, we'll explain how to virtually onboard new employees successfully.

What Is Onboarding?

Onboarding is the process of helping a new employee to fit in with your organization. That includes welcoming them to the team and making them feel part of the company culture. It also covers getting them up to speed with tools they'll need to do their job.

It's tough to do all this in their first few weeks. So much so, staffing experts SHRM recommend onboarding new hires for at least one year.

See the transcript of this video here.

Why Is Onboarding Important?

If you think 12 months sounds too long, just look at the stats. In their book, "Onboarding," authors Christian Harpelund, Morten Højberg and Kasper Ulf Nielsen reveal that 25 percent of new hires leave in their first year, 22 percent go in the first 45 days, and four percent don't come back after day one!


The Mind Tools STEPS framework lets you track your employee's progress, gauge the effectiveness of your onboarding program, and make adjustments to help your employee, team and company to "gel." These guidelines all apply to virtual onboarding.

Good onboarding helps to plug this "brain drain." Further studies show that a strong onboarding program improves new hire retention by 82 percent. And they're not just hanging around, either. These new staff demonstrate better productivity and engagement levels.

The Challenges of Virtual Onboarding

In a survey of early job leavers, 17 percent said that "a friendly smile or helpful co-worker would have made all the difference," and may have persuaded them to stay.

This highlights one of the main challenges with virtual onboarding: it's harder to read body language over a video call. A thumbs-up emoji isn't quite the same as a smile. And you miss the "office vibe" and impromptu chats that allow co-workers to bond.

Engaging new hires may be harder online; but it's not impossible. Follow these five steps to increase the effectiveness of your virtual onboarding program:

Step One: Start Your Virtual Onboarding of New Hires Early

Also known as "pre-boarding," this is the time between your new hire accepting a job offer and their first day. It gives you a chance to reach out and ease any anxieties they may feel. Your pre-boarding activities could include:

  • Saying hello with an email that shows you're excited about their arrival. What's more, it's a handy way to inform a new hire when to log in for their first day, and to ask if they need anything before they join.
  • Setting them up with the video chat and messaging software that your team uses. You can also add them to the most relevant groups, so that they and their new colleagues can say "hey" before day one.
  • Emailing out a welcome pack. This could include a link to online resources such as training videos, useful webinars, product information or demos, and procedure documents.

Step Two: Virtual Onboarding Prep to Do Before Day One

You should liaise with your IT team to send out any hardware in advance of your new hire's first day, add any necessary subscriptions to the software they'll use, and create log-in details for them.

For tips to choose the right tech for your team, including communication, collaboration and online productivity tools, check out our Bite-Sized Training workbook, How to Set Up a Virtual Team.

You should also check in with your HR department or People Team. As part of your organization's induction plan, HR reps should have your new hire's job description and any policies they'll need for day one.


What's the difference between inductions and onboarding? According to HR Zone, inductions involve first-day tasks such as signing paperwork and learning about employee benefits. Onboarding is longer-term and focuses on helping new hires to become a part of the team, and to understand their role and the value they bring.

But the two may overlap. As part of an induction, for example, you may point people to your organization's mission statement online. During their onboarding, you can discuss with the new start how their work aligns with the company's values.

Step Three: Virtual Onboarding Tips for Week One

During your new hire's first week, you'll want them to feel welcomed, informed and connected. Here are some tips for doing that:

1. Manage Their Meetings

To avoid overwhelming them, keep their first virtual meetings to key people. Limit them to:

  • You (their line manager): to begin with, schedule meetings with your new employee every day or two. Try to keep these first catch-ups informal, and use them as an opportunity to check in and build rapport.
  • Their teammates: catch-ups with team members will help your new start to get to know everyone, learn about the tasks and objectives that each is responsible for, and begin to see how they fit into the big picture. An end-of-week group video call will also allow your new hire to socialize and start to feel part of the team.
  • The CEO or head of department: they can discuss the health of the business, its mission, values, and strategy. Got more than one new start? A group online session with the CEO may make everyone feel more comfortable asking questions.


For tips on how to run successful virtual meetings, check out our Bite-Sized Training workbook, How to Manage a Virtual Team.

2. Keep it Fun

Remember, a big part of onboarding is turning any anxiety into excitement about the role. You can inject some fun into proceedings with Virtual Ice Breakers.

Social activities such as online charity events and quizzes will also build trust, reduce loneliness, and improve communication between team members. These social connections are especially important right now, as more of us work from home and are isolated from office life.

3. Set Up Some Quick Wins

Impostor Syndrome is most likely to strike during a new hire's first few weeks. They may second guess their skills, feel threatened by confident colleagues, and worry that they're not the "right fit."

To overcome this, Ron Carucci, author of "Rising to Power," recommends assigning them tasks to complete at three, six, and nine-month intervals. Start with easy-to-hit targets, then gradually increase their responsibility levels. That way, you'll get them contributing straightaway, and build their trust and confidence.

Workload apps such as Asana, Basecamp and Trello help people to organize tasks – and give the satisfaction of ticking off To-Do lists. You can also leave praise and helpful feedback for them in the flow of work.

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Step Four: Virtual Onboarding Tips for the First Month – and Beyond

It's vital that you don't let a good start go to waste. So stay in regular contact with your new team member, as they expand their contacts and develop their capabilities. These three tips will help you to achieve that:

1. Schedule One-on-Ones

If you spot any skills gaps from the tasks you assigned your new employee, weekly one-on-ones are the place to discuss them. And you can highlight any Online Training or learning opportunities to plug them. These catch-ups will also help you to build rapport and engagement. At each meeting:

  • Ask how they're feeling, and don't just focus on work.
  • Give praise and show how they're contributing to the "big picture" of your organization.
  • Offer constructive feedback – highlighting areas to improve.
  • Set goals and objectives to hit for the following week.

Our Bite-Sized Training workbook, How to Manage a Virtual Team also has a template to assist you in setting and tracking the targets from your one-on-ones.

In a LinkedIn survey, 72 percent of respondents said that one-to-one time with their direct manager is the most important aspect of onboarding. Remember, these discussions are two-way. Encourage your employee to raise any challenges they face, and to be honest about how their expectations of the role match the reality.

Addressing these issues will allow you to better manage their probationary period. If it's you who is on probation, read our article, How to Pass Your Probationary Period for advice on how to get through it.

2. Help Them to Build Their Network

Beyond the first week, think about who your new hire should meet from across the business. And help them to get to know the stakeholders involved in their day-to-day activities.

If you work in a large organization, chances are you already lean on tech to connect with colleagues around the world. If you're part of a small to medium-sized enterprise, one way to keep a "door is always open" culture is to use direct messaging apps such as Teams or Slack. This allows new hires and internal customers to collaborate "in the moment" – and avoid the "Zoom fatigue" of constant video calls.

What's more, your new employee doesn't have to meet everyone at once. An online "org chart" will let them find and reach out to colleagues when they're ready.


Some messaging apps connect people at random for virtual coffee breaks. These allow people to share experiences and "click" in ways that they can't do on a group call. This "social capital" is key to building team camaraderie.

3. Assign a Virtual Buddy or Mentor

A virtual buddy from their team can be your new hire's go-to for help with any issues that crop up on the job. The buddy should live and breathe your organization's culture, be willing to help, and share the way they approach their work.

Crucially, they should also be curious about their colleague and invite their fresh thinking, perspectives, and experiences. That way, your new hires will add to your culture and not just conform with it. Co-workers can agree how to have these discussions virtually, from video calls to WhatsApp chats – whatever works for them.

Step Five: Keep Checking in With Your New Hire

You shouldn't wait a year to know if your virtual onboarding is effective. At regular intervals, check in with your employee to gauge their experience of the onboarding process.

With the right application, your virtual onboarding approach can be a highly effective tool for retaining, engaging and developing productive new team members.

Key Points

The time before a new hire starts with you is a great opportunity to reach out and assure them that they've made the right choice picking your company. So, give time and thought to the pre-boarding process.

Organize their first week with a mix of fun and informative activities, supporting them to settle into their team and manage their workloads.

Making regular online one-on-ones part of the onboarding process will let you track how well it's working. These meetings also allow you and your employee to change tack if necessary, helping them to stay engaged, happy and productive.

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Comments (2)
  • Over a month ago Sonia_H wrote
    Hello peterrobert,

    Great point. Thanks for sharing your view! Please let us know if you have any virtual onboarding or other topic questions.

    Mind Tools Coach
  • Over a month ago peterrobert wrote
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