12 Steps to Perfect Your Virtual Onboarding Process

By Ivan S. Orellana, People & Culture Manager

To celebrate North Street’s 12th anniversary, we’re doing a dozen blog posts all around the number 12!

The past few years have seen numerous changes to how we work, including many organizations transitioning to a virtual onboarding process.

The good news is that bringing people on board and into your organization without ever seeing them in person isn’t as daunting – or impossible — as it sounds. Successful remote onboarding requires a comprehensive and well-built approach; you must cover a lot of ground, mixing the formal and informal at a realistic cadence.

We’ve curated a list of the 12 most important steps for virtual onboarding to make the process engaging, straightforward, stress-free, and successful!

1. Start Your Onboarding Process Early.

Onboarding new hires starts when the employee accepts their offer and continues until they fully adjust to their role and team. Schedule an onboarding call to take place before their first day. This is crucial; it’s too late if you wait to start the process until their first day.

Use the video call to establish expectations with the new employee and make them feel comfortable before their arrival. We always start by going over North Street’s mission and values. These are the guiding principles we use at our organization when making decisions, including hiring, rewarding, and coaching.

2. Gather Information.

Plan any special requests or accommodations they might need. Though you will have an agenda, make sure to leave room in the conversation for the new hire to talk about themselves, their hobbies, family, interests, etc. (Tip: you should be already doing this during the interview process, so the topics feel more natural). We also do this to get ideas for personalized items to include in their welcome package. 

3. Send a Welcome Package.

Once you have their confirmed start date, make sure to mail everything they’ll need to get started a few days in advance so they can set up their workspace and don’t have to spend their first week just signing into the 100 platforms your business runs on.

While the package itself will be customized to your organization, it is a universal way of making new hires feel welcomed and supported. At North Street, we send the following items to new hires:

  • Equipment, including a laptop, monitor, and wireless keyboard 
  • North Street branded gear, including a t-shirt, hat, and tote bag
  • Note from North Street CEO Tom Conlon (for a special touch, we suggest using handwrytten)
  • A copy of What the Heck is EOS?
  • Personalized candy and snack items
  • Bonus items based on their interests 

“In addition to some sweet North Street swag and my fave snacks, Ivan had included a candle from a local WOC-owned company in my Welcome Package. This small touch, perfectly aligned with my passions, made me feel like they were genuinely invested in me – instead of being just another ‘new hire’ box checked.” – Alex Schwall, Marketing Coordinator (and fragrance enthusiast)

4. Schedule Out Onboarding Tasks.

Before your new hire’s first day, schedule their onboarding in your project management tool. At NS, we use Asana and have created a dedicated Onboarding project template, broken down into four sections: Admin, Reading, Meetings, and Culture. In addition to the general template, check with their manager to see if you need to add any onboarding tasks specific to their role.  While this may be some legwork to set up, you can easily replicate it once in place. 

There are numerous benefits to this system. It sets clear expectations. It can be used as a central place of information and help guide them as they navigate through their first week, month, and 90 days. Giving them ownership of the board makes them feel more in control of the onboarding process. We always encourage them to add new items to the board. These additions also provide me with feedback on what may need to be added or improved upon in the future. 

“There was a clear checklist of what needed to be done and when it was due. That was AMAZING! I’ve worked so many jobs where it’s a waterfall of information with no real idea of when to do it or how. Having the checklist gave me explicitly defined expectations for onboarding.” – London Biedron, Client Development Specialist

5. Emphasize Team Culture.

Make your new remote employees feel like they are part of the team from day one. We set up a Kudoboard and everyone on the team writes a note welcoming the new person. 

On the initial onboarding call, we let them know that their first week will be a celebration, kicked off with a team lunch on the first day.  The new hire chooses the cuisine, and everyone orders delivery (our treat).  It’s a good opportunity to get to know each other; we keep it fun by playing 2 Truths & a Lie. 

We end the week with a virtual Team Social Hour, where they present a vision board to the group. We give team members prompts (e.g., Place You’d Most Like to Visit) and ask them to source images for ten. It’s a great icebreaker and introduces a new hire to their team. 

6. Build 1:1 Relationships.

Your new hire may not have met their teammates in person, but that doesn’t mean they can’t interact with them online and start building relationships. At North Street, we schedule mini 1:1s for the new hire with each team member. This is an opportunity for them to get to know each other and how their roles will interact – establishing a foundation for strong relationships across the organization.

Keep these to 10-15 minutes maximum; this time won’t disrupt too much of the workday, and new employees won’t feel pressure to “be on” for a long time.

7. Schedule Important and Recurring Meetings.

In addition to the 1:1s, they will also need to be invited to recurring meetings, e.g., monthly all-teams. You may also want the new hire to sit in on important meetings or shadow another staff member. Work with their manager to set these up and include any other HR meetings, trainings, or onboarding meetings they’ll need to participate in.

“Ivan made sure I was a part of every type of meeting in the beginning, which helped give me a lay of the land. It felt like everything was very transparent, which had the added bonus of making me feel welcome.” – Matt Potter, Senior Designer

8. Train Them on How Work Gets Done.

New hires will need to be trained on all your systems; this includes collaboration tools and any specialized software, e.g., project management and time tracking tools. Collaboration tools are vital to the success of remote workers. These tools enable teams to communicate, share files and project plans, schedule meetings, and more. Every organization uses these tools differently, so explicitly explain the company culture and how work gets done. For example, I train new hires on when to use Slack vs. email vs. Asana, depending on the content and urgency of the message. 

9. Check In Regularly.

Be sure to check in throughout the onboarding process to make sure things run smoothly.  For our team, I serve as their guide to North Street, scheduling a check-in for the end of their first week and making sure to be available during the first month. 

Especially on larger teams, assign an onboarding buddy. Any new employee will have endless questions, and the last thing you want is them to feel uncertain about who to ask. It can be extra tricky remotely because the new hire won’t have colleagues around to ask questions as they come up spontaneously.

10. Set Clear Expectations.

A new hire should know what success looks like for the first 90 days and beyond. Having a clear set of responsibilities and outcomes can be critical to helping a new employee prioritize and sequence work and accomplish some quick wins that create a strong foundation and momentum for the individual’s future success. 

At North Street, we schedule 30 and 90-day check-ins for the new hire. During the initial meeting, the employee sets their Rocks (our benchmarks for review and evaluation). Meeting with employees after 90 days allows you to connect at a time when the employee is fully involved in the day-to-day tasks of their position. 

11. Connect with Marketing.

With the increasingly virtual nature of the professional working world, new employees are also a brandable moment you can capitalize on (with their consent). At North Street, this process begins with professional headshots. Visually consistent headshots go a long way toward reinforcing professionalism. Shoot them in the same style, framed the same way, with the subjects posed similarly. Use a neutral, identical, or similar background. Here are some more tips for optimizing your firm headshots

Our Communications team interviews the new hire and crafts a Team Spotlight blog post, which we share on our various social media channels. This process serves three purposes: standardizing our brand across culture pages, letting us learn more about the new hire, and making them feel celebrated.

12. Gather Feedback and Adjust.

Feedback is critical during the entire process; take note and encourage new hires to give you constructive feedback. Of course, it’s great to hear all the cool things employees experienced during their hiring process (celebrate those small wins), but more importantly, the process builds trust and keeps employees engaged with their work and your company. 

It also provides insight as to what aspects may need to be improved upon before onboarding the next new hire.

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