“Hello, It’s Nice To e- Meet You”: Onboarding Strategies for a Virtual World

On the morning that Priya was to join the company of her dreams, she received a pleasant surprise in the form of breakfast, coffee, and a welcome package. All from her new employer. In addition to making Priya feel welcome on her first day in her virtual office, the thoughtful gesture cemented Priya’s relationship with her new team as they started the day with a virtual chat over coffee to get to know her better. 

Today, the way we work, interact, and socialize in the workplace has changed, perhaps forever. With hybrid and remote workplaces being the new normal, companies are experimenting with hiring and onboarding new employees virtually. 

First impressions are a big deal, and a great onboarding experience is key when it comes to employee engagement and retention. It sets the tone for their expectations during their tenure and gives them a peek into the company culture. Recent research by Glassdoor shows that a strong onboarding program can improve employee retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%.

While it may seem so to someone on the outside, onboarding is not just paperwork and forms. A great onboarding program determines how an employee will engage with the company from there on—it will inform, educate, and equip new hires with skills and resources to succeed within the organization. With virtual onboarding now the norm, it is time to reinvent the onboarding process. 

Strategies to create an impactful virtual onboarding program 

HRs worldwide will attest to the fact that onboarding new employees is hard enough even when everyone is working out of the same space. So, it is no surprise that employers today find themselves at sea when onboarding employees virtually. Here are a few strategies to help make your virtual onboarding program delightful, yielding results. 

Extend a warm welcome

Just because you can’t physically usher in the new recruit into the office does not mean you can’t make them feel welcome. To get them excited for the first day, send across a welcome kit that takes care of basic tech and other requirements or a gift. We also suggest you drop them an email a couple of days before with procedure documents or training videos and also ask if they need anything else to get started.

Before introducing them to the entire team, set up a one-on-one video call that explains the organization’s structure, role, and company culture. Without a colleague physically around to bounce random questions off, the first couple of days or weeks can sometimes be intimidating for new hires. So, make it a point to check in frequently and consistently. Throw in a company-sponsored breakfast or a gift for extra brownie points.

Spend more time 

The first day can often be overwhelming considering the information overload, so it is vital to ensure that the onboarding program is spread across weeks and not just the first couple of days. Often companies wrap up the onboarding in the first week itself. However, a week is hardly enough time for a recruit to comfortably adjust to a new role, culture, and company.

The first couple of months are extremely crucial in the onboarding process. Lack of direction, feelings of isolation or disassociation, and unclear expectations are some of the most common problems that new recruits face daily. If these issues are allowed to fester, the hire will likely jump ship or remain aloof during their entire tenure at the company. And we don’t want that. So, one of the ways to ensure a positive experience for the new hire is to give them enough time and resources to feel acclimated and motivated to perform.

Involve the team

According to the research by Glassdoor, 72% of companies were able to correlate team dynamics with improved productivity, and 68% of companies found that team dynamics positively impacted engagement. 

Since the new recruit will not be meeting their colleagues in person, it becomes crucial to focus on team-building activities that can help the employee feel connected and more at ease with their co-workers. To address this and to create a sense of camaraderie, set up fun, virtual Q&A and interactive game sessions where your employees can get to know each other better.  It would also be a good idea to ask the other team members to reach out to their new co-workers to check in on how they are settling in and if they need any help or information. 

Having the new recruit share screen or facetime with founders and senior leadership will have a profound effect. Hearing about the company’s vision directly from the people who make the decisions, will set the right tone and will help the employee imbibe the vision and culture faster. It is also crucial that those on the panel that interviewed the candidate are also part of the onboarding team. It helps to carry forward discussions that may have begun during the interview process and it will help for the employee to see familiar faces again.   


Additionally, assigning a virtual buddy or mentor to the new team member can go a long way in making a new hire feel supported and connected. You can also take things up a notch like Buffer; Instead of one, Buffer has a three-buddy system where they assign a leader, a role, and a culture buddy to all their new recruits.

Focus on the company’s culture

When onboarding virtually, explaining and exhibiting the company’s culture can be tricky but not impossible. Start from day one; host a virtual team lunch where all employees can call for their favourite foods at the company’s expense and get to know each other over the meal. In addition, it is a good idea to host virtual game rooms and happy hours where employees can break the ice and interact with their co-workers informally.

If checking in daily with the new hire seems like overkill, set up online polls or quizzes that they can take to let you know how they are doing.

Working in isolation can be a bummer for a newcomer (rhymes perfectly, don’t you think?). So, use technology and digital tools that enable employees to work better together and help foster collaboration and communication.

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Add a personal touch

A thoughtful gesture can go a long way! Employees usually look forward to celebrating birthdays with the team; so, make it a point to send across a cake and ensure everyone participates in the event virtually.

To address your employees’ mental and physical health, send across memberships to yoga, meditation, or fitness classes. In addition, schedule a monthly check-in with a nutritionist, medical practitioner, or counsellor to ensure they stay on top of their health.

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The fact is that onboarding begins during the hiring process itself. Each interaction and interview plays a part in shaping first impressions. This is particularly true of the offer negotiation process. If a candidate feels that the offer is not fair but still chooses to accept the job, it sets a tone for how the employee will engage with the company in the future. Even if the relationship has begun on the wrong foot, these strategies, while not exhaustive, will help you foster an environment that is conducive to cooperation and teamwork with new recruits. Enforcing your company culture across borders or great distances—one that breeds trust, accountability, and transparency—is not an easy task. Every employee touchpoint must reinforce it, starting with the hiring process and particularly through the onboarding process. Remember, happy employees, make happy customers.

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In her free time Vani loves storytelling and helping talent meet their aspirations. She has been a part of enterprise, growth stage startups & VC firms. She is driven to make stories and startups matter.

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