Tips & Resources

10 Virtual Onboarding Best Practices for Hybrid and Remote Teams

Chloe Brittain
By Chloe Brittain
03 May, 2024

Learn best practices for onboarding remote teams, from troubleshooting technical issues and automating meeting scheduling to making team members feel included.

virtual onboarding of a remote employee

An effective virtual onboarding program has much the same goals and outcomes as a traditional onboarding program – increased employee engagement and retention, reduced turnover, greater productivity, and better job satisfaction.

Case in point: A study by Harvard Business Review found that a structured onboarding process can boost employee retention by 50%. And if that isn’t reason enough to take a closer look at your onboarding processes, the same study found that these same employees were 62% more productive at work.

At the same time, remote and hybrid work environments face unique challenges when it comes to employee onboarding – not least of which is fostering a sense of connection and belonging among remote team members. In the absence of simple organic interactions around the water cooler, remote workers can feel a sense of isolation compared to their onsite counterparts.

In this post, we look at 10 virtual onboarding best practices for effectively integrating new hires into your remote team.

What is virtual onboarding?

Virtual onboarding is the process of integrating new employees into a company remotely. With the help of modern technology like video conferencing and collaboration tools, many aspects of in-person orientations can be simulated in a remote work environment.

There are many tools available to help HR departments automate parts of the remote onboarding process. These include online calendar tools, HR management systems, and electronic signature software.

10 virtual onboarding best practices

1. Create an onboarding checklist and timeline

stock image of some documents and a computer
Free-to-use image sourced from Pexels

Each team or department should have its own process and checklist for remote onboarding. This document should cover pre-onboarding preparations, activities for the start date and initial weeks, and ongoing employee development for the months following the onboarding process. 

Here’s a very basic example of a virtual onboarding timeline:
Pre-onboarding (1-2 weeks before start date):

  • Send remote hires a digital welcome packet including an onboarding agenda, employee handbooks, etc.
  • Complete necessary onboarding forms, following data security best practices for digital employee documentation.
  • Schedule regular check-in meetings with the remote employee to answer any questions and track their onboarding progress.
  • Set up any required hardware and software equipment and access credentials. 

Start date and first week:

  • Conduct a virtual orientation, introducing remote hires to the company culture, mission, and values.
  • Conduct team meet-and-greets and one-on-ones with managers and mentors.
  • Train new hires on operational processes, products, and tools, such as project management software.
  • Continue with regular check-in meetings and provide ongoing support. 

Ongoing (12-month timeline):

  • Coordinate ongoing remote training and development.
  • Promote a sense of belonging through team-building activities.

2. Make new hires feel welcomed and included

woman smiling
Free-to-use image sourced from Pexels

Mailing physical gifts to new hires can be a great way to bridge the virtual gap and make a remote position feel more tangible.

Company swag ranges from the genuinely useful and fun to receive, to the forgettable and barely ever used – think stickers, cheap plastic gadgets, and pens that stop working after a single use! 

Take the time to curate a thoughtful welcome packet of items that are practical and won’t add to the clutter in an employee’s home office. A few ideas: 

  • High-quality notebooks and pens
  • Insulated water bottles or coffee cups
  • Modern, high-quality tech accessories like earbuds, USB drives, or wireless chargers 
  • Eco-friendly tote bags
  • Soft, well-fitted T-shirts or hoodies with subtle branding
  • Gourmet or healthy snack boxes 

Another way to welcome a remote employee to their new job is to add their headshot to the team page on your organization’s website. Nowadays, many remote and hybrid companies are adopting AI tools to generate team headshots that look professional and have consistent branding. You can also have team members write their own bios, encouraging them to add personal touches like hobbies or pets.  

Finally, demonstrate your commitment to an inclusive remote work environment by proactively offering assistive technologies and accommodations for employees with disabilities. For instance, some remote employees may require screen reading software or flexible scheduling to perform their jobs effectively and comfortably.

3. Proactively troubleshoot technical issues

Technical issues can be cause for a lot of unnecessary stress in the workplace – particularly when it’s an employee’s first day on the job.  

Prepare in advance any access credentials and equipment – for instance, laptops, company email addresses, project management software, Slack accounts, and virtual meeting links.

If IT needs remote access to a new employee’s desktop, give ample notice and address any privacy or security concerns well in advance. 

On the other hand, if new hires are expected to set up required hardware and software themselves, have a tech support member on standby to answer questions and resolve technical problems quickly.

Don’t forget to clarify your company’s standard procedure for virtual conferencing – i.e., whether employees are typically expected to mute their mics or appear on camera. This gives them time to troubleshoot any audio issues beforehand, avoiding awkward delays during their first remote meetings.

4. Establish open communication

virtual business meeting
Free-to-use image sourced from Pexels

Team leads should meet with remote hires early on to discuss key responsibilities, goals, or deliverables that are expected of the new employee and where their contributions fit within the team context. 

For the first couple of weeks, consider getting on a call with remote hires to address their questions instead of answering by email. In case of conflicting time zones, consider using a video messaging app for asynchronous communication with a personal touch. 

Provide remote employees with a written escalation protocol so they know who to contact for specific types of issues, and where to direct their questions next if further assistance is needed. This document should include contact information for key team members, including their name, job title, department, preferred modes of contact (e.g., email, Slack or text message, phone call), and time zone, if applicable.

5. Automate meeting scheduling

With multiple stakeholders involved in the onboarding process, pulling off all these meetings without a hitch can be a challenge. Scheduling conflicts, booking changes, and cancellations are bound to arise. 

TIMIFY’s recruitment scheduling software can help you streamline the process by automating the following tasks: 

  • Scheduling virtual and in-person events, including individual and group meetings
  • Syncing calendar availability among team members (Microsoft 365, Google, and Outlook)
  • Sending meeting confirmations and reminders and receiving notifications about booking changes
  • Sending feedback requests after a virtual event

6. Use the buddy system

Top companies like Google, Salesforce, and HubSpot use the “buddy” system in their onboarding programs to help new employees adjust to the company culture. This involves pairing them up with a colleague, ideally in the same time zone, who can be available to answer questions and offer friendly guidance in the employees’ first few weeks.  

The buddy system has a few important advantages: 

  • Reduces feelings of isolation
  • Helps new hires acclimatize to team dynamics and company culture
  • Offers a peer-based support system for any challenges that arise during onboarding
  • Encourages relationship building and camaraderie among team members

7. Use a collaborative wiki

Centralize onboarding resources and documentation – training materials, company policies, FAQs, and SOPs – in a searchable database so remote employees can quickly and easily find them.  

To simplify the task of creating an internal help base, consider setting up a live wiki where new hires can add their questions and senior team members can update the document with responses. Having a collaborative system in place will reduce the workload on your HR department over time.

8. Coordinate remote team-building activities

woman at work
Free-to-use image sourced from Pexels

In a traditional office setting, team-building activities are used to build rapport and promote better communication and collaboration among team members and management.  

In remote workplaces, team building has the added benefit of providing much-needed opportunities for social interaction, leading to higher job satisfaction.

Examples of team-building activities that can be coordinated remotely via video conferencing include: 

  • Virtual lunches, coffee breaks, or happy hours. Use a corporate food delivery service like Grubhub and host an online event where team members can unwind, socialize, and enjoy a meal or drinks. 
  • Online games and challenges. Using platforms like Jackbox Games and Kahoot!, you can organize virtual group games, scavenger hunts, and trivia competitions. There are also companies that offer virtual escape room experiences. 
  • Virtual workshops. Host events where team members can learn new skills, solve problems, and participate in professional development activities together.

9. Provide ongoing training and development

Training shouldn’t end in the weeks following onboarding. When you provide continual opportunities for your remote employees to learn and grow, you’ll enjoy the following benefits: 

  • Increased employee productivity
  • Greater potential for innovation
  • A more resilient and adaptable workforce 

Depending on your needs, there are several approaches to remotely upskilling or reskilling your workforce. You can develop in-house training materials such as video tutorials, webinars, virtual workshops, and online courses that can be served through a company LMS. 

Another option is to make use of third-party upskilling sites, which often feature free graduate-level courses from top universities. Many of these training platforms offer subscription plans for organizations, making it possible to train your entire workforce in today’s most in-demand skills. On completion of some courses, your employees may also be eligible for university credits or professional certification.

10. Continually optimize your virtual onboarding program

Successful virtual onboarding programs don’t happen overnight. Instead, they’re built up over time through careful planning and continuous refinement. This means you’ll need to regularly evaluate your program and make adjustments as needed to optimize the process for future hires. 

One way to do this is by regularly soliciting feedback from your remote employees on what they liked or didn’t like about the onboarding process. With the TIMIFY Survey app, which contacts virtual attendees within hours of an appointment, you can easily automate feedback requests.  

Your employees can leave feedback anonymously if they wish, ensuring you receive direct and honest input about your onboarding processes. This information creates a positive feedback loop, helping you continually improve your remote onboarding program.

In closing

Your onboarding process is the first impression an employee has of your company, so it’s critical to get it right. This is especially true of remote and hybrid workplaces, where work-from-home employees are more likely to feel disconnected from colleagues and management.

By following best practices for virtual onboarding, you can help new remote team members feel welcomed, connected, and excited for a future with your company.

Chloe Brittain

About the author

Chloe Brittain

Chloe Brittain is a freelance writer and the founder of Monday Roadmap, a blog for content creators navigating the new landscape of GenAI tools.

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