6 keys to seamless virtual onboarding

Focus first on relationships, make it safe to ask questions, and prioritize one-on-one meetings to gather candid feedback.

Starting a new job is like the first day of school. It’s scary. Who will I have lunch with? How do I make copies and get reimbursed for expenses? Who do I need a good working relationship with? Starting a new job virtually is even more challenging. Who are these people I work with, and how do I reach them?

We need to help new employees acclimate to people and processes, and this introduction increases tenfold when starting a job virtually.

“People leave managers not jobs” is an old phrase. I’ll widen the net a bit – people leave companies, not jobs. People unhappy at one company often take a similar job at a different company. They like being an accountant, auditor, marketing manager, they just didn’t like working for __________ (fill in the blank) at __________ (fill in the blank).

Here are six practices for helping new, virtual employees acclimate and feel at home quickly:

1. Focus on relationships first and workplace goals second.

I onboard all new employees – virtual or in-person – with a handful of Team Building and Manage People Candor Questions. My first meeting with employees has nothing to do with goals or objectives. Instead, we talk about working-style preferences and pet peeves. We get to know each other and build trust. As Stephen Covey said in his book the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “Deposit into the emotional bank account.” And as William Ury said in his book on negotiation, Getting to Yes, “Go slow to go fast.”

2. Make it safe and easy to ask questions.

Few people like to admit they don’t know something. I’d rather have my new employees pick up the phone or email me with a question than spend 60-minutes of frustration searching for an answer.

Ask, “What questions do you have” each time you meet and wait longer than you think you should for the answer. People always have questions. Make room for them to ask.

3. Have multiple people train new employees.

Training a new employee develops the person doing the training and builds immediate relationships.

4. Set up a system for people to ‘interview’ others throughout the organization – a virtual meet and greet of sorts.

It’s crucial for new employees to understand what their colleagues do, too.

5. Have team meetings on video.

I know, I know, people are tired of video meetings. Make them short, sweet, and consistent.

6. Meet one-on-one weekly with new employees.

I suggest weekly meetings for at least the first six months, and protect the meeting time. If one-on-one’s with employees get cancelled, reschedule immediately. Cancelling meetings with direct reports without rescheduling sends the message that the direct report isn’t important.

Working with people virtually isn’t that different from working with people in person. Pick up the phone. Use video. Talk with people weekly. Ask questions. Wait for answers. Make sure new employees ‘meet’ and are exposed to a lot of people throughout the organization. People leave companies, not jobs.

Shari Harley is the founder and president of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace. Read more on the Candid Culture blog.

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