How to Successfully Onboard a New Virtual Team Member
Onboarding new team members is hard enough at the best of times.
Unfortunately, you can’t just sit someone down at a desk and tell them to start working on something. And, you know full well from your own past onboarding experiences, spending your first week reading an employee handbook and standard operating procedures manual is completely demotivating and ineffective — not to mention outright boring.
You want it to be different for your team member. You need it to be different too.
According to Gallup, in pre-pandemic times a decline in employee engagement was evident across people who worked onsite, remotely, or under a hybrid work arrangement. However, in early 2022 disengagement was highest for team members who worked exclusively remote.
You are smart enough to know that the answer isn’t to demand that the new team member work at the office. You recognize and value the benefits to working virtually. You also know that first impressions matter to engagement and retention.
Where should you prioritize efforts to create an onboarding experience that kick-starts a virtual team member’s loyalty and engagement?
According to Wiley Workplace Research, three key themes emerged from respondents surveyed about their thoughts on leadership and where organizations should focus priorities.
The three themes were effective communication, access to support, and a positive work culture. I’ve outlined specific actions you need to think into to successfully onboard a new virtual team member in the era of “the work from home club”.
COMMUNICATION — Create a work environment that says, “It’s safe to have open and honest conversations here.”
- Communicate the plan for their first 90 days and set expectations for their learning and performance goals
- Make formal introductions to team members
- Go beyond the first introduction and incorporate specific touch points, with specific purposes, with specific team members to help new team members build relationships
- Clarify team roles and responsibilities and let them know how their role adds value to the team
- Advise them on how the team communicates with one another and key stakeholders
- Check in often during the first few weeks to see how they are doing, answer questions, and ensure they have what they need
SUPPORT — Create a work environment that says, “I’ve got access to the information, people, and resources I need for my personal and professional success.”
- Ask what the person needs and expects to feel supported as they kick start their career in your organization
- Ensure they have the right equipment, tools, and resources to be able to do what they do best
- Identify relevant training required for on-the-job success as well as training on tools for communicating effectively in a remote work environment
- Assign an “onboard buddy” to check in with the new team member each day and schedule a few impromptu coffee or lunch meetings — either in-person or virtually — to review key policies and operating procedures as they relate to the work they are doing, and share their insights into the team and company culture
- Introduce them to the people they will be supporting and collaborating with
- Help the team member identify and find mentors who can serve as a sounding board, offer advice, and share their expertise about the organization, the role, or the industry
- If your team has completed an Everything DiSC assessment, foster team relationships by getting your new hire to complete one too, then have team members schedule a “get to know you” session where they compare Everything DiSC profiles
CULTURE — Create a work environment that says, “I have an understanding of why I’m here, how I can contribute, and feel that I belong.”
- Share a little bit about who you are, why you joined or started the company, what your leadership philosophy is, and how you lead and coach others
- Share the vision you have for the team and/or organization
- Articulate the values of the organization and how your team uses them to make decisions
- Connect the team member’s role and responsibilities in a meaningful way to the mission or purpose of the team or organization
- Remind them why you hired them and why you believe they will succeed in this culture
Bottomline, to be successful when starting a new job, any new hire needs introductions, information, and insight into the workplace culture. This usually requires several touchpoints.
It’s the same with remote workers. However, you may need to be a bit more intentional and creative about how you prepare for and implement the onboarding plan in a virtual environment. Your goal is not only to help them get off to a strong start with the work they’ll be doing, but also to positively answer their biggest pending question “Did I make the right decision to say yes to this opportunity?”.
But don’t stop after the first 90 days! The authors of Leading at a Distance, advise readers that the onboarding program is just the start of a new team member’s development and integration. You need to continue to build and strengthen work relationships, job performance, and cultural alignment.
Continue to make communication, support, and culture a priority for your leadership efforts, and you’ll be experience greater success with onboarding and retaining team members.