How to Onboard Employees in a Virtual World

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way businesses interview and onboard new staff, and the public sector is no different. It’s tricky to make new staff members feel welcome and part of the team when they work remotely.

Orientation isn’t enough: you need a complete onboarding process to retain new remote employees and increase morale. Here are some tips for onboarding remote employees and remote onboarding best practices for public sector organizations.

Why is a Good Process for Onboarding Remote Employees So Important?

The onboarding process is often when new employees decide if they feel welcome and if they want to engage or disengage. It’s up to your organization to make a good impression that stays with them their entire career if they continue to work for you.

Believe it or not, making an emotional connection with new hires is important. But HR professionals and managers often flood new employees with tons of information and paperwork that overwhelms them. Worse yet, when new employees experience this kind of chaos, they think that the organization isn’t managed well, which does not give them a good first impression. Research by employee recognition organization OC Tanner shows that 69% of new hires are more likely to stay with a job for at least three years if they have a positive onboarding experience.

If new employees have a negative onboarding experience, they may start looking for the next job quickly, leaving your organization with a retention problem which can be costly. High attrition rates can affect an organization's overall performance because the skills and institutional knowledge that an employee has developed through training and experience are lost — which can impact a public sector organization's ability to serve its constituents. High turnover also impacts social ties within the organization and can negatively impact trust among co-workers. The goal of a proper onboarding process is to show employees how great it is to work for your organization and to set new hires up for success.

How Does Onboarding Work in a Virtual Space?

As you can see, it’s important to learn how to onboard a remote employee the right way. One of the biggest issues with the onboarding process is that orientation is often confused with onboarding. So, what’s the difference?

Orientation occurs only once, and it’s used to welcome groups of new hires and teach them about the organization’s values, culture, history, and mission. It usually includes a time for new employees to fill out paperwork. However, onboarding is a sequence of events over time, and it’s usually customized to a specific role within an organization.

Government agencies usually have orientation programs designed to make new hires comfortable and help them understand their role in the agency. They are introduced to the organization's values, history, and culture. Some organizations make this an ongoing program that provides guidance for weeks or even months. Depending on the complexity of the job role, onboarding can last anywhere from a few weeks to three or more months. There are usually four distinct phases of onboarding:

  • Pre-Onboarding
  • Orientation
  • First Assignments
  • Ongoing Support for the New Hire

What used to be done face-to-face is now digitalized, making the employee experience even more important because there is a lack of direct human contact. Communication is key, especially when onboarding people virtually. Providing new hires with a detailed outline of the onboarding process and schedule before starting helps them manage their overall expectations of the hiring process.

Instead of taking a new hire to meet important team members in person, it now all happens virtually — and it’s still just as important. Touchpoints with a new employee’s direct manager are vital and can take place on video calls to make the meetings feel more personal.

How Can Public Sector Organizations Create a Successful Remote Onboarding Process?

While getting workers up to speed is an essential part of training, it is important that organizations not assign so many new hire activities that it overwhelms the person being onboarded. Here are some tips for successfully onboarding remote employees:

Send New Hires a Welcome Package

Consider sending new employees a welcome package and asking them what would help them be successful in their new role. The welcome package will help them feel like they are important and get to voice their opinions. Even hosting a virtual lunch would make them feel valued.

Help New Employees Build Connections with Other Colleagues

Making time for new hires to connect with other team members helps them assimilate into the workplace and develop relationships with co-workers. This is even more important in a virtual world since they can’t make connections in person while at the water cooler or chatting in the hallway.

Re-Create Experiences that Occur at Traditional Offices Virtually

New hires experience many little personalized touches in person, so recreating them virtually is a great way to ensure the virtual onboarding process is equally rewarding. Consider giving new hires a mentor at work right from the start and set up virtual meetings without a manager for more relaxed meet and greets.

Final Thoughts on Onboarding Remote Employees

These are just a few tips on how you can make the best virtual onboarding experience for your public sector organization. Workplaces that create an effective onboarding experience usually have their new hires at hello, so developing a process that makes them feel included and an important part of a team is vital.

Melissa Asher

With over 24 years of experience in human resources, specializing in training and development, test administration, and recruitment, Melissa brings a wealth of practical expertise to her Senior Leader role. As a hands-on leader, she is responsible for the growth and development of CPS HR’s Training and Development and Executive Search Divisions as well as leading key business development activities.

About CPS HR Consulting

CPS HR Consulting is a self-supporting public agency providing a full range of integrated HR solutions to government and nonprofit clients across the country.  Our strategic approach to increasing the effectiveness of human resources results in improved organizational performance for our clients.  We have a deep expertise and unmatched perspective in guiding our clients in the areas of organizational strategy, recruitment and selection, classification and compensation, and training and development.