How to Create a Virtual Team Onboarding Process

By Tara Powers

The onboarding process is a time when employees need to feel welcomed to the team and have everything clearly explained to them so that they can hit the ground running in their new role. Here are some important steps you can take to develop a strong onboarding process for your remote employees:

1. Have tools and technology ready.

You may provide a laptop, phone, or other office equipment to your remote employees. Make sure you send them to your new team members’ remote offices before the first day. Whether you like it or not, not having the tools and technology ready to go communicates some unsettling messages like “we weren’t really ready for you,” “we were too busy to focus on you,” or “we have more important things to do than to get you set up.”

2. Send a welcome care package.

Ship your new hires a care package full of company swag and a message from the team to arrive on their first day to welcome them and showcase a bit of your culture. Your newly hired remote employees will love it because they immediately feel a part of team. Some of the best welcome kits that I’ve seen include these ideas:

  • Company mugs, water bottles, T-shirts, hats, pencils
  • Company journal with the values on the front and an explanation of the values on the inside cover
  • Leadership books that the team members have read and reference frequently to improve team culture and relationships
  • Team welcome cards signed by everyone (ideally, handwritten but electronic signatures can work too)
  • A welcome message from the CEO or founder
  • A calendar of important company events, including all-hands meetings, company retreats, and so on
  • A checklist of tasks to complete in the first 15 days that includes connecting with different people in the company, doing research on the company website to answer trivia questions, taking pictures of their remote office, sharing where they live and a story about themselves, and completing important HR paperwork, nondisclosure agreements, or benefits.

Even if you don’t have a bunch of company swag, look to several online companies that specialize in beautiful care packages for onboarding. Whatever you decide, just be sure to make your new hires’ first day special.

3. Plan and budget for one in-person meeting the first month.

Many virtual companies I work with swear by the practice of investing in meeting their new employees in person the first week or month. The manager may visit the new team members at their home or town, or the new team members may journey to the home office (if one exists) to meet the company executives. Doing so provides a chance to hear stories about the company culture, vision, and values. Furthermore, it speaks volumes to the new team members about how important they are to the team. If time and expense is a deterrent, have a face-to-face meeting using videoconferencing technology.

4. Create a training and coaching plan developed for their role.

Develop a training plan for your new hires to introduce them to the company, culture, products, and their role priorities. This plan most likely includes self-study, online training, coaching by the manager or other team members, and more. The key is to get them up to speed on the most important aspects of their job role and the company culture and values.

5. Have them meet the team.

You can get creative with this one as well. When introducing the new team members, you may do a virtual conference with the whole team and have each team member share a snapshot of what’s out his or her window or an interesting hobby. You can also schedule each team member to have a one-on-one meeting with the new team members during their first week. You want to make them feel part of the team family quickly so build ample opportunities for the team members to engage with them early and often during their first 30 days.

6. If you’re the manager, be savvy with your touch points in week one.

The first day is super-duper important when onboarding your new team members. If you’re the manager, the best-case scenario is to meet your new team member face-to-face. If that’s not possible, meet with them via a videoconference call first before anyone else, which is your opportunity to build the relationship, discuss expectations of working together, help them understand how the team and company are organized, explain what they need to know about the culture, and share some personal insights about each other. I also recommend you plan a meeting at the end of their first week to answer all their questions from week one, dive deeper into job level expectations, discuss more about the company and team culture, and chat about their priorities, goals, and measures for the first 90 days. (Refer to the section, “Focusing on the first 90 days” for more specific guidance.)

7. Watch out for the new team members being overwhelmed.

Starting any new job can feel like you’re drinking from a fire hose. Schedule frequent and regular check-ins to touch base and keep a pulse on how your new hires are doing. Keep in mind that if they’re struggling, they may keep quiet about it because they want to be seen as competent. Make sure you ask open-ended questions to check for understanding or confusion.

8. Partner them up with a buddy.

When you read this list for onboarding, you’re probably a bit overwhelmed. You may also be thinking about where will you find the time to accomplish everything. I understand, which is why I strongly suggest having a buddy, also known as a mentor, for every virtual new hire for the first 30 to 60 days. Having a buddy is a powerful way to make sure that your new remote employees don’t slip through the cracks the first few weeks and feel isolated and alone.