Digital onboarding: Tips for introducing new employees

By Doug Bolton

After over a year, the end of the COVID-19 crisis seems to be on the horizon. Vaccination campaigns are well underway in many countries, and slowly but surely, restrictions on travel and public gatherings are beginning to relax. But even when it's possible to go back to the office, it's unlikely that the world of work will look as it did before 2020, which means you may have to onboard your new employees digitally. In this article, I've gathered some tips to help this process go as smoothly as possible.

Remote work has proved to be popular among workers - in a survey of people who have worked remotely during the pandemic, conducted by The Swedish Internet Foundation, 83 percent said that working from home has gone well. Tellingly, 89 percent of the same group say they want to continue working remotely even after the pandemic, at least partially. The rise of remote work has also made many companies question whether it's worth spending so much money on office space and travel when employees can handle their daily work and meetings from home.

Against this backdrop, companies are beginning to plan for the post-pandemic world. It's probably too early to declare the death of the office (we'll have to wait for the next pandemic for that), but it looks unlikely that remote work will completely disappear again once things are back to normal.

That's why it's crucial for you as a company to figure out your remote onboarding process. If you haven't already employed someone new during the pandemic, you surely will after - and there's a big chance that you'll have to get them onboarded and up to speed with their new role over Zoom or Teams, possibly while they're in another time zone or country.

I'm not an HR expert by any means, but I do at least know what it's like to start a new job while working from home. Zooma switched to full remote work in March 2020, and I started here in January 2021 - that means I've been at my new job for six months without setting foot in the office. My onboarding process was different from what I was used to, but it's worked very well - here's what I think are the main factors in making your next remote onboarding a success.

Clear your calendar

Even the most enthusiastic remote workers miss the spontaneity of being in the workplace. Zoom meetings do the job, but it isn't easy to digitally replicate quick chats at the coffee machine. You need to take this into account when onboarding someone remotely. A new starter picks up a lot of knowledge through informal conversations during the first few days, so you need to make sure these can still happen. This takes time! The solution is to block off as much of your calendar as you can. You can book the usual fixed introduction meetings, but make sure you get a chance to talk outside of them - it's the best way to answer quick questions and pass on some tips that they wouldn't otherwise get.

Don't forget the social aspect

I already knew plenty of Zoomers when I started, so I wasn't completely 'new' in that sense. Still, I can understand how challenging it would be to start working with a group of colleagues you've never met face-to-face. Make sure your newcomer has the opportunity to get to know other colleagues outside of work meetings - we have a whole podcast episode on this topic if you'd like to learn more.

Embrace the possibilities of remote work

Digital onboarding creates challenges, but in some ways, it has advantages over doing the introduction face-to-face. On a new starter's first day at the office, there's a vast amount of new impressions to take in and new people to meet, creating distractions. During a digital onboarding, either one-on-one or in a small group, you can focus on getting the introduction out the way as quickly as possible, and the new starter can settle into their role sooner. 

Organise a tour

A new employee's first week at the office usually involves walking around all the desks and saying hello to everyone. You can't do this digitally, but it's still an important step – so book time for the new starter to meet each team in your company and learn about what they do. It doesn't matter if they join in on an existing weekly meeting or if you book a new time altogether – either option makes it much easier to get an overview of the organisation.

Get feedback!

This might be your first digital onboarding, but it probably won't be your last. As with everything, practice makes perfect – so make sure to book some time with the new employee to get some feedback. What went well? What would they change? What extra elements would they benefit from, and what could be skipped?

Ensure they're well-equipped

It's daunting enough to start a new job physically, never mind when working remotely. Annoying little things like getting login information to the right tools and the appropriate equipment needed for the job eats up time in your introduction and can be challenging to do over Zoom. So make sure that the accounts are set up, and the equipment is in place before their first day.

Check in

Again, working remotely in an effective way just requires a little bit more effort. Spontaneous meetings are hard to achieve over Zoom, so the answer is to make them less spontaneous. Try booking 30 minutes at the end of the day for the first couple of weeks, just to check in and see how the introduction is going. The new employee shouldn't feel like they lack support during this critical time.

Gather your material

Ensure all the information the new starter will need is organised and stored somewhere they can easily access it. There's no way to tap a colleague on the shoulder and ask how something works when you're working from your spare room, so all this information needs to be available somewhere. It might take a bit of time and imagination to gather all this information, but it's worth it – and it's a great resource to have in the future, even when you're onboarding someone physically.

The pace of digitalisation is only going to increase in the future, and it's going to affect much more than just your onboarding process. If you want to find out more about the effect of digitalisation on your business and how you can become more digitalised, take a look at our in-depth guide to digitalisation. You can also download the guide as a PDF by clicking the button below. Enjoy!

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Doug Bolton
Doug has been a Content Producer at Zooma since 2021. Originally English, he now lives in Sweden.
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