3 Ways Virtual Onboarding Strengthened One Team 3 Ways Virtual Onboarding Strengthened One Team

3 Ways Virtual Onboarding Strengthened One Team

Erin Werra Erin Werra Edtech Thought Leader
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For the past year, hiring has presented unusual challenges. With a continued focus on social distancing, how has onboarding changed?

Even before the pandemic, prospective employees often encountered a virtual hiring experience, with interviews and even new hire paperwork completed online. Once the HR team has finished their process, introducing a new employee to the ins and outs of departmental work is a different story. One team shares a handful of lessons from their experience welcoming a new hire during remote work.


Mentorship opportunities 

Marketing manager Alexis Bushman is no stranger to hiring. But onboarding a new public relations specialist in late March 2020 was daunting at first, with so many unknowns from the sudden switch to working remotely and now having to tackle onboarding remotely, too. 

“I didn’t want my new hire, Cassidy, feeling disengaged or that she had a lack of support while onboarding virtually,” Bushman explained. “I wanted her to know that she was a vital team member and we wanted to embrace her as if she was physically onboarding with the team.” To assist with this, she leaned on her team and assigned Cassidy a mentor. 

When new hires are paired with a mentor, which Bushman has always done whether employees onboard remotely or in-person, the relationship creates increased connections and support for the new hire and leadership opportunities for the mentor. 

Honest communication is even more important to gauge a new hire’s comfort level when the team isn’t working together in-person. It’s difficult to read facial and emotional expressions via webcam. Bushman had Cassidy’s mentor check in several times a week to build the relationship and make sure onboarding was going well. 

“I have to admit at first I was really nervous about truly feeling like I was part of the team, doing everything virtually,” Cassidy Downs, the new public relations specialist, said. “After my first day, those worries completely went out the window.” 

Downs goes on to explain that her new team members (and even employees from other teams) reached out to make her feel welcome during her first few weeks.  


Communication opportunities 

When welcoming a new hire, paperwork and checklists are important, but one priority is less straightforward. Remote onboarding means culture goes digital. 

“Team culture is very important to me,” Bushman explained. “That first impression is a big deal.” 

Culture is exactly why the whole team was on deck to welcome their newest teammate. Everyone embraced the new norm, working together to welcome Downs to the team, so much so that they’ve got it down to almost a science, Bushman says: greeting, connecting, and reaching out to ensure the new hire feels like part of the work family. 

It takes effort in an all-virtual world. Mentors and teammates must choose to reach out, juggling communication tools and choosing which is best. A quick question via instant messenger can easily turn into a more in-depth video chat—managers and mentors fit those into their schedule just as they would an in-person hire stopping by during the day. The focus on written communication has hidden benefits, too. 

“I would much rather walk over to someone’s desk to ask a question rather than craft an email,” Downs said, reflecting on the unexpected growth remote onboarding offered. “Since I wasn’t able to do that, I think I have become more comfortable with communicating online. If it weren’t for this experience, I would have stayed in my comfort zone a bit more.”  

Onboarding remotely for the first time also provided the opportunity to create a set of resources for future use. Bushman’s team was ready to onboard their next remote hire thanks to the different online resources Downs used during her hiring process. “I have everything in place and just update a few areas with new information for the next new hire,” she says. “New hires can take their time working through online resources, go back and review, and jot down questions to ask when we connect next.” 


Mindset opportunities 

Remote onboarding challenged teams to change how their processes work. Although it’s uncomfortable to make changes to long-held processes, particularly special ones like welcoming a new teammate, it has revealed some opportunities for growth. 

Adaptability is one of the silver linings Bushman discovered. Working through screen fatigue, eLearning at home while onboarding and juggling everyday projects, all contributed to her growth as a leader and manager during a tough time. The experienced affected everyone on the team—they’re ready to welcome team members remotely in the future if it makes sense for the new hire or there’s a situation that demands it.  

Still, expect the remote onboarding process to take up a little more time than an in-person hire. This is really down to doing due diligence to ensure new hires are truly comfortable and supported—essentially, demonstrating the value of culture and putting people’s experiences first. 

“I think that the best part of this process was my team’s weekly virtual coffee chats,” Downs said, describing the 30 minutes the team devotes to non-workplace topics. “These have been a huge help in getting to know each other, adding in that ‘office chat’ that naturally happens in the office but not so naturally online. I think this proves the virtual onboarding process isn’t just about learning your work duties, but also your team’s culture.” 


More virtual onboarding opportunities 

A year in as Bushman and Downs reflect on onboarding, a new hire is making her way into the team, which is still largely remote. The lessons and opportunities discovered during the team’s inaugural remote onboarding process are now part of a brand-new marketer's experience.  

“Learning a new job is challenging but learning it remotely is a different process,” Kelsey Schneider says. “People have been really quick with replies, and everyone has been so helpful and welcoming.” 

With culture in the spotlight, onboarding doesn’t have to feel all that daunting when it happens virtually.  

Follow-up resource: Culture is everyone's job

A strong school culture can make your district a destination. Get started with a school culture survey.


Erin Werra Erin Werra Edtech Thought Leader
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