World Reimagined

As Hiring Picks Up, Here's How To Do Remote Onboarding the Right Way

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Sending an entire workforce home to work remotely was a seismic shift when the pandemic first hit. But there’s another change that’s been occurring that gets less attention: virtual onboarding of new hires. Despite the social and economic upheaval of the past year, hiring has picked up and in some industries there’s no less than an all-out war for talent.

But for some companies, bringing new employees into the fold completely virtually is a new concept. Getting it right is more important than ever, especially since many companies, including Target, Infosys, and Microsoft have announced hybrid work arrangements for the foreseeable future. This means it could be months—or even years—before new employees meet colleagues or their managers in person.

Online platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and others certainly bring people together visually. But how can companies translate their culture, processes, and ways of working to a new employee when he or she has never stepped foot in the office? It can be done, say the experts, and more importantly in our new way of working, it’s essential.

Among the most important things to keep in mind is that the onboarding process should feel the same—whether it’s being done in-person or virtually, says Taryn Sheldrake, senior vice president of global talent acquisition at software firm PTC. She says that by the end of the year, the Boston-based firm will have virtually onboarded about 1,700 employees and makes sure to keep tabs on the process at every stage.

“We’ve looked at lot of feedback and the one of the most important things we’ve heard is that the experience needs to be the same,” she says. That means managers and leaders need to be armed with the right information so that they can be sure the remote onboarding process is as close to what an employee would have experienced in person. If there are issues or complications, they can be addressed early and not left to linger.

The technology challenge

Understanding the systems, platforms, apps, and specific software a company uses is hugely time consuming for new employees—a process made even more fraught when it’s being done remotely. In fact, the most common issue when onboarding, cited by 39% of professionals surveyed, is technology (phone, computer, security access, etc.) not being properly set up. Lack of necessary supplies (24%) came in second.

Sheldrake recommends getting technology kits—computers, keyboard, and monitors—sent to new employees well in advance of their start date. That way, any complications with internet connections and setups can be worked out before the first official day of work. Workforce management technology company ServiceNow has been onboarding employees virtually even before the pandemic began, and uses its own mobile onboarding app to help new employees complete required forms and equipment registration.

An onboarding buddy

At PTC, Sheldrake says the company also sets up new hires with an onboarding buddy. This person works with a new employee by arranging scheduled calls so that he or she stays current with what is going on. The onboarding buddy is also responsible for making introductions so that the new employee meets different people in the organization. “We do this whether someone is onboarding virtually or in person, but it’s really important to do it while most people are still onboarding remotely,” she says.

It’s also a good idea to make a virtual onboarding process interactive to keep new employees engaged and connected. When she joined PTC in May 2020, Sheldrake says there was a nice note in her onboarding pack welcoming her to the firm. “Companies often do videos or kudos boards when someone leaves, but it’s just as important to do that when someone starts,” she says. “A note that says, ‘Hey I’m so glad you’re joining the team,’ from a manager can go a long way,” she adds.

Another way to take virtual onboarding beyond a “one and done” experience for new hires is to offer ways for these employees to stay connected. PTC recently started a virtual employee resource group (ERG). It’s employee-led, so that remote workers have a support structure to discuss concerns, virtually meet and network.

With hybrid work arrangements part of the landscape going forward, the likelihood of virtual onboarding continuing remains high. Global staffing firm Robert Half recommends that managers start early to build relationships with new employees that go beyond the job functions. Best practices include scheduling frequent and regular check-ins and remembering to take the initiative in discussions. New employees—whether remote or in-person—want to be viewed as competent so if they’re struggling, they may not want to reveal it. A few open-ended questions can give managers a chance to see if there are any issues with the virtual onboarding process so that all employees can feel and do their best.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Susan Caminiti

Susan is a writer and senior editor whose work covers a wide range of business and social topics including corporate profiles, personal investing, entrepreneurship, health and wellness, work/life issues, and wealth management for both editorial and corporate clients. She is a former staff writer for Fortune magazine and her work appears in Fortune,, and in a variety of other print magazines.

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