Technology & SaaS 21.04.20

Onboarding in Isolation

During the current lockdown, virtual onboarding is a necessary evil - but one that could be embraced even after this all has passed.

You might consider the recent need for remote onboarding of new hires as a necessary evil, but it could be a hugely beneficial process for your company even after the current troubles pass.

Let’s start with a scenario: you are being tasked, in the current milieu, to onboard a new recruit to your company. We are going name your new hire Lizzo.

It’s likely that Lizzo is one of the 86% of employees who is holding out judgement for the first 6 months as to whether she wants to be at your company long-term. She is also likely to be among the 88% of people who haven’t had a good onboarding experience with her previous company, and might be feeling wary.

No-one is expecting business-as-usual at the moment. Especially not Lizzo. But if your company, in times of force majeure crisis, can still provide an excellent onboarding experience, it will display a very powerful message that yours is a company worth committing to. Glassdoor found that a good onboarding improves hire retention by up to 82%.

So, let’s look at the best ways to virtually onboard.


Firstly, you need to book in a video call with Lizzo. Zoom is a great platform for this, having been made exclusively for businesses (unlike Skype which later pivoted into business from personal calls). It’s super easy to lead meetings, give presentations and the “raise hand” feature is a useful way of stopping people talking over one another on a large conference call, and thus stopping the life force being sucked out of you every time that’s previously happened (we’ve all been there!).

As much as no-one likes to look at their own face after being in self-isolation for this amount of time, you need to have that camera on. Whilst nothing will beat a face-to-face conversation with your new colleague, you need to do everything you can to replicate it while that just isn’t possible.

Utilizing SaaS-based workbooks like Google Docs, Sheets and Slides are a must. Having a local intranet is great, but navigating them as a newcomer rarely is and file names entitled “final doc_v2_FINAL FINAL_MD_FP_FU_v3_FINAL” just won’t cut it when working remotely. There are plenty of alternatives to Google Docs, but whichever you use, make sure Lizzo has full access.

For a macro look at overall workflow, Trello is fantastic tool, but what might be of particular importance to Lizzo is something like Slack. Slack is a collaborative platform, where you can message colleagues or threads (i.e. project teams and departments). At its most social, it can be like a WhatsApp group chat, so ensuring that Lizzo is plugged into the relevant channels will really help her assimilate.


Dealing with admin is arguably both the dullest and most important aspect of onboarding. One study found that new hires have, on average, 50 individual activities to complete during onboarding. Having to go through each of them remotely will give you a good idea as to which are essential and which are perhaps just that tiny bit less-than-essential.

It will also give you the opportunity to make sure your internal filing system is understandable and accessible.

Both of these above benefits are the types of things you definitely should have gotten around to checking a while ago, but you never quite found the time, like seeing if the potato at the bottom of your fridge has gone off yet. Thanks, Covid-19.


Virtual onboarding has obvious benefits when it comes to training. Say you have to show Lizzo how to get the online expense forms. If you were sat with her, you would likely show her yourself or point to exactly where to go. With virtual onboarding, Lizzo literally has to go through the procedure herself.

The more you get someone to interact and engage with the onboarding process, the more likely they are to eventually remember it. That’s why some companies are taking their onboarding processes to the next level and incorporating Virtual Reality.

Plenty of technically-based, construction companies have adopted VR to teach workers about health and safety on site, but VR has also been used by companies as varied as Farmers Insurance, who wanted to improve the robustness of their training program. An additional benefit came when having to explain their processes to VR consultants with no prior knowledge, which required translating their onboarding into the most basic terms—which it should have been in the first place!

And you might be surprised with how cheap VR sets can be. Google Cardboard retails at just over £12 and simply requires a smartphone to work. And even if your company doesn’t require skilled training simulations, it might be worth thinking about what Lizzo would find more effective—a rushed tour of the office where no-one is at their desks, or a slick virtual tour of the building. Does your company have global offices that could be virtually toured?

Despite the benefits, you need to be realistic about the challenges. That’s why it’s so important to give Lizzo a buddy during her first few weeks. Although it sounds a bit juvenile, 87% of companies who adopt this system say it’s an effective way to speed up new hire proficiency.

Whoever it is needs to be briefed to be extremely patient and always willing to talk on video, given how easy it can be for a newcomer to misunderstand the tone of a text or email, (as Key and Peele so excellently portray). For this same reason, make sure that Lizzo has a video meeting with her seniors, or those who are likely to feedback on her work, to build a better working relationship.


The heaps of tech and software available has made working remotely not only possible, but relatively easy. Capturing the general vibe of your office, however. That’s trickier.

Your brand and culture need to permeate every part of your business, not just the marketing department. Your virtual onboarding again demands you to tackle the question of who you are as a brand, head on. How do you want to introduce Lizzo to the team? In a formal, weekly scheduled meeting, where everyone dials in? Or something a bit more fun, like asking your team to record a video introduction of themselves to Lizzo?

Setting up your virtual onboarding should also make you think about how your work culture is existing during extended periods of remote working. Are you keeping up your weekly office drinks? If not, why not? Has a work-do been cancelled? How have you replaced it? The general consensus of self-isolation is that people are keen for something to do. And when I say keen, you know I mean desperate.

But here’s where your company can make a real difference to its employees. Think about setting up a virtual quiz, or encouraging a fitness-mad colleague to lead a Yoga session. It will not only keep staff happy, but it will reinforce the culture you would be proud to introduce someone like Lizzo to whilst helping everyone get comfortable with the technology.

So whilst there is obviously a huge amount of disruption taking place at the moment, there is more than a suggestion that some of the practices we are adopting by necessity right now, will become a valued part of our work culture when coronavirus is just a distant memory.

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