How to Build a Virtual Onboarding Program

The onboarding process is the first real experience an employee has with a company. Their first day sets the standard for the rest of their time in the company.

How to Build a Virtual Onboarding Program
Virtual Onboarding

We all are slowly acclimatizing to the new normal of a post-pandemic world. In the world of work, human resource professionals are fast adapting to the changing ways of working. In the past year, businesses across the world moved towards remote work. This shift seems to be a trend that is here to stay. Many companies have extended their remote work policies indefinitely. Companies are equipping themselves with collaboration tools and remote work tools to continue their business operations as usual. However, they face the daunting task of fitting processes like recruiting and onboarding new employees into their companies in this new environment.

The onboarding process is the first real experience an employee has with a company. Their first day sets the standard for the rest of their time in the company. When the employee is welcomed with open arms, provided proper training, or even a guide, it sends a signal that they will have the support they need to thrive. There is a high risk of turnovers during the first few weeks of a new job. An effective onboarding program can dramatically reduce this risk. This is relatively simple when the team works in the same office. But creating a welcoming onboarding experience becomes a challenge when everyone is working remotely and there is no one to meet the new employee.

This situation raises a pertinent question: How should the onboarding process be adjusted to match the new normal of remote work when there is no physical space to welcome the new employees?

The answer: A virtual onboarding program.

What is virtual onboarding?

Virtual onboarding is a natural evolution from traditional in-person onboarding. It is very similar to the traditional in-person onboarding process. Like in-person onboarding, virtual onboarding also provides the new employees with an overview of its mission, values, culture, and business goals. The only difference is that the process takes place virtually. While it is not necessary that virtual onboarding and in-person onboarding are mutually exclusive, many companies are turning to a complete virtual model of onboarding as they continue to work remotely in the post-pandemic world.

Companies can use various tools for the virtual onboarding process. For example, companies use video conferencing, videos, webinars, interactive exercises, resources, etc., which the new hires can access through their laptop or mobile devices at any time from any place. A personalized virtual onboarding experience helps the company connect and engage with new employees irrespective of where they are. All they need to do is to optimize the existing onboarding programs for a virtual world.

How does virtual onboarding work?

It works in a way very similar to in-person onboarding. It consists of sessions that explain the company’s mission and core values. It aims to deliver the required knowledge, training, and skills needed for the employee to aim for a successful career at the company. It helps introduce the company’s work culture and internal policies to the employees. It shows them how to set up their laptops, applications and programs, and other intricacies. Representatives from different departments can provide an overview of their respective departments and what their functions are. This overview helps the new hires get an idea about the different areas of the whole business. At the same time, they can meet their colleagues working in the company. A virtual onboarding program helps set up remote sessions for new employees with their reporting managers. These sessions provide an overview of the new team, their respective roles, goals, and ongoing projects.

How to Build a Virtual Onboarding Program

Here are some more tips for building an effective virtual onboarding program to make the new employees feel welcome, help them start on a good note, make them understand the company and the business better, and acclimate with the team:

1. Take time with the virtual onboarding program

Instead of completing the entire program in one day, try to spread it out over a few days. New employees may find it difficult to absorb everything in a single day, especially when the onboarding process is being organized virtually. It is necessary to provide hand-holding in this period of transition to remote work in a new company. Spreading the program over a few days will ensure that the new employee has multiple check-ins during their first week at work.

2. Welcome Them to the Team

Onboarding is a very personal process. Even though it is a virtual process, encourage the rest of the team to reach out to the new employees via email or phone, or video calls to feel right at home. They could send congratulatory emails and share their excitement about them joining the team. They could even organize virtual team lunches to help them know each other personally in addition to their professional roles. Arrange brief one-to-one meetings between the new employee and their coworkers. The hiring manager should set up regular check-ins with the new employees to address any doubts or questions and stay connected during the first few weeks of their joining.

3. Pre-Boarding

Pre-boarding is the period between the time when a job candidate signs their offer letter and their first day at work. It could consist of sending offer letters digitally, getting their e-signatures, setting up their email address, sharing the company booklets, additional paperwork, and so on.

4. Have Technologies and Tools Ready

Employees in remote work are heavily dependent on collaboration applications and technologies, like laptops, keyboards, earphones, mobile phones, the internet, etc. When the employee logs in on the first day at work, you would want to ensure that all the tools and technology required for their work are ready.

A lot of the virtual work depends upon technology. So an efficient, and prompt tech support team needs to be facilitated in case of need for troubleshooting regarding technical issues.

5. Emphasize Company Values And Culture

It is very important to introduce the new employees to the company culture and values. It goes a long way in ensuring that the new hires engage and prosper. The virtual onboarding program could introduce elements of the company culture, like organizing a virtual team party, interactions and informative seminars with seniors, games, etc.

6. Communicate, As Often As Possible

Effective and personalized onboarding requires constant engagement from day one. Without face-to-face interaction, it could be challenging to bring them into the fold. Hence the key is communication to make them feel part of the team.

So the hiring manager should ensure that they connect the new employees with their managers during a virtual onboarding process. Check-in with them through short catch-up calls through video-conferencing, instant messages, or emails daily, keeping a human touch in the virtual world. Virtual meet-ups and video-conferencing require a lot more engagement, and for that, a lot more work needs to be put in, like in the case of video conferencing. So the program should include energy check-ins, virtual breakout rooms to have a quick informal interaction.

7. Assign a Buddy or a Mentor

The virtual onboarding program can introduce a mentor program in the company to make the new employees comfortable. This mentor is a person from the company different from the new employee’s manager. Their task is to keep in touch with the new hire. The new hire can build a rapport with their buddy, open up to them and seek suggestions.

8. Build a Cohort

A virtual onboarding program is not necessarily planned for a single person. The manager can plan this program for multiple new employees at once. This program shall help the new employees partly in training as a collective, virtual team-building exercise, and rely upon each other to get used to the new environment. Such a cohort can foster a sense of camaraderie, friendship, and engagement. Virtual events may consist of live training, making new employees sit in on client meetings to observe and take notes, or even fun icebreaker events like introduction or sharing stories.

9. Training of the Management

In a virtual and remote work setting, the more communication, the better it is. It is necessary to establish a flow of communication between the new hires and their managers. To support this flow of communication, the program could provide training opportunities to managers and team members. These training sessions could range on how to host effective video conferences, remote management of teams, etc. They could be given reminders to share messages about the company mission, the job, and the goals.

10. Collect Feedback

Once the virtual onboarding process is over, collect feedback from the new employees. This will help you understand the flaws and tweak and adjust the program for subsequent virtual onboardings.


Onboarding is a critical process in the hiring process for any organization. However, it is not given as much priority as some other processes in many companies. But first impressions are everything and have an enormous impact on how much employees engage in the future and how efficiently and quickly they reach their fullest capabilities. With work going virtual and remote post this global pandemic, the onboarding process’s importance is more crucial than ever. So it is the perfect time to intensify the efforts for an effective onboarding program through virtual mediums.

While the process of virtual onboarding is a new practice for most companies, some companies like Dell, have been doing it for years and have carved out a successful route for themselves.

As we discussed, the key to brilliant onboarding is communication, and for virtual onboarding, it is all about reaching out to your remote colleagues. By including the above tips into your virtual onboarding program, your company can make itself more attractive for potential candidates as an ideal employee-friendly organization, all the while maintaining business growth.