Is virtual onboarding here to stay? How to support new staff in a remote world

For many companies still working from home, virtual onboarding is the new normal

Is virtual onboarding here to stay? How to support new staff in a remote world

Ensuring employees settle into their new workplace is a key aspect for HR professionals.

But as the pandemic hit and Australian businesses shifted to working from home, the process of onboarding new staff changed dramatically.

Remote working and hybrid models look set to stay well into 2021, so how have HR leaders risen to the challenge of virtual onboarding?

Kate Reilly, HR operations consultant at Slalom, told HRD how they adapted to the nationwide shutdown with a multi-layered virtual onboarding program that focused on ensuring new staff didn’t miss out on social interaction.

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After opening Slalom's first Australian office in January – just two months before lockdown – the global consulting firm has used its virtual onboarding to welcome the majority of its new hires.

“Roughly 75% of our Australian staff have virtually onboarded because we have been working from home,” she told HRD.

“It’s been an interesting experience but I think it’s encouraged us to get that much closer and connected because most of us have never met in person.

“We really have been intentional about those connections we’re making with people.”

For Slalom employees hired during the pandemic, their experience with the company starts before their first day as their equipment, as well as branded merchandise, is delivered to their home.

They’ll also hear from the operations team who will give a preview of their first day itinerary, something Reilly says has been important to make staff feel comfortable with the virtual process.

Another key aspect has been the virtual welcome buddy program which sees existing staff paired up with new hires so they have someone to go to aside from their direct line manager or HR personnel.

New hires are also onboarded on a fortnightly schedule to ensure they are not going through the process alone.

Their first day starts with IT set up, before they attend a virtual lunch with the executive team.

In response to WFH, Slalom also brought in a weekly virtual meeting each Monday, giving the team the chance to welcome new staff and talk about upcoming events.

Reilly said the focus on building social interactions into the first day has been essential to helping new hires become connected.

“We’ve focused our onboarding program really around those connections,” she said.

“Those won’t happen unless we plan and be intentional about it.”

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As well as developing their onboarding program, Slalom has prioritised regular collaboration opportunities as they adjusted to a virtual world.

Each week, they pose a light-hearted, non-work-related question to get a better feel of personalities.

They also invite employees to share their own personal stories during a virtual ‘Weekly Winddown’ session each Friday, aiming to build social connection away from the workplace.

With Slalom’s staff set to remain working from home until 2021, their virtual onboarding program will continue to be a key focus for HR.

Many of Australia’s biggest businesses are taking a cautious approach when it comes to returning to the office.

In September, 31% of employed Australians were working from home, compared to 12% pre-March 2020.

Key takeaways for HR leaders

  • Schedule equipment delivery before their first day to ensure a smooth start
  • Be intentional about opportunity for social connection that doesn’t necessarily happen in a virtual world
  • Plan regular yet short collaboration sessions to promote idea sharing
  • Focus on personal as well as the professional elements to really get to know new staff

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