HomeFuture of WorkDigital HRThe power of virtual onboarding: How to build a loyal and engaged workforce

The power of virtual onboarding: How to build a loyal and engaged workforce

  • 7 Min Read

With higher retention rates, comes lower recruitment costs, but the cost-effective nature of virtual onboarding also means that companies can save on expenses.

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When organisations face emergent challenges, leaders and teams in business need to rapidly assess the situation, reorient themselves, focus on what is working and discard what is not.

The pandemic highlighted this need for adaptability when remote working became a necessity.

“Resilient businesses emphasised agile decision-making, sound processes, investments in the right technology, and agile organisational structures survived and even thrived during the pandemic,” said Nada Kakabadse, professor of Policy, Governance & Ethics at Henley Business School.

“Firms that switched to remote and blended working were less likely to face closures and recovered more quickly, signalling higher resilience and adaptability,” she adds.

This rise in remote working brought about significant change in the way organisations operate, and in particular, how they onboard new employees.

While remote work offers several benefits, such as increased flexibility and access to a global talent pool, it also poses unique challenges for the onboarding processes – a crucial step in employee retention.

The benefits of virtual onboarding

Making the onboarding process as seamless and positive as possible – for both the employee and company – is imperative. A study from the Brandon Hall Group found that great employee onboarding can improve retention by 82% – this is because the new hire is engaged from the very first day.

With higher retention rates, comes lower recruitment costs, but the cost-effective nature of virtual onboarding also means that companies can save on expenses associated with travel, physical materials and office space, which is particularly beneficial for organisations operating on tight budgets.

Virtual onboarding also means new hires have improved access to information, such as online resources, training materials, and collaboration tools, allowing new employees to quickly familiarise themselves with policies and procedures.

A unique approach to this has been to deploy Virtual Reality (VR) technology; this can be used to create an immersive environment for new hires and aid with information retention, ultimately resulting in better job performance.  Virtual onboarding technology has the ability to create environments where employees can feel immersed and inspired.

The new hire may also be required to install different programmes and systems on the computer.

“A critical piece of welcoming a virtual hire to the team is providing access to everything they need to do their jobs,” said Madeline Miles, content marketing manager at BetterUp. This could be equipment, such as laptops, keyboards, mouses, ergonomic chairs and headphones/headsets.

“It’s likely your HR and IT teams will work closely together to make sure your employees receive everything they need. If you’re a manager, check in with your incoming new hire to make sure they’ve received everything they need,” she adds.

Virtual onboarding also encourages new employees to become skilful in using digital technologies, even if they were not proficient in them beforehand.

By navigating new software, systems, and online communication platforms, new employees can strengthen their digital skills, making them more adaptable in remote or hybrid work settings.

The challenges of virtual onboarding

Although there are several benefits of virtual onboarding, there are also as many challenges. One of the primary ones is the lack of face-to-face interaction which traditional onboarding often relies on.

“The lack of proximity and face-to-face interactions makes communication difficult during virtual onboarding. Remember, you’re bringing someone new into the mix, and they may not know how to communicate with their co-workers,” said Stuart Gentle, publisher at Onrec.

Gentle states that to manage this, employers should be clear about their preferred communication systems and provide straightforward instructions to all new hires.

“Another solution is to share a communication plan that the new workers will use during their specific projects. It should list all stakeholders who need regular updates and how often they should be informed on project status and details. This will help the new hires plan themselves well before commencing the project,” Gentle adds.

Remote employees may also struggle with building relationships and connecting to the company culture. Indeed, fostering a strong company culture is a must, with Gartner’s 2020 Employee Experience and Talent Mobility Benchmarking Survey revealing that 70% of HR leaders believe culture is very important to their organisation’s financial success.

“When remote employees see improvements to their organisation’s culture, they also report higher engagement, intent to stay and inclusion” said Jamie Kohn, director at Gartner’s HR practice.

Simultaneously, the limited socialisation opportunities, such as networking, lunch breaks and water cooler conversations can bring about feelings of loneliness and isolation, with a two-year study by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom, highlighting loneliness and isolation as the largest reported concerns among remote workers.

“Instead of sitting side-by-side with their co-workers, new hires are isolated in their homes, connected by screens, but without the day-to-day social interactions of office life,” comments Caeleigh MacNeil, content writer at Asana.

Next-generation digital onboarding platforms like the one used by Jugo, has created a solution which can emulate company culture as it allows employees to be fully immersed in an experiential platform. The company’s gaming technology and 3D environment provide an engaging virtual onboarding experience that is perfect for training and other collaborative activities.

Best practices for virtual onboarding

By investing in a positive virtual onboarding experience, organisations can build a loyal and engaged workforce. Utilising technology, fostering a sense of belonging and providing clear communication channels are all ways to successfully – and happily – onboard a new hire. Having virtual work socials, team building exercises and one-on-one meetings will all help the new hire to settle in.

Regularly checking in and tailoring development approaches for the new hire are also ways of ensuring the employee is on the right track.

“As a remote worker dives further into their new job, strong performance management helps foster success,” said Michelle Ercanbrack at BambooHr.

“The remote worker and their manager should communicate regularly throughout the first year to set goals and performance milestones, monitor progress and solve any issues before they become a bigger problem.”

Setting clear expectations, and utilising project management tools can help ensure effective monitoring, whilst keeping the new hire engaged.

Ercanbrack echoes the sentiment that virtual onboarding begins before the new hires begin their official first day. She states that employers should “make a great first impression as you help them get oriented.”

Ercanback says employers should be sure to include: a personal welcome email from their manager; the employee handbook; forms to fill out and sign electronically for benefits enrolment, taxes, direct deposit, emergency contacts, etc.; an ‘about me’ questionnaire to fill out and share with their new teammates; a checklist of what to expect during their first day and first week; and info about the company’s history, products, leadership, etc.

Jugo’s virtual meetings platform creates a setting where the onboarding manager is front and centre—leading the onboarding process as a ‘host’. New employees can focus on their new employer’s message and content in a virtual room together.

The platform has been designed to include engagement tools like live polls, emojis, chats and designated Q&A channels to help employers tailor the onboarding experience in real time. They can present onboarding goals, regulations, and policies to new employees in a virtual room—without having to share their screens and risk losing their attention.

The future of onboarding

Virtual onboarding is here to stay, with a NovoEd survey finding that 79% of professionals said online training has produced better outcomes than in-person learning.

Evidently, the various benefits it offers means both new hires and employers are aligned in values, satisfaction, engagement and loyalty, naturally leading to employee retention, therefore enhancing the organisation’s bottom line.

Ultimately, as Ercanbrack says, “a good virtual onboarding experience shows employees that their workplace will be supportive and encourage their professional development.” This amplifies the sentiment that first impressions do indeed create a lasting effect.

Register for Jugo’s upcoming webinar to learn more about how to create a successful virtual onboarding program


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