Is Virtual Onboarding (Really) Effective?

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the safety measures we’ve taken as a nation have had far-reaching effects on the way we work. For example, many jobs that could once only be done in person now have remote components or can be done entirely off-site.

Recent reductions in protective measures have meant that many offices have returned to hybrid or in-person models. However, a solid 54% of workers surveyed prefer this new arrangement.

What this means as an employer is that you need to offer more remote work options. Many of these will require virtual onboarding, rather than the usual in-person processes. Not sure if that’s effective? Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Virtual Onboarding?

Per most corporate definitions, onboarding refers to the process of bringing a new employee on board to the company. That is to say, the process of filing their documentation, teaching them how the company works, and what they can expect. Virtual onboarding, as you might expect, is the digital age answer to this often pen-and-paper-filled process.

For most companies, onboarding takes somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-90 days. However, some low-income positions have it completed in less than a week. Over one-third of companies don’t bother with onboarding at all, which can have dire consequences on employee outcomes.

Whether virtual or in-person, we can all agree that some onboarding is better than none at all.

What Virtual Onboarding Does Effectively

So, you may now find yourself wondering, “What does virtual onboarding do well? Does it do anything better than the old-fashioned way?” If so, then you’ll want to read below to learn more about what this process handles better than any of its alternatives.

Allow Employees to Learn at Their Own Pace

By far one of the greatest benefits to a virtual onboarding process is the ability for new hires to learn at their own pace. When you host days upon days of onboarding in-person, you’ll run into the same issues that exist within a school classroom.

The top percentage of employees will cotton on immediately. Then, they’ll spend most of the training period bored and clock-watching. The bottom percentage won’t quite connect with the policies and procedures. (Yet, out of fear of looking or sounding foolish, they won’t object to the often blistering pace of most training days.) Only that middle group seems to hit the right pace for traditional instruction.

By allowing employees to learn the material at their own pace, the speed readers can master the material quickly and move on to their actual duties. Meanwhile, those who struggle can get the help that they need.

Video Tutorials: The Backbone of Many Current Onboarding Procedures

Incorporating video elements into the onboarding process has been a major advancement.

This applies to both in-person and virtual workers. For in-person workers? It helps to see people physically performing their duties with appropriate posture and thoroughness. For online workers? Video-guided or interactive demonstration of the programs they’ll be working with can improve comprehension.

With virtual onboarding, you don’t have to finagle with USB drives, old DVDs or VCRs containing information years out of date, or projector equipment. All you need are the video files, uploaded to an accessible platform that the employees can view with ease.

Collates Tax Forms and Employee Contracts

Paperwork is a massive hassle for both employers and employees. No one wants to sit there for half of a workday reading over fine-print contracts and signing each one by hand. Plus, no matter how organized your HR office may be, there is always the risk of physical paperwork going missing at a time when it’s needed most.

Virtual onboarding eschews all of that. It allows employees to fill out all their tax forms, including something like an electronic I-9. Those digital copies then go straight to your HR team for safekeeping.

Test Modules That Allow Remote Employees to Test and Develop Skills

Testing an employee’s comprehension of their training can be difficult when working in person. Another great benefit to virtual onboarding is that it allows employers to provide workers with test modules to put their skills into practice before they officially begin their duties. This can prevent serious employee errors from costing the company lots of money. (Plus, it saves a lot of time and embarrassment on the employee’s part.)

Allows Easy Access to All Relevant Trainers and Supervisors

Anyone who’s ever been a new hire at a short-staffed and busy organization has had the unpleasant experience of needing a question answered, but not being able to find anyone able or willing to answer it. The direct supervisor is busy, the trainer is off with another group of new hires, and all the senior employees have their own duties to contend with.

This leaves the employee with the question with an unenviable choice. Do they leave their work undone until they get confirmation about their procedural question? Or, do they forge ahead and risk doing something wrong? Either path could risk getting berated or disciplined.

With virtual onboarding, all employees can access their relevant trainers and supervisors through email or chat apps. This means that any burning, urgent questions about policies and procedures can receive prompt answers, avoiding miscommunication.

Where Virtual Onboarding Struggles

Despite its many advantages, there are places where virtual onboarding struggles compared to its in-person counterpart. Some of the areas in which virtual onboarding can lag behind include, but are not limited to:

Meeting Fatigue Sets In

Everyone knows how exhausting it is to sit in one meeting after another, even in person. Even if the meetings occur over Zoom or other video conferencing apps, the same fatigue applies. If your onboarding process consists of nothing more than a series of virtual meetings, you’ll bore your employees to tears.

Worse, you won’t be able to ensure that they’re focused on the meeting like you would in person. On a Zoom call, someone suffering from meeting fatigue could easily tab out and browse social media or play a game while they wait on a salient point to get brought up.

This behavior is problematic during normal meetings. It could prove disastrous if it occurs during the onboarding process.

Reliant Upon Employee Internet Connection and Motivation

Dovetailing off of the last point, the effectiveness of virtual onboarding can depend largely on the employee’s internet connection and motivation. Let’s say that your employee lives and works in an area with poor or unreliable internet service. It will then prove difficult for them to participate in meetings or watch video tutorials.

(It’s also important that the employee knows of any technological incompatibilities before they accept the position. You wouldn’t want to hire someone for a job, only to find out that the company software only works on Windows, while they have a Mac!)

The other major X factor that you can’t account for as an employer is the employee’s motivation. Placing the pace of their training in their hands can help people learn as they need to without being rushed or held back. However, it can also lead to some employees dragging out their training for as long as possible before assuming actual responsibilities.

In-person, you can keep a weather eye out for which employees truly struggle with the material versus which ones want to laze about. It’s much harder to make that judgment call in a virtual space.

Lacks the Collaborative Spirit Some In-Person Positions Prize

Does your organization tend to rely on team-building exercises, cheerleading, and a hyper-positive, collaborative spirit? If so, then it might struggle to get employees to match that energy. There’s a certain level of infectiousness in cheer that can spread in person that falls utterly flat the moment it comes through a screen.

It’s important to try to bring your company culture through, even in a virtual space. However, businesses that rely overmuch on in-person hype-building techniques might struggle to see the same success.

Tips to Improve Virtual Onboarding Processes

We’ve gone over everything you need to know about virtual onboarding as far as pros and cons are concerned. Now, let’s discuss how to improve any processes that you already have in place. (That way, you can take your place alongside these 15 amazing companies known for their exceptional onboarding.)

Some of the steps you can take to make your virtual onboarding better and more effective include:

Putting Yourself in a New Hire’s Shoes

This can prove difficult if it’s been a while since you joined the company. However, try to place yourself in the shoes of a new hire.

How long would you want this process to take? Would you think that the training staff and supervisors are accessible or distant? Would you feel bored going through the current training content? Speaking of which…

Varying Your Training Content

Remember what we mentioned above about meeting and Zoom fatigue being a serious problem with virtual onboarding? One way you can avoid this particular pitfall is to vary your training and onboarding content. Don’t make it a series of meetings, a set of video tutorials, or a bunch of reading material all in one chunk.

Switch up your presentation. Make some things accessible through video, others in presentation format, others as documents. Use infographics, video tutorials, guided meetings, and all the tools at your disposal to craft a unique training experience. This will ensure that employees stay engaged throughout the onboarding process.

Being Clear With Expectations

There is nothing that a new hire despises more than a company not being up-front about what’s expected of them. Misleading job descriptions, missing portions of training documents, and ambiguous corporate policies can lead to all sorts of frustration and resentment from employees. So, make sure that you are crystal clear across all documentation and media about your expectations.

Not only does this reduce the chances of bleeding new hires as soon as you get them, but it protects you from potential legal backlash.

Leaving Yourself Accessible

What’s another common complaint uttered by many new hires during the onboarding process? That they like their bosses or trainers can’t be accessed when they have questions. Thus, if you want to improve virtual onboarding in your company, a great first step is to improve accessibility to those who can answer employee questions.

Don’t say your doors (virtual or otherwise) are open for questions, then leave yourself inaccessible when employees need you. It looks insensitive at best and deceptive at worst.

Keeping the Process Active

Last on our list of virtual onboarding best practices, we want to remind you to keep the process active and engaging throughout. As mentioned above, if too much of the material feels the same, employees can and will tune out. If you incorporate active skill assessments, tests on the policies they’ve learned, and active Q&A video calls, you can better ensure that they’re engaged and listening.

Is Virtual Onboarding Effective? Let’s Review

So, is virtual onboarding effective when compared to its in-person counterpart? Let’s review the facts.

Virtual onboarding handles the training process overall much better than physical onboarding. However, it still leaves major gaps in the social and cultural aspects of company team-building. Plus, the virtual processes rely on employee connection reliability and self-motivation. Neither of which is guaranteed.

All the same, with most jobs moving to a remote or hybrid format, virtual onboarding is here to stay. So, it’s better to do what you can to improve your company’s processes.

Would you like more information and assistance to accomplish just that? If so, then check out our blog for more business-related content like this!

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