Virtual Onboarding – Should we expect for it continue post-COVID lockdown?


Throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, as a country, we have been tirelessly searching for new ways to do… well everything in both our professional and personal lives. From hosting video calls and online quizzes with family and friends, to creating make-shift desks to get through the working week, everybody has adapted to the lockdown limitations.
Likewise, there are a number of companies who chose to continue their recruitment plans throughout the difficult period. In fact, speaking to local businesses, 80% said they had not only interviewed but successfully onboarded a new member of staff during the lockdown period. 

But as these measures begin to ease, should we expect virtual onboarding to be a part of the “new normal” in recruitment and working practices, alongside remote working and virtual interviewing?


Time and ease

One of the biggest points companies made when discussing utilising virtual onboarding was how much more time consuming it was than onboarding somebody in person. Quite the opposite from how companies spoke about virtual interviews. Not only did companies report that more time was required on video calls and scheduling check-ins, but more time was also required to plan, organise and work out the delivery of equipment before their start date. Many companies reported that they’ve found that previously used methods, timetables and plans for onboarding new starters have had to be revised to fit an online/remote format, as they were simply not effective online. 

Some reported a correlation between the time taken and ease of virtually onboard a new starter and the level of their position in the business, with those in senior or experienced positions being less time consuming and far easier than a junior starter.

In a small number of cases, Hiring Managers did mention that they were relieved overall to have had the option to onboard virtually, as with the lockdown period having no certain end, their projects would have otherwise been on hold indefinitely. 


Tools used for virtual onboarding 

Despite there being a vast array of onboarding tools designed specifically to manage this process for employers, we found that, of the companies we spoke to, none had chosen to utilise them. Instead, those in both Human Resources and Hiring Manager positions had chosen to adapt their every-day working tools such as ‘Microsoft Teams’, ‘ZOOM’ and ‘Google Drive’ to share documents, set up meetings and keep the lines of communication open with their new starters. 

In more than a couple of cases, it was reported that since lockdown, teams had started to use ‘Slack’ as a way to encourage social and professional communication in the office, therefore demonstrating the role of an instant messaging tool in the social integration of the new team member. 


Social and team integration 

Social integration was another area for discussion when considering virtually onboarding new members of the team. 

From our previous discussions around virtually interviewing potential candidates, one of the main issues that Hiring Managers mentioned was the lack of opportunity for the candidate to experience the office, meet teams and be able to judge team-fit over video calls. We see this concern follow through to the onboarding process, with extra effort being invested from the company side to arrange opportunities for the individual to be welcomed into the team. 

Some examples here include scheduling 10 minute “coffee break” social sessions with members of the team, and inviting new starters to join company quizzes and social chats during their notice period. There has been a big push toward ensuring the “newbies” are welcomed and feel part of the bigger team.


The future of virtual onboarding

Overall though, the feedback we gathered from those who had tried to onboard new starters virtually was mixed. 

In 80% of cases, Hiring Managers and Human Resources contacts felt that virtually onboarding their new starters was too time consuming and impersonal, and therefore, they would be returning to their previous methods of welcoming a new team member. In fact, over 50% felt so strongly that they claimed that even if the new starter were to be fully remote for their position usually, they would still insist on their attendance to the office for a face-to-face induction. 

However, the 20% who claimed they would continue with virtual onboarding methods, seemed very enthusiastic about the process and keen to continue and improve. We found these were usually the companies whose recruitment had not slowed throughout the lockdown period and as a result, had onboarded more than one person this way. Amongst other reasons, we suspect their positive experience is  down to necessity and building processes that have been repeatedly tried and tested for ease and time considerations. 

With 8/10 companies planning to offer remote working options since the lockdown, it’s clear that there have been some positive experiences of change during lockdown. However, given the above feedback, unfortunately onboarding does not seem to be one of them. 

We do suspect, however, that there may be some correlation here as to how common the practice was before lockdown and how well it was received and adopted during. 

For example, the change to relying 100% on virtual interviewing techniques was far better received and a less jolting experience for companies, as it was fairly commonplace pre-COVID 19 too. Virtual onboarding, although not unheard of pre-Covid, was much less familiar to organisations. Overnight, as lockdown came into play, organisations were expected to switch their methods, use new technology and online tools with no period available to slowly adapt or review processes. We suspect this may, in part, account for some of the initial negative reaction to this new process. 

Given time and more companies adopting and becoming familiar with virtual onboarding methods, it may be much more successful in the future.

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