Managing Smart: Virtual Onboarding; Is it Really That Different?

Thursday, April 16, 2020

A Message from Deanne Abrams, Director, Employee Development 

Earlier this spring term, I completed the search for a vacant position on my team. I made the offer to the selected candidate before spring break and, luckily, she was able to complete her pre-hire paperwork and drug test. When the news came that we would shift to remote work and our physical campus locations would remain closed, it became clear that I would be onboarding my new team member virtually. So, I began to research — is virtual onboarding really all that different?

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) “new employee onboarding is the process of integrating a new employee with a company and its culture, as well as getting a new hire the tools and information needed to become a productive member of the team.” I knew that with our current Valencia College Compass Online Resources, our new employee — Coordinator, Employee Development Jaclyn Taylor — would have a great introduction to our mission and values. The resource courses would also provide information on the basics — timesheets, benefits and the Valencia Security mobile app. I supplemented these resources with websites and materials specific to Jaclyn’s role on the team. When I did not have an electronic artifact to share, such as an updated organizational chart, I drew one during one of our video chats.

Before Jaclyn started, I created an onboarding plan that included important contacts, relevant online resources and a tentative schedule for her first few weeks. The plan included invitations to virtual planning meetings with the team, recommended trainings and suggestions for things to do. Except for the first day, it did not include an hour-to-hour schedule.

Jaclyn shared her feedback on the plan. “Having that set schedule for the first day, and loose schedule for the first few weeks, really eased much of the stress associated with the uncertainty of starting in a virtual environment. While clearly made to be flexible, it gave me anchor points and events to look forward to throughout my start.”

An onboarding plan template can be found in the Valencia College Compass Supervisor Resource Course.

Having physical tools and online access available on day one can be challenging. Because Jaclyn set up her Atlas account as soon as her VID was created, she had her Valencia College email, as well as Atlas and Canvas access on her first day. Unfortunately, the computer assigned to her was on campus.

“As expected, technology was the greatest challenge,” Jaclyn said. “Starting from my own system was more difficult than starting from a Valencia device, but definitely still doable. I would recommend going forward, that if an employee is starting using their own technology, that a Skype call with IT is scheduled for the first week to ensure programs are set up and available until a Valencia device can be used.”

Our colleagues in OIT have set up a process to ensure new employees have the devices they need shortly after they start. I suggest that managers complete an OIT Work Request as soon as you select your candidate to hire.

Fostering interpersonal relationships among team members and colleagues is imperative to building connection. Usually, when a new employee starts, we would get together as a team for lunch or breakfast during the first week. It was essential that I encouraged opportunities for Jaclyn to “meet” the team on day one, so we did a team coffee break after my one-on-one video chat with Jaclyn.

During the Microsoft Teams video call, we did some ice-breakers to introduce ourselves. I asked team members to “meet” with Jaclyn one-on-one to dive deeper into the work they do and we invited her to other planning conversations throughout the week. Jaclyn and I met briefly toward the end of each day, so I could check in and answer questions, provide context to information and discuss things to focus on for the week. Honestly, this felt no different from what we would do in person; the meetings just happened to be virtual.

At Valencia, we value each other’s strengths, ideas and perspectives. Regardless of how we onboard — in person or virtually — if we hold true to these values, we create the space for our new team members to “start right” and be successful.

Jaclyn shared this thought at the end of her second week. “The best piece of advice that I could give to a leader that is starting someone virtually is make sure to be patient and intentional … allowing me time to meet with the other team members, both formally and informally, made me feel comfortable and fostered a very human environment. After Day 1, I felt like a part of a team, almost forgetting that I hadn’t actually met any of these people in person.”

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