I started a new job on March 16, during the COVID-19 crisis. Virtual onboarding was initially a back-up plan, but quickly became a reality as the country began to shut down. That’s when I rode an eerily quiet train into Boston and stopped by the office to pick up a company laptop.
Our entire staff began working from home on my first day. And while I’m happy to report my onboarding experience has been positive overall, it hasn’t been free of all challenges. WFH can be tough. Add the normal stress of starting a new job, and weak links in the virtual onboarding process become amplified.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
Make a plan.
I came in with a general understanding of my job duties, but limited access to my supervisor. Had she not made a detailed schedule for my first two weeks of remote onboarding, I wouldn’t have known where to start or when to change gears.
Her plan kept me from having to constantly ask for directions or chase her down. I was able to log in every day and immediately know what was expected of me, hour-by-hour. Having a plan in place was huge. If your manager doesn’t provide an itinerary, try asking for one—or make your own and run it by them.
Working from home obviously removes the ability to connect face-to-face in real time. I’ve learned to check in frequently with my supervisor and come prepared with a list of questions so we can address everything on the same call.
After a highly structured two weeks, we began daily check-ins to determine progress and provide feedback. We don’t always have new updates to share, but in just 15 minutes a day, we’re able to connect and stay on track.
Additionally, nonverbal cues like tone of voice and body language are harder to read in a remote environment. I make a conscious effort to ask questions and “reflect” my supervisor’s messages back to make sure we’re on the same page.
Put yourself out there.
Onboarding remotely means less room to organically build relationships. I’d only met a few people—mostly through formal interviews—when I first started. Since then, I’ve been attending my firm’s virtual coffee breaks and happy hours. And making the effort pays off.
Does it feel awkward staying quiet during stories from before my time? Sure. Have my jokes sparked long, cringeworthy pauses and attempts to save face with a “just kidding?” Absolutely. But my teammates still aren’t familiar with me or my sense of humor, and occasionally putting myself out there is the only way to change that.
Part of my virtual onboarding schedule also included one-on-one meetings with someone from each division of the company, which I highly recommend. That knowledge helped me interact more effectively and build stronger connections.
Write it down.
Information overload is a common challenge when training and onboarding. There’s so much to take in all at once! I’ve run email marketing campaigns, social media channels, and much more—but not with the tools and standards specific to my new job and employer.
What worked best for me virtually was a combination of detailed training guides, live screenshares via Microsoft Teams, and a running Word document titled “Daily Notes” that’s now more than 50 pages long. The written guides and notes were especially helpful since I could refer to them while training, and I can still review them as needed.
Like many of us, I tend to overwork myself while trying to make good first impressions and wrap big projects quickly. And since working from home allows me to “stay late,” I briefly started to spread myself too thin.
The lesson: flexible hours and a strong work ethic are cool, but don’t start pulling crazy hours just because you can work remotely and want to impress. Be realistic about how long projects will take and give yourself time to recharge!
We’re all going stir-crazy. Disinfecting our groceries. Worrying about our loved ones’ health while also trying not to strangle them (and there’s that sense of humor I keep apologizing for). Part of that elusive work-life balance includes allowing yourself to be human.
If you’re in the job market, I encourage you to reach out to Communications Collaborative like I did. They have clients who are hiring, and as I can attest, virtual onboarding adapts, refines and improves every day.