Virtual Onboarding: What Made It Work
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn
Virtual onboarding never came to my mind until it became a reality.
On the weekend before my first day, I received a message from Tia, my “onboarding buddy”, saying that the team was going to work from home next week and they planned to onboard me virtually.
To be honest, I was not too surprised since COVID-19 had been on the news for over a week and many companies had adopted a WFH policy. I had anticipated working from home. The concept was not new to me since my husband works as a software developer. I had just never experienced or even heard of virtual onboarding.
Nevertheless, it was happening. I had to believe what Georg Hegel once said: “What is reasonable is real; that which is real is reasonable.”
WHAT IS REAL?
I was about to join Habits at Work as an executive assistant. I had been very excited ever since I got the offer. I always love the kind of work that involves lots of learning opportunities and diverse tasks. And my new role promises it all.
The job offer was still REAL even though sadly there were probably a million jobs out there that vanished overnight. My determination was also REAL. I would not easily let this opportunity slip away, so if onboarding remotely is necessary, then bring it!
WHAT IS REASONABLE?
I have close family members living in China, and they had been through over two months of quarantine. As things get more chaotic here, the situation in China is getting under control.
I knew before the “stay at home” mandate that the most effective way to prevent COVID-19 from spreading is to practice social distancing and self-quarantine. Our company is more than REASONABLE to choose virtual onboarding at this crucial time.
Luckily, technology makes it possible for us to connect wherever there is WIFI. Through email, text, Whatsapp, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, etc., our team tries the best to keep smooth communication internally and with clients.
WHY DID I STILL FEEL UNEASY?
It was the feeling of uncertainty that had been haunting me since I joined the team, and was rooted in my worry of physical health and financial security.
I am not athletic, but I’m an overall very healthy young adult. I’ve never cared about a light cough or sneeze. Things are definitely not the same these days. For example, I caught myself taking my temperature right away whenever I felt a tiny irritation in my throat. It’s not wrong that I am being careful with myself when there’s a pandemic going on, but being extra sensitive to how my body feels all the time is tiresome.
Besides physical concern, I felt a bit lost, and a bit frustrated too. I still see myself as a recent graduate exploring the “real” world, now with more adult responsibilities like paying rent and making doctor appointments for myself. However, I have been longing for personal growth and career advancement.
To start a new job during this turbulent time was scary. I wanted to outperform what was expected of me and to leave a great impression, and I was not sure that virtual onboarding could help me do that. Never before has the company onboarded any team member remotely. Everyone was adjusting to the new working environment. I worried about virtual onboarding might turn out not as effective as we hoped.
WHAT MADE THIS WORK?
It still takes a collective “yes” from all the team members to say the virtual onboarding was a success. Just counting my first-hand experience, I say it went pretty well.
There are a few things I would like to share relating to what exactly made this virtual onboarding work for me and my team.
Address the elephant in the room and be empathetic.
When things turn out to be different than expected, pretending they were not or ignoring the change is never the best solution.
I had my first-week agenda emailed to me before my first day. Obviously some office-related activities had to be crossed off when being physically in the office became impossible.
I found it comforting when my “onboarding buddy” Tia directly informed me what tasks were about to change or were temporarily delayed. She started that conversation by first acknowledging the undesirable circumstances, then she expressed her frustration and welcomed me once again to join the team.
Acknowledging what we are facing is thoughtful and respectful. It made me recognize that we are all in this together, there is no reason to feel emotionally isolated, even though we physically are.
During our weekly meeting (my first weekly meeting), our company CEO Andrew analyzed the impact of the stay-at-home mandate for our business. He made it clear for us that he understands the negative feelings we might have and he is ready to listen whenever we like to talk about it.
Another team member shared with me her experience going through the 2008 financial crisis in her early career, showing me she understood that I might feel insecure or scared and offered to “be here any time to talk”.
I am grateful for their empathy and openness during the onboarding process. Because of that, pretty quickly, I felt included as a part of the team.
Giving & Receiving Feedback is more important than ever.
Telecommunication has existed for a long time but the majority of people still work at the office, a place where collaboration happens effortlessly. Trying to achieve the same efficiency through video conferencing is not easy. But there is a way to almost always guarantee to keep things going.
At Habits at Work, we could not stress more the importance of feedback. I found out shortly after I joined the team that giving and receiving feedback is the true way to keep everyone on track.
When I first started, I thought I would receive minimal guidance since everyone would be working from home. But to my surprise, I was given a lot of feedback that provided clear instructions on how to move forward.
The feedback I received was usually sent in an email: nice and simple. I was even asked to give feedback to my team members and when they asked me to name “one thing we could do differently next time”, it took me a second to realize that they were not playing.
Giving and receiving feedback makes me a team player. It enriched the engagement which could be lacking during this isolated time.
Take extra effort to make connections and ask questions.
If things had not changed, I would report to the office on my first day and I would meet and greet everyone at the company, even with colleagues who work on different projects. Right now, it’s much harder to know the whole team without virtual intervention.
The company did extra work to keep the morale up by making sure we can connect as not only colleagues but also as each other’s emotional supporters during this tough time.
The team arranged a virtual lunch to welcome me (very sweet!). They also invented an “icebreaker” form of interesting questions to continue getting to know the team after our virtual lunch. The questions were like: “what’s your favorite clothing in your wardrobe and why?” It was super fun to participate and read what others had to say and, by the end of this activity, we all felt like we knew each other more and relaxed a little from the craziness of the current world.
Not surprisingly, I had a ton of questions to ask as the newcomer in the team. I was encouraged all the time to ask questions and there is even a section on the internal meeting agenda designated for asking questions. That is super helpful because otherwise, I may shy away from inquiring too much. However, my team showed me that there is no such thing as too many questions.
I have been only with the company for three weeks, yet I have witnessed our leaders demonstrate great resilience despite the huge setback. I have gained comfort talking to my colleagues who listened empathically. I have received feedback that really supported my growth. My confidence in being able to work effectively eventually overcame my doubts and my concerns. And that is why virtual onboarding worked for me and for my team.