Although onboarding a virtual employee is similar to onboarding an in-person employee, there are logistical elements to consider as well as how relationships are built organically within the team.
Making a New Employee Feel Welcome
It is important to make employees feel welcome and valued from the start. Here are a few ideas to accomplish that:
- Send a welcome box to arrive on their first day with company-branded items or with generic team products. Baudville and Sucessories offer a wide range of generic recognition gifts to fit any budget.
- Make a company presentation or video with every team member welcoming the new people to the team. Follow that with a pictorial organizational chart to help the employees learn about the team quickly.
- Host a welcome breakfast/lunch/afternoon break to allow for watercooler talk.
- Assign a buddy to help each of the new employees during their first year. If possible, this should be someone outside of the new employees’ day-to-day interactions.
To make a new employee feel welcome, be creative, be positive, and be present—even when you’re not.
Onboarding a virtual employee takes a few extra steps because you are going to them.
Offer letter: The offer letter should clearly state all compensation and benefits afforded to each of the employees. In a virtual world, not all your employees may be governed by the same state and local employment guidelines, so be sure to verify everything based on their locations. Getting a signed copy prior to their start dates to verify they have read, understood, and accepted those terms will serve you well.
Employment documents: Those can be downloaded. The employees should complete them and return a signed acknowledgement to Human Resources for their personnel file. If you use a third-party benefits administration service, many of those forms may be filled out online in each employee’s account.
Employee Handbook: The Employee Handbook should cover all company policies and procedures. Here are some topics to include:
- Attendance policies and time-off policies and requirements
- Employment policies (e.g., equal employment opportunity, harassment)
- Employee benefits
- Discipline and rules
- Training and development opportunities and expectations
- Termination terms and procedures
It is also important that all new employees have signed verification that they have read, understood, and agreed to abide by the contents of the Employee Handbook.
State and federal employee notices that must be posted: Within your project management system, you may add a “project” for a company intranet where you post such notices. It never hurts to also email a copy to employees when posting.
Ideally, the employees’ equipment is at their location on day one or before. Have a standard list of items prepared that will be ordered and shipped after you have determined a start date. Double-check that small items like cords and adapters are included so there is no delay in start-up. In some cases, a former employee is shipping to the new employee. Send shipping labels from the company account to the former employee. Doing so not only pays for the shipment but also allows for easy tracking.
Common equipment virtual employees may need includes the following:
- If using laptops, possibly an additional monitor
- Docking station
- Monitor stand
- Laptop cooling pad
- Wireless keyboard and mouse
- All required cables
- All-in-one printer/scanner/fax
- Ink for the printer
- Surge protector
- USB hub
- Batteries (AA and AAA)
- Dedicated office phone (if not using VoIP)
Setting Up Software
Make an appointment for IT to get its system set up properly, including the phone if you are using a VoIP phone system.
IT usually has a checklist for you to complete in advance, identifying the new employees’ needs. Don’t forget to add the new employees to all your group lists. There is nothing worse than forgetting to invite new employees to their own welcome lunch.
Basic software needs may include the following:
- Microsoft Office 365 (or equivalent)
- Adobe Acrobat
- Project management software (e.g., Base Camp, iMeet Central)
- Cloud file sharing (e.g., Dropbox)
- Team communication platform (e.g., Teams, Slack)
- Cybersecurity (e.g. Norton, Bitdefender, UpGuard)
- Screen capture (e.g., Greenshot)
- Meeting platform (e.g. GoToMeeting, Zoom)
Internet: Be sure all new employees have adequate functional internet speed to accomplish their work efficiently. This point needs to be evaluated relative to each team member’s need for speed. You can check speeds at speedtest.net.
Overall, we have found achieving speed is a combination of hardware, Wi-Fi, and raw internet speed.
Looking for these qualities in a computer will go a long way toward achieving the appropriate speed:
- Solid-state hard drive
- Minimum of 16GB memory
- CPU speed minimum of 1.8 GHtz; for a power user, increase that to 3.4 GHtz
- Ethernet 10/100/1000 (an adapter may be purchased if necessary)
Don’t neglect the router: Some routers from service providers are not optimal. Routers like the Asus Modem Router Combo or Netgear Nighthawk Smart Wi-Fi Router may provide the added boost you need to attain the desired internet speeds.
Although this seems like a no-brainer, check the internet speed plan your employees subscribed to; those speeds may require an upgrade.
Employee Handbook: Again, be sure to include all policies related to company equipment use, social media posts, use of social media during work hours, and cybersecurity.
Helping Employees Find What They Need
Setting up a “getting-started” space for new employees in your project management system gives them the power to hit the ground running without having to ask someone how to do everything. For many nondaily tasks like completing and submitting time sheets, expense report procedures, holiday schedules, requesting time off, learning when they will get paid, and all the other daunting details you learn at a new place, a getting-started space enables new employees to learn and have a long-term reference. It also gives them a timeline for when things like insurance and 401K documents need to be completed.
This topic may be covered by the IT team, but you may have some web-based systems that require adding permissions to the new employees. To avoid frustration, try to complete adding permissions before they start.
If you have an internal system for passwords, or the new employees need to access various programs, make that a part of your getting-started training.
You may also want to use a password management system (e.g., 1Passwrod or Last Pass) to make it easier to manage employees’ onboarding and offboarding.
During the first 90 days of a new position, employees often need some reinforcement to know they made the right choice, are on the right track, and are a valuable part of the team. Having multiple people check in with new employees will give a good sense to managers of how they are doing. In addition to the new employees’ buddies, their supervisors, an HR representative, and a team member may be good choices for checking on them. Scheduling regular check-ins will allow you to be sure the new employees are adjusting and are comfortable as well as provide an opportunity for them to ask questions.
With some forethought, quality infrastructure, and solid procedure, onboarding virtual employees will become a new organic process, and adapting to the new environment will be no less stressful for new virtual employees than for in-person hires.