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Onboarding New Employees During a Pandemic

By February 17, 2021No Comments

Once a candidate has signed their employment offer letter the onboarding begins!  Those critical first impressions in how an organization welcomes their new hires also begin.

A critical step in recruiting new hires successfully is in the onboarding as it boosts productivity, engagement and retention.  It has become even more important in the absence of in-person office hours and opportunities for in-person meetings for a new hire.

Early in 2020 organizations were tasked to build flexibility, agility and diversity into their onboarding programs and other people programs.  Although recognizing that creating a welcoming workplace virtually has been challenging, many organizations have become adept at making tweaks and revisions to their onboarding programs, including things like office tours, team introductions, swag bags and IT training.

Important Steps in Building Your Virtual Onboarding Program

Many lessons were learned during the early days of 2020 in developing a more robust virtual onboarding process after experiencing bumps and mistakes along the way. Here are a few of them.

Automate your Onboarding Process

Making the first day exciting, productive and effective requires extra effort by the Hiring Manager, HR / Payroll, Team Leader, IT, Recruiter and other team members.  The processes need to be personalized and nailed down prior to the new hire start date.  A critical step initiating the onboarding involves automating as many aspects of the process as possible.

Get Technology – Pronto

In our virtual worlds, the IT onboarding starts immediately after the candidate signs the employment letter.  The IT department is typically notified in advance of the start date to prepare a laptop, load it with all the software and programs required and get it to the new hire prior to their start date.  Along with the laptop delivery, an email with instructions and credentials to sign in should be provided prior to its delivery.  Included will be the IT Support contact information in the event there is an IT issue.

Since the pandemic it has also become common to ask employees to bring their own device for a phone and provide an allowance to cover the work cost.


Hiring teams are delivering swag items and a hand-written letter from the manager directly to the new hire’s home at the same time the laptop is delivered.  They would typically receive swag on their first day in the office so this mirrors this process to make them feel they are becoming part of the organization’s community.  Items such as a t-shirt they can wear on their first day add to the fun.   It really makes new hires feel valued and appreciated.

Internal Connections

It is critical for the employee to have as many tools as possible on their first day including email, Slack, MS Teams, and Zoom connections.  Additional time on the phone or a video conference extends the IT orientation on the first day to get further acquainted with the IT Team and helps to put a face to a name.

Additional virtual introductions to other key contacts can be set up throughout the first week to help them get up to speed quickly with HR and Payroll as well as with other people they will have frequent contact with in their new job.  LinkedIn uses a tool on Slack called Donut to pair employees up every two weeks for a 30 minute coffee chat.

The Recruiter (internal / external), who is likely the first person they met in the process, would be a welcome call to make sure they are settling in and that everything is as they expected.  This gives the new hire someone to reconnect with and to ask any of those ‘silly’ questions making it less formal.   It is also an opportunity for recruiters to ask new hires to give the company a 5-star review on Glassdoor – this is very common among the millennial generation.

Constant Contact

In our working-from-home world, the manager will need to keep in touch more often to discuss the practical and the social aspects of the new hires’ onboarding to ensure success.   Speaking to the organizational mission, vision and values is key, but managers also need to ensure that their new employee is connecting with their team, feeling comfortable and getting over the initial new hire jitters.

Social Interaction

The social aspects of working remotely are such an important aspect of not only the onboarding stage but ongoing part of the working from home arrangement.

Many organizations may already have a buddy program for new hires and they can convert this part of their onboarding program to a virtual buddy engagement with the new hire.  The buddy is someone they can reach out to for a one-on-one virtual coffee to share some advice and be an open sounding board.

The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) estimates that more than 20 percent of the global workforce (most of them in high-skilled jobs in sectors such as finance, insurance, and IT) could work the majority of its time away from the office—and be just as effective. Not everyone who can, will.  Even so, this is a once-in-several-generations change. It’s happening not just because of the COVID-19 crisis but also because advances in automation and digitization made it possible.  The use of those technologies has accelerated during the pandemic. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella noted in April 2020 that “we’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”

MGI also notes “The other challenge has to do with adapting the workforce (in general) to the requirements of automation, digitization, and other technologies…” This applies to so many organizations and sectors even beyond those who can work remotely.


A good example of onboarding during a pandemic was featured in a recent Globe and Mail article.  A technology company, Thinkific Labs Inc. has been on a marathon hiring spree, bringing about 20 new employees on board every month to help its customers create and sell their own online content.

The company recently raised $22-million and is putting much of that cash toward adding nearly 400 people to its team before the end of 2021, up from about 100 at the start of 2020.

“With about 10 people starting at the company roughly every two weeks, it’s important to do a good job of onboarding the new hires” Ms. Miranda Lievers (Co-Founder & COO) says.  The company has “an extensive onboarding process…where new hires are collected into cohorts and spend their first two weeks together, no matter their final destination.”

Organizations need to have the latest collaborative technology in place to enable agile learning, and they need to build this technology into their onboarding programs.  Tech savy organizations are investing in technology such as BambooHR’s human-resources software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform to make sure new hires receive the full and consistent introduction to the company. This type of platform also provides the opportunity to pull all employee data into one online tool as part of onboarding for day one.   For an organization such as Thinkific on a marathon hiring spree, this online tool is invaluable.  As Ms. Kiever says, “It helps to removes error and the potential for error.”

A Final Note

An important aspect of the onboarding program is giving new hires the opportunity to provide feedback on what worked, what didn’t and what resources could be improved in the onboarding process.  In addition, it is so key to act on their feedback right away.

This all sounds like a lot of work, but if done well it can go a long way to ensuring greater engagement, loyalty, increased productivity and higher retention from your new employee.


This post was written by Sheila Smith, S2HR Consulting, HR Strategist & Executive Coach. She can be reached at or 519.221.1781.