The Keys to a Successful Virtual Onboarding Strategy

As the pandemic continues to keep many associations working remotely, they are also having to hire and onboard in this environment. One organization that’s done virtual onboarding well shares what made their process a success.

The pivot to virtual work these last few months has also required associations to pivot to virtual hiring and onboarding. To successfully bring new staff into the fold, organizations must ensure they’ve created a thorough process and translated the culture of the office to the online world.

“Without the ability to just pop by and see someone or say, ‘Hey, let’s go grab some lunch,’ we had to figure out how would we onboard someone in a completely remote way,” said Cynthia Schaal, chief operating officer at Exponent Philanthropy.

Schaal and colleagues were in the process of hiring two new employees back in March when the pandemic hit. That meant they had to finish the hiring and onboarding processes virtually. Luckily, the organization had just finished revamping its onboarding strategy, detailing all the tasks involved to ensure every new hire received the same experience.

“We set up, logistically, a process for the various aspects of onboarding,” Schaal said. “It helped us virtually but would have helped in-person as well.”

Serenity Greenfield, senior director of relationships, research, and reach at Exponent Philanthropy, said it’s necessary that organizations think through every step that goes into onboarding, large and small, and make sure that appears in your process.

“If we hadn’t had that set up, it would have been a nightmare to remember all the things you do to onboard people,” Greenfield said. “We could assign due dates for completion. Everything was in there, and the employees liked knowing what was expected of them.”

Using project-management software Asana, they created list of tasks for new hires to tackle over the first 90 days. “We developed a learning and culture journey that they would pursue,” Schaal said. “They got to know our business models. They got to know the fundamentals of the equity and inclusion journey and some of the internal processes. We made sure they understand our sector.”

Check-ins were also built into the process. “We checked in at 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days on their progress,” Greenfield said. The goal was to use the check-ins to ensure they were getting acclimated to peers, job functions, and processes. “We might say, ‘What do you want to accomplish in first 30 days?’ and that might be getting to know people. At 60 days, we might ask them to figure out, where do you spend your time? And at 90 days, they could evaluate, what [job processes] do you want to change?”

Schaal and Greenfield also worked hard to replicate office culture virtually. “We are very relation-centered,” Greenfield said. “We had a big kitchen and free snacks. People gathered and ate. People would have a happy hour down there. Then we moved online to where you only talked to people if you had work to do.”

To replicate some of the collegiality of the office, new hires received tasks designed to help them get to know peers. “We incorporated a requirement to do ‘deep introductions’ to people,” Schaal said. “It’s basically you and another person getting to know each other in a very structured way. For the first 20 minutes, you don’t say anything. You just listen to the other person. We had them do that with people they don’t interact with, and also [for] getting to know people within the team.”

New hires also received peer mentors. “We made sure that person was someone they interacted with from the interview process—someone who had been nonevaluative,” Schaal said. “It was a familiar face. That person could be a partner to them throughout that initial 30 to 60 days. It helped with continuity.”

While Exponent Philanthropy’s decision to increase the frequency of its all-staff meetings from monthly to weekly was designed to help the entire office stay connected while working remotely, it was also beneficial to acclimating new hires.

“Communicating more when we went in remote status was helpful, especially to new people,” Schaal said. “There was more intentionality built into it, more having face-to-face connections.”

Greenfield agreed, noting the association did activities like posting favorite recipes in Teams and virtual happy hours. “We had weekly happy hours and everyone took a turn coming up with the themes,” she said. “We had a beach happy hour. One theme was present your favorite conspiracy theory in a PowerPoint. It gave them other things to talk about besides work.”

How has your association transitioned its onboarding process during the pandemic? Share in the comments.

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Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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