How to welcome a new employee virtually and boost retention

How can organizations welcome new employees virtually and make sure they feel valued? HR leaders can use these 10 strategies and share them with managers.

Welcoming new employees into the company is even more difficult when new workers and their teams must connect and get to know each other virtually.

A new employee who's onboarding virtually can easily fail to connect with new team members, miss important cultural signals and face other difficulties that lead to future retention problems. HR leaders must ensure their companies' leaders and managers are following best practices. Understanding how to welcome a new employee virtually is also an important component of training. In a virtual setting, employees may miss important signals about what is acceptable or particular ways they need to align to a culture.

Here are 10 ways to welcome a new employee virtually.

1. Urge teams to reach out early to new hires

HR leaders should encourage managers to connect with new employees before 9 a.m. on an employee's first day. Reaching out early can increase connection.

At Zapier Inc., a fully remote software developer located in San Francisco, the company's teams reach out to new hires before their first day to brief them on current projects and recent news about their group, said Brandon Sammut, chief people officer at Zapier.

[A welcome video] humanizes the team and helps jump-start belonging before day one.
Brandon SammutChief people officer, Zapier

The teams also record videos to welcome new employees.

"[The welcome video] humanizes the team and helps jump-start belonging before day one," Sammut said.

2. Send company-branded swag

Company swag, like hats or water bottles, is a fun way for the organization to welcome a new employee.

Sending new hires these items is one way to help them feel like they belong, said Andrew Gobran, people operations generalist at Doist Inc., a fully remote productivity and collaboration software developer located in Palo Alto, Calif. Swag can be especially powerful in a virtual work environment because the individual can hold these objects or even wear them.

"When you have that shirt with your company logo on it, it reinforces … 'I'm part of this team,'" Gobran said.

3. Ensure that new employees receive all their tools

HR leaders should confirm, or encourage managers to confirm, that new employees have received everything they need to carry out their work tasks.

Brandon SammutBrandon Sammut

Doing so demonstrates the company's commitment to providing that individual with the resources necessary to thrive in their new role, Sammut said. Some examples of helping new employees receive tools are the following:

  • provisioning and delivering equipment, such as computers, on time;
  • setting up passwords; and
  • providing information about company communication best practices, like which Slack channels the new hire should join.

Checking that a new employee has the right tools shows the company values them, Sammut said.

4. Encourage new hires to post on social media

HR leaders should suggest new employees post an announcement about their new position on social media, which could benefit the new worker and the organization.

Lilith ChristiansenLilith Christiansen

"[Doing so] creates a sense of pride for that individual," said Lilith Christiansen, chief experience officer at SilkRoad Technology, an HR platform developer located in Chicago.

In addition, an employee posting about their excitement starting a new job is positive advertising for the organization, which could expand the company's recruiting pipeline, Christiansen said.

5. Create opportunities for connection

Because impromptu conversations occur less often in a virtual work environment, HR leaders must develop opportunities for new hires to connect with their colleagues.

Andrew GobranAndrew Gobran

New hires at Doist generally start on Monday, so on the previous Friday, Gobran sends out a companywide announcement encouraging employees to send welcome messages to that individual. In the welcome notes, co-workers introduce themselves, say where they are based and share a bit about their role.

"When that person starts on their first day, they already have 80-some messages from other team members welcoming them and just wishing them a good start in the company," he said.

Several days into a new hire's tenure, Gobran asks them to share 10 facts about themselves on Twist, the company's collaboration platform.

A new employee sharing personal information can lead to public and private conversations between team members, Gobran said.

"It's really fun to see all the connections that are made instantly because people chime in, [saying,] 'Hey, I did that, too,' or 'That's really interesting. I want to learn more about that experience you had,'" Gobran said. "Being able to see those responses and also learn about their team members helps make it feel like this is their company, too."

6. Create new employee groups

New employee groups can further encourage camaraderie and connection.

When cohorts are composed of people with different roles -- for example, recently hired engineers, customer support representatives and recruiters -- new employees develop relationships with people across the company rather than exclusively within their own teams, Sammut said.

"It's a much more blended group," Sammut said. "You give folks the space to develop those relationships, and you end up with tighter connective tissue over time across the whole organization."

On average, Zapier onboards a new group of employees every two weeks, and every other Monday, the organization forms a new cohort, Sammut said. Each cohort has its own Slack channel and includes new employees, as well as one or two veteran staffers. Cohorts give new employees the chance to make inquiries in a safe space, as well as build relationships.

"When you join a new company, the last thing you want to do is ask a question you might think is silly in a large Slack group," he said. "But, if you have a Slack group that's entirely comprised of your fellow new hires and one or two people whose job it is to answer your questions, you're going to ask a lot of questions."

7. Tell new workers about ERGs

HR leaders should share or ensure managers share information with new employees about employee resource groups (ERGs).

Part of feeling welcome at a new organization is knowing other employees have had similar experiences, said Sonja Gittens Ottley, head of diversity and inclusion at Asana Inc., a work management platform developer located in San Francisco. HR and diversity, equity and inclusion leaders must make new hires aware of the communities that exist within their company.

At Asana, ERGs for specific communities include groups for women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, Black employees, Asian employees, and employees who are parents and caregivers, Gittens Ottley said. New employees at Asana learn about these ERGs during the onboarding process, and the ERGs provide an opportunity for new employees to seek out colleagues with similar life experiences and generally connect with workers outside their teams.

8. Avoid team-specific jargon

Every industry has its own terminology, and every team has its own lingo.

However, veteran staffers' linguistic shortcuts may be confusing for new employees during their first weeks, Gittens Ottley said. Leaders should urge teams to be conscious of this and, if team members continue using jargon, provide new employees with a glossary of terms and acronyms.

9. Check in with new hires

HR leaders should ensure they don't forget a new employee after day one.

Michele HaddadMichele Haddad

At Tibco Software Inc., a global integration, data management and analytics software company located in Palo Alto, Calif., HR leaders check in with new hires during their first week on the job and then 30 days later, said Michele Haddad, Tibco's chief people officer. During these two meetings, HR leaders ask new hires to complete brief surveys. Survey questions include the following:

  • Have you been in contact with your manager more than X number of times?
  • Have you been able to connect with your team?
  • Do you have all the resources you need for your role?

10. Measure the success of the remote onboarding process

HR leaders should continuously evaluate their virtual onboarding program and consider potential areas for improvement.

HR leaders should be asking themselves the following questions, Sammut said:

  • How do we define a successful new hire experience?
  • What are the practices that we can put in place that will enable us to get there?
  • How will we measure the experience so we know how well it works?

"I think the thing that all of us can do to set us up for success in this area is be really clear about what success looks like upfront," Sammut said, "not from a practices point of view, but a people outcomes point of view."

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