Onboarding during a pandemic: How to host a virtual new hire orientation

Sep 24, 2020 - Cat DiStasio

If your organization is in the fortunate position to continue hiring amid the pandemic, you’re probably already wrestling with the challenges of onboarding new employees without your traditional methods. A big gathering of new hires may not be appropriate right now, but you can still welcome new employees with open arms—virtually.

Hosting a new hire orientation event can serve the same purposes as in-person onboarding programs: fostering a sense of community and belonging, sharing essential information about new roles and processes, and preparing new employees for their new jobs. Virtual onboarding offers some extra perks for employers, too, such as decreased costs and an expanded reach, since virtual events help bring people together regardless of their physical locations.

What is a virtual new hire orientation?

When you think about traditional new hire orientation events and imagine pivoting to a virtual platform, you may wonder what you’ll have to give up. The good news is that virtual onboarding events can cover all the same topics and include the same content as your traditional program, just housed online. Live in-person speakers can be replaced with video, either pre-recorded or live-streamed. A virtual new hire orientation can also include a variety of themed sessions, either one-to-many or one-on-one sessions depending on your objectives. Informational sessions work well in one-to-many setups, such as video broadcasts, while it may be more appropriate to review new hire paperwork and position-specific information in one-on-one sessions.

Benefits of virtual onboarding

Moving new hire orientation activities online comes with a lot of advantages. Virtual events are more cost effective and convenient than in-person programs, since they require no travel or accommodations, no venue rental, no entertainment or refreshments, and so on. Virtual onboarding also allows you to welcome all new employees at the same time, regardless of their location and whether they will work remotely or onsite. During a virtual new hire orientation, it’s also easy to introduce new hires to many key people in your organization in a single event, through video broadcasts and recordings.

Key considerations when planning a virtual onboarding event

Planning a virtual onboarding event requires careful advance planning, just like traditional in-person programs do. You’ll need to choose a date, decide how long the event will last, and make a plan for communicating with new hires before and after the event.

How long should your virtual new hire orientation event last? Consider making booths available all day or even over two days if you have a lot of new hires, to give everyone a chance to attend when it’s convenient for them.

Make a communication plan for inviting your new employees and be sure to include the appropriate hiring managers. Spend time well in advance of the event making sure hiring managers are aware—not only that the event is happening but also its contents—and ask for their help to ensure new hires attend.

Before the event happens, create a follow-up plan for new hires who miss the event. Decide whose responsibility it will be to reach out to them, and make a plan for how you will get them the information they missed during the event. Will you host a make-up orientation, include them in the next round even if it’s months away, or have some other approach?

Welcoming new hires in the virtual age

We don’t know how long in-person gatherings will pose safety concerns but we do know that organizations don’t want to jeopardize the new hire experience just because they can’t meet with new employees en masse right now. Virtual new hire orientations offer a smart, convenient solution that comes with loads of additional benefits for employers and new employees alike. Hosting virtual onboarding programs is becoming more popular amid the pandemic, and like other pivots to virtual events, many organizations won’t look back even once it’s safe to gather in person again.

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