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ATD Blog

Onboarding Your Virtual Team Members, Part 1

Friday, February 12, 2021

In this two-part series, we will explore the best practices behind effectively onboarding and engaging your remote team members. While the goal is the same when onboarding and engaging virtual and in-person teams, the methods required may differ. Same why, different how.

Onboarding is a vital moment in the lifecycle of your employees. It’s an opportunity to instill confidence in your new team member that they have made the right choice in coming to work for you. When they feel they are a fit for your organization, they are more likely to be highly engaged and motivated.

A structured and welcoming onboarding process is crucial because you won’t have a second chance to make a first impression. In fact, in a February 2014 survey by BambooHR, roughly a third of the 1,000 respondents stated they had quit a job within six months of starting it, and 16 to 17 percent of the respondents had left a job between their first week and their third month. If that statistic is true for your organization, you’re losing one in six of your new hires each month for the first three months of their employment.

Let’s explore some best practices for onboarding your virtual team members.

Effective onboarding consists of several components:

  • Clear communication of the organization’s purpose, brand, and culture
  • Connecting the new team member to stakeholders within the organization
  • Clarifying and defining the employee’s skills and outlining how those skills align with the team and organization’s purpose and goals

In-person orientation relies on face-to-face meetings, formal and informal lunches, and impromptu hallway conversations to achieve those goals. Virtual orientation can accomplish the same objectives for your team, with a few intentional behaviors. Remember: same why, different how.


Several strategies to effectively and clearly communicate the organization’s vision and culture to virtual employees exist. Consider holding round-table live calls with senior leaders. The leaders can share the organization’s vision and culture, and new employees can ask questions and begin to make connections.

A best practice for on-site and virtual onboarding is to assign your new team member a peer buddy—a person responsible for introducing them to the written and unwritten norms of the team and organization. A peer buddy can include your new team member in meetings with stakeholders, begin to orient the new team member to department stakeholders, and engage them in department processes and projects. For virtual teams, these meetings also provide necessary social connection.

Meeting regularly with your new employee during their onboarding phase is even more important when you work virtually. Frequent check-ins help you build a trusting relationship. Follow a semi-structured agenda so you get the most out of your time together. You could consider having a list of powerful questions, such as:

  • What do you need help with today? This week? This month?
  • Is there anything in your work that’s less than stellar or causing frustration or delays?
  • Looking back on your time with our team so far, what would have made it better for you?
  • What’s going really well that you’d like to share with me?

Meetings during the onboarding phase should also focus on performance and development expectations you have for your new employee. Set clear goals for them, remembering that in the onboarding phase, they will need support, resources, and clear direction to reach those goals.

Leaders can evaluate the effectiveness of their onboarding strategies by asking questions of their new employees at 30, 60, and 90 days after hire. Some examples of these questions are:

  • What do you wish you knew more about or understood better within our organization or our team?
  • What do you wish you had been shown or taught during your new employee onboarding that you haven’t been?
  • What one area of your onboarding experience so far do you think could have been improved the most, and what suggestion do you have for its improvement?

Consider also asking your current employees what they wish had been different in their onboarding and what worked well. Encourage them to craft a plan to improve the onboarding experience of new team members and empower them to enact those changes.

Remember that you don’t have to own every piece of onboarding your new team members. Besides serving as peer buddies, your employees can also help create the onboarding schedule, send welcome emails to their new team member, and handle introductions to stakeholders. Be clear in your delegation of these tasks and follow up with your new employee to ensure these things have been completed.

Onboarding virtual team members requires intention and a purposeful effort to build connection. As soon as you have finalized the hire, begin holding time with your new employee on your calendar and engage your team in planning for the onboarding tasks you have delegated to them. Schedule these activities as the mission-critical priority they are, and you will create a welcoming and effective onboarding experience for your new virtual team member.

About the Author

Karna Stuchlik is a talent development partner with the organizational development and talent management team at Saint Luke's Health System. She has more than six years of experience in a training and facilitator role. She specializes as an OD consultant, working with leaders to drive change within their departments. She facilitates a variety of classes, including the Vital Smarts™ series: Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, and Influencer. She also practices as a leadership and career development coach, utilizing a strengths-based approach to development.

About the Author

Christina Wood, MSOD, is a talent development partner with more than 15 years of experience in healthcare and higher education with Saint Luke’s Health System. She is passionate about helping leaders and physicians navigate change through coaching and development. She is a Certified Professional in Talent Development and a Strengthscope Practitioner, who uses a strengths-based approach to coaching to help others achieve their highest potential. Within Saint Luke’s, Christina has helped lead the push toward a strengths-based organization by implementing onboarding, leadership development, mentoring, and career development strategies that leverage individual strengths for organizational outcomes.

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I love the information shared. I believe onboarding is the first critical moment in the lifecycle of the employee, even more than the hiring process itself. When people start, companies need to help them understand the culture, the system, and their role in all of it! That feels welcoming! The time dedicated to good onboarding will pay off!
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Love this article. My current employer did everything to make me feel welcomed and valued. There was a welcome gift in my office on my first day, supplies, laptop, printer, access card, a schedule for training; even lunch meetings with all the veep!. Best onboarding experience I've EVER had and I will "pay it forward" when I hire new team members. (I like the term peer buddy, too!)
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This information contains great potential enhancements to our onboarding program.
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