Tips for Remote Onboarding During a Pandemic

By Iris Gonzalez
Woman working remotely from home. Photo by Susanna Marsiglia on Unsplash.

Whether you’re bringing on summer interns or adding new employees, the need for physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic dictates a transition to remote onboarding.

We reached out to businesses across San Antonio to gather best practices for onboarding interns and new hires without face-to-face contact. A focus on formalizing fundamental practices, leveraging productivity-boosting technological tools, and integrating training into onboarding are just some of the tips San Antonio startups offered.

Define and document your onboarding practices

Companies may have informal processes for bringing interns and new hires up to speed during their first days on the job. With everyone working from home, the time to document the details of your organization’s onboarding experience is now.

Amy Garza, a 2020 Venture for America (VFA) fellow, has been doing just that as a project manager for Dura Software.

“We’ve developed and documented our process so it’s repeatable, from posting the job announcement to the employee’s first day on the job,” Garza said. “We set up meetings for the new hire’s first day, and the employee gets an onboarding timeline with milestones to complete.”

Jungle Disk CEO Bret Piatt has also adjusted the onboarding process for his Students + Startups summer interns.

“The informal discussions and ad hoc team meetings we used to have all move much more slowly when working remotely,” Piatt said.” We’ve had to narrow the scope and job description for the summer interns because they will need to work on their own, rather than working collaboratively with a team onsite.”

Interns will instead receive assignments they can complete independently and check-in with a manager daily and weekly instead of working with a dedicated team of people in the office.

Transition company culture to the virtual world

Many companies, such as Dura Software, hold a meet and greet or schedule a welcome meal for employees to meet interns and new hires.

“Now that we’re remote, we welcome them on the Dura Slack channel and remind the hiring manager to email the entire company to introduce the new hire virtually,” Garza said. “It’s important to both let your team know and help your newest team member feel welcome.”

Alberto and Jason Piña founded Braustin Homes in early 2017 as a remote mobile home dealership hence they were well-positioned to adapt to the pandemic restrictions. Alberto Piña said maintaining company values and culture is especially important with distributed teams.

“We’ve given each team member $20 to buy food from a local business so we can share a team meal on Zoom, it helps keep our culture going,” Piña said.

Piña also manages ‘swag from a distance’ by shipping new hires and customers t-shirts and hats along with a thank you note.

Integrate training into your virtual onboarding process

The remote onboarding timeline ideally includes human resources in-processing, discussions with the hiring manager, getting set up with technology and tools, and learning about the new role and employer expectations. In-person training or shadowing is also transitioning to online platforms.

David Jones, a lawyer specializing in startups and technology businesses, is adapting his in-person intern training to daily video calls over the first two weeks. Rather than review unfamiliar legal procedures in a day or two, Jones plans to break up the training sessions into shorter, daily calls until the interns know enough to do the work.

Connor Chamness, also at Dura Software, has already remotely trained incoming VFA fellows. He finds the virtual sharing of computer screens to be productive.

“Before we would send someone a key activities list plus some helpful resources, then we’d sit together in the conference to walk through their role,” Chamness said. “The person’s ability to absorb new information depended on their experience, how well they paid attention, and if they took good notes.”

Chamness discovered the benefits of teaching the workflow of how to handle an inquiry or deal review of potential deals to new employees via Zoom.

“Now I pull up a spreadsheet and record the Zoom call to show how it’s done so that the person can refer to the recording later. Then, in the second half of our call, I can watch them as they try to do it and offer feedback in real-time.”

Provide clear guidance and expectations

Interns may be unclear on what to do with their downtime, said Kay Jones, founder of Moxi Professional Development. Given their comparative lack of experience in a work environment, interns may not know to ask for more work, so managers need to be explicit on their productivity expectations.

By asking interns (and new hires, Jones added) what they hope to gain from this job opportunity, a manager can gain insights into the resources that would grow a new team member’s professional skills and industry knowledge.

“Sometimes, you can be learning and not necessarily working,” Jones said. “Having those resources and clear guidance on how to make the best use of downtime can pay off with better employee engagement and a more valuable team member in the end.”

Use online tools for productivity 

While some companies are dedicating a Slack channel for the proverbial ‘quick question’ for a manager, that communication may get lost in the shuffle for larger businesses.

“We’re using MixMax [a sales engagement platform] to manage our emails because it has a chat thread feature you can use for each email,” Chamness said. “MixMax allows a new person to ask me a question about that incoming email I can answer easily.”

Other companies are using tools such as Yac Chat, an asynchronous voicemail app,,  a live chat software tool, and more. [See a longer list of free communications tools here.]

What is important is that new members of your company know how to ask a quick question virtually if they need clarification. In a virtual environment, remember new team members need access to company email, Slack channels, and the software tools and platforms your business uses if they are going to be productive.

After the pandemic consider keeping some remote processes

Braustin Homes uses a detailed playbook that documents their home-selling process step by step, chapter by chapter. Each week, new hires train on each step of the process in different role-playing scenarios.

“While our sales teams are now working from home rather than from Geekdom, our process is still the same,” Alberto Piña said. “We continue to focus on our discipline in the details using the tools and processes we’ve developed to capture details. That was important before, it’s essential now, and it’ll still be relevant after this is over.”

Featured image is of a woman working remotely from home. Photo by Susanna Marsiglia on Unsplash.





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