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Will virtual onboarding be here to stay?

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Once you’ve hired your new talent, it’s time to think about onboarding. Research suggests this is a critical time for new employees. Sixty-nine per cent of people are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they have a positive experience upon joining. While face-to-face restrictions during Covid-19 have presented challenges for hiring teams, they have also shown what is possible. A Gartner poll of 334 HR leaders found 85 per cent were using new technologies to successfully complete remote onboarding. So, now that this virtual option has been tried and tested, will it continue to be used permanently?

Covid-19: A catalyst for positive change?
How do you help a team member to settle into their role when they may not meet their colleagues face-to-face for several months? Covid-19 has given many companies the opportunity to review current processes, taking a more proactive approach to onboarding. Take law firm Linklaters, for instance. During the pandemic, they have sent recruits a laptop and phone by courier so that they’re ready to start from day one. Examples like this show that you can still receive a warm welcome virtually if there is a good system in place. In an article by Reuters, one employee describes his remote onboarding experience as “the best induction into a company that I’ve ever had.” Without a physical office, organisations must actively schedule in time for staff introductions giving this proper consideration.

Future opportunities for hybrid working
At Wade Macdonald we’ve completed our own research on the future of the workplace in 2021. During our survey, 86 per cent of people said they’d prefer an increase in home working post-Covid-19, and nearly 20 percent said they didn’t want to return to the office at all. As organisations move away from 9-to-5 at a physical location, it’s likely that the option to join businesses remotely will continue. This has two key positives. It widens the field for job applicants who are no longer restricted by location and also helps companies to increase their talent pool. Karin Kimbrough, Chief Economist at LinkedIn, says that new, virtual options are creating an exciting “democratisation of opportunity and movement of skills all around the globe.” In a world where equality and diversity within the workplace continues to be a huge topic for discussion, is it possible that this can be improved by an increase in employer flexibility and new attitudes towards onboarding processes?

The case for physical onboarding
While the home office remains popular, there are downsides. Eighty per cent of employees say remote working has negatively impacted their mental health. In addition, staff are missing chances for social interaction, collaboration and networking – as highlighted in a survey by Deloitte. These things are particularly important for new starters, who may find it hard to read the room virtually. It can be difficult to develop relationships with colleagues on a 30-minute Zoom call, which could leave your hires feeling disengaged later down the line. While experienced recruits will be able to hit the ground running, the chance to watch and learn can be invaluable for trainees. Graduates have been hard hit by Covid-19 with the cancellation of internship opportunities. If virtual onboarding is here to stay, organisations will need to pay particular attention to this area.

Building momentum: Online training
A study by McKinsey at the beginning of the pandemic found that workplace learning experienced a temporary halt – with huge numbers of in-person learning programmes postponed or cancelled. However, as Covid-19 continued, organisations adapted. Efforts to run virtual training and onboarding for recruits, as well as courses for existing employees, have vastly improved as a result. While remote onboarding may not suit everyone, research suggests that online learning can be highly effective. Students are able to learn at their own pace by clicking back and forth to re-read information. As a result they can retain between 25 to 60 per cent more material this way. A dual approach, which gives new starters an opportunity for face-to-face contact with team members, alongside time at home for online learning could, therefore, prove to be an effective way forward.


When it comes to onboarding in 2021 and beyond, flexibility from organisations will be key. There are huge benefits to a physical onboarding process which helps recruits bond with colleagues both formally and informally. However, the future remains open for discussion. We are at an exciting time for employers and employees where there is the opportunity for an honest, open conversation about what works best on an individual basis – incorporating the lessons learnt during Covid-19 and accessing the best of both worlds.


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