Virtual Onboarding: How to Win the Hearts and Minds of New Employees (Via Zoom)

When teams that were used to working together in person shifted to virtual, they had a wellspring of mutual goodwill to draw upon. They’d been through change, challenge, and growth together. The existing goodwill enabled them to power through virtual work even when it may have been frustrating or isolating.

Newer teammates do not have those same benefits. In many cases, they haven’t met a single person outside of a Zoom call. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be successful. In fact, with intentional, purpose-driven onboarding, recently added teammates can bring energy and creativity to their teams (without longing for the once-was office Ping-Pong tournament).

Here are three tips for helping new employees feel connected quickly:

1. Connect them with customers (or at the very least, talk to them about customers)

Especially if they are not in a customer-facing role. The collective health, economic, and social crises have brought the inherent desire for meaningful work to the fore. Humans want to make a difference and they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

If you hired a web developer, introduce them to a few people who use the site. If you hired a finance analyst, introduce them to a few long-time customers. Connecting new teammates with customers sends a very simple message: Our work matters. These people, these businesses, they depend on us.

2. Develop cross-departmental connections

Intentional onboarding (even pre COVID) prioritizes deep team building. Allowing employees to connect 1–1, outside of the normal work conversation, helps build relationships. But relying exclusively on one’s own team for ideas, feedback, and camaraderie isn’t sustainable.

Traditionally, many cross-departmental introductions were often coincidental. Your teammate introduces you to someone from another department in the elevator, your boss invites you to attend lunch with a couple of people from another team, and after a few months, you start to find your sea legs in who’s-who around here.

Virtual onboarding requires more intentionality to develop cross-team relationships. Think about the relationships this new teammate will need to be successful in their role. Not just to get through the next week of meetings but in the long term. Prioritize connecting those individuals and teams early, before an urgent deadline prompts a hasty intro.

3. Be mindful of the nostalgia

In a way, it’s comforting to sit around with our teams on Zoom and remanence of what used to be: team happy hours, destination company kickoffs, office pranks. It reminds us of fun, bonding experiences.

For new teammates, this nostalgia can be a reminder of the deep relationships they aren’t a part of. With a long road to full recovery ahead, they may worry that they might never get to the level of closeness the existing team has with each other.

If you have a new teammate, you don’t need to act like the past good times didn’t happen. Just make sure you’re putting in the effort to create new memories, too. Try a virtual baking class, send everyone lunch, or play a silly game of office Jeopardy. Instead of longing for past experiences, or waiting for future experiences, create present bonding experiences. Even if they aren’t perfect, they’re meaningful, especially for new teammates.

Making the leap into a new role during the middle of a pandemic is not for the faint of heart. In most cases, armed with only a laptop and a company email address, this new person is giving it their all to fit in and be successful.

You can help them feel more connected faster by introducing them to customers, enabling cross-departmental relationships, and keeping the team building moving forward (instead of stuck in the past).

Lisa is an advisor, consultant, and speaker who works with senior executives and sales teams around the world. She is the author of five bestselling books.