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The Psychology Behind 4 Online Onboarding Best Practices

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It’s one thing to onboard an employee who’s right in front of you. But with the rise of remote working it’s increasingly likely that you’ll have to figure out ways to onboard employees you may never meet in person.

A Gallup survey of 15,000 people finds that 43% of workers spent at least some time working remotely last year, a number that has increased by 4% over the past five years.

Maybe you’re worried about losing a personal connection through online onboarding. But, just as remote employees can work online, you can also successfully onboard them online. All you need is some help from technology—and a little empathy.

Consider using onboarding software to take the guesswork (and paperwork!) out of the equation, so you can meet your new hires on their level and keep pace with them while onboarding them from a distance.

And, understanding these basics of human psychology, you’ll be able to make any form of onboarding that much better.

Make sure you’re using these online onboarding best practices

If you want to improve your onboarding process—online or in person—consider these best practices, and the reasons behind why they work, to make it way better.

1. Make people feel welcomed

Perhaps this sounds obvious, but first impressions matter. If you don’t make your employee feel welcome in the first few minutes of their time with you and your company, it can have a lasting impact.

The psychology behind this best practice

Welcoming new people to a group is a form of hospitality, one that sets us at ease and makes us feel like we’re part of the group. And since humans are pack animals, that need to feel like we belong to a “tribe,” is pretty darn important.

How to make this work with remote hires

In an in-person job orientation, you can make folks feel welcome by greeting them at the door, offering a warm handshake and a friendly smile, and asking a few simple casual questions. (“How was the commute?” “Are you excited?” and so on.)

It’s a little harder to pull off a warm welcome when there’s a computer screen and several hundred miles between you and your new hire. So what should you do?

Take the advice you wish all your video interviews followed: Treat a video call just like an in-person meeting:

  • Dress professionally (or in a way that is in line with your company culture—I’m on the sweatshirt startup life myself)
  • Smile, and make “eye contact” with your web cam
  • If you aren’t being seen on camera, a warm tone of voice can still help to put people at ease
  • Be polite and considerate by asking questions about how your new hires are doing

There are other ways to help make a new employee feel welcome no matter the distance. Try setting up a mentorship or buddy program. Also, identify elements of your company culture that employees can be involved in in, no matter where they are. For example, demonstrate that innovation is a priority by providing an online idea submission form where any employee can submit ideas. Or, prove that you care about cultivating positive relationships between teammates by using online collaboration methods. (Slack is your buddy!)

2. Keep people informed

You created the onboarding plan, so of course you know it front and back. That doesn’t mean that your new employee will grasp it as quickly. A great way to help draw in your new hires is to make sure they feel totally informed at all times. They need to see the entire onboarding plan and schedule so they can better understand what’s expected of them.

The psychology behind this best practice

Transparently sharing information during the onboarding stage sets a precedent for keeping staff informed about the company in general, and the open flow of information is directly linked to employee engagement. Employees who know what’s going on are better at doing their jobs, and feel more respect for their employers.

How to make this work with remote hires

Help employees feel informed by sharing their entire onboarding schedule and task list with them upfront. Share a document with the clearly laid out expectations and benchmarks they’re to reach in the training phase. During and after training, encourage conversation and feedback about the process.

If you have onboarding software already, you can show your hire how to use it to track and update their onboarding process.

3. Tap into people’s desire to learn

Trying to teach your new employees what they need to learn to get up to speed on their jobs can feel draining. It might seem like your employees are resistant to learning.

The psychology behind this best practice

As it turns out, humans love to learn. Learning actually releases dopamine in the human brain.

John Green, author of “Paper Towns,” “The Fault in our Stars,” and other books, has even given a TEDtalk about the human desire to learn. It’s a great watch, but what it comes down to is this: If you give humans the chance to learn, they gravitate toward it. All you have to do is make it enjoyable.

How to make this work with remote hires

So if your new hires seem hesitant, that might mean that your current methods aren’t fun enough. Try using gamification methods or breaking down lessons into microlearning. Check out Capterra’s training blog for even more great ideas.

4. Get new hires engaged

Employee engagement is that elusive, wily white whale that those in talent management always seem to be chasing.

It’s difficult enough engaging people you can speak with face to face every day—engaging remote employees can feel impossible.

The psychology behind this best practice

Employee engagement is vital to a company’s health. Engagement is a sign of a happy employee, and happy employees produce better results. Some of these results include more satisfied customers and better workplace performance, and may even lead to your employees being healthier people themselves, since happiness is linked to good health.

How to make this work with remote hires

The steps you can take to get and keep employees engaged at their desks down the hall are often the same steps you can take for someone miles away. To keep employees participating, use the same communication methods you used to welcome them initially. Here are a couple more ways to keep employees engaged:

  • Solicit ongoing feedback using chat channels such as Slack to help gel teams and keep you—and team managers—on your toes with new ideas and ways to make the company better
  • Be proactive in planning next steps and community events for the company. Even for something as simple as a pizza party: Is there a way to video call in remote workers and order them the same pizza the office is getting?

Small steps to socialize and integrate the home and away teams at your office can go miles toward making everyone feel like they’re in it together.

Have you onboarded online?

Have you had experience with online onboarding? Tell me about it in the comments below or tweet me @CapterraHalden. And if you’re looking for more high tech ways to onboard and engage your employees, check out our list of top-ranking onboarding talent software.

Looking for Training software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Training software solutions.

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About the Author

Halden Ingwersen

Halden Ingwersen writes about HR and eLearning at Capterra. She’s a graduate of Agnes Scott College and a TEDx presenter. You can follow her on Twitter @CapterraHalden, just don’t get her started about her zombie survival plan.

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