6 Creative Ways to Virtually Welcome and Onboard New Staff

The start of a new employee life cycle follows a familiar rhythm:

Human Resources training, job responsibility overviews, endless strings of emails to IT to get access and devices turned on, followed by departmental meet-and-greets and get-to-know-you activities.

Over the course of several weeks, new employees are quickly acclimated to expectations and culture because they’re spending so much time immersed in learning.

Now, with most onboarding happening remotely, we’re seeing a new, common sequence take shape: New employees are brought on to Zoom calls for training, one-on-one coaching, and team building. Hours are spent in the virtual space. But while information is likely still being absorbed, it just doesn’t feel quite the same.

ad with a link for 'take your campus virtual with Presence'

There’s something missing, and I’m not just talking about the in-person experience. In the scramble to hire and train our teams amidst COVID-19 preparations, it’s been easy to forget about the personal touches that truly welcome a new teammate into the nest.

But don’t worry! It’s not too late. I’ve got six suggestions for how you can virtually welcome new SA pros on board creatively and tactically.

6 Tips

1. Mail them a care package

Some of my favorite institutional welcomes have included a basket filled with thoughtful items: Pens in the school’s hue, a piece of swag to don on my first spirit day, and a carefully curated welcome guide.

While you may not be able to hand-deliver or joyfully surprise your new staff members with a care package, you can send some snail mail to their home! Some innovative and timely items could include institution-branded face masks, wireless headphones, and a laptop privacy screen. You might also consider adding in some of their favorite snacks and a handwritten note.

Send out a quick get-to-know-you survey to sneakily gather their food preferences, mailing address, clothing size, and other essential intel.

2. Assign them a buddy

Starting a new job can be overwhelming and nerve-racking, and virtual training calls can make the experience even more exhausting and confusing. 

Fortunately, assigning your new employee to a veteran mentor should hopefully alleviate the stress that might come from needing to ask for help. This duo should set up weekly check-ins during which the new hire processes new information and the veteran mentor fields questions.

Setting up this mentorship is helpful for you as the employer, as well. With returning pros guiding the new folks, you don’t need to worry about including every last detail in your training presentation.

3. Intentionally structure culture calls

Culture calls are teleconnected experiences that bring your team together. At this point, you’ve likely participated in (or at least heard of) Zoom happy hours, virtual escape rooms, and Netflix watch parties. These are fun options, but you can maximize them even more to build up the personal-professional relationships.

For example, host a happy hour that includes a trivia game with your new employees as the categories. Or, bring folks together for a listening party during which you curate and listen to a playlist of everyone’s favorite songs. Bonus points if your team is willing to do some virtual karaoke!

If you don’t have the time for these longer experiences, break the ice with quick but effective activities at the start of each team call. Perhaps you can have everyone set their Zoom background to a place of personal significance that they can tell the story of.

Or, your teammates can share a trait, hobby, and bucket-list item to the Zoom chat based on a given letter. So, for example, if the letter is “C,” I might send, “curly-haired, collecting wines, and creating a novel” as my descriptors.

4. Design a memory map

It’s an unfortunate reality that many new folks won’t have the opportunity to visit campus before starting their jobs. Exploring the quads and taste-testing the dining hall food are such rights of passage, aren’t they? With the inability to make that first trek across campus, it’s important to provide a sense of homecoming to those just starting out.

A unique way to do this is to invite an existing staff member to conduct a virtual tour of your campus. Now, taking a camera around campus and pointing out different offices and buildings might sound be a little boring. So, to make it a bit more interesting, have other staff members submit videos highlighting their favorite locations and a memory associated with it.

Here’s how the video might end up coming together:

I’ll walk campus and stop at the student center. I’ll then give a quick spiel about what the space encompasses. Then, I’ll say, “This happens to be Matt’s favorite spot. Let’s see what he had to say about it!”

I would then edit in Matt’s video snippet in which he says, “The fall concert takes place here and it is totally epic! Last year, my favorite band performed, and they ended up signing my shoe on their way out!”

You don’t need to be a tech expert for this. It’s okay if the video is a little choppy or imperfect! The goal is to simply bring some life to the place your new folks haven’t yet had the opportunity to discover.

5. Provide opportunities to shadow

Mock conduct cases or advising sessions can certainly be done virtually, but there are more tactical, real-time ways to get the hang of real-life scenarios — especially if you want your new employee to start communicating with your audiences as soon as possible!

Here’s one option: The next time you hop on a call with the family member of a student, invited your trainee in and have them mute their mic. That way, they can listen in, take notes, and apply your insight when they eventually make a call on their own.

You could also invite your new employee to sit in on trainings you’re doing for other departments. If, for example, you’re presenting to student staff members, or giving a presentation to incoming students at orientation, provide your new hire with a link to join in. This way, they can familiarize themselves with frequently asked questions and conceptualize the most important components or offerings of your department.

You can even test their knowledge by encouraging them to take over presentation duties for the next training. Sometimes, teaching is the best way for someone to grasp the content fully.

6. Host a socially distant gathering

While we still have a bit of summer weather left, consider taking your training outdoors. Start with a picnic during which you provide boxed lunches to folks sitting six feet apart on blankets. 

After you’ve had some time to connect in real time, wheel out the whiteboard! Use the in-person setting to map out semester goals, strategic plans, or opportunities for professional and team development. 

Your new hire will not only appreciate the novelty of being on campus with their team but also the ability to be a part of the planning process. This buy-in will be essential to their sustained involvement in the remote work world.

ad with a link for 'take your campus virtual with Presence'

I salute every department and person that is enduring the new professional onboarding process. In a field that is traditionally very hands-on in our approach to training and development, I know this season is providing a unique set of challenges. But I also know that this is where we shine – in caring for our people through the most trying and nuanced of times

What other ideas do you have for creatively onboarding staff right now? Connect with us on Twitter @HelloPresence.

Chelsea Jordan

About the author: Chelsea Jordan is a student affairs jack-of-all-trades with a passion for women's leadership. She currently serves as the Assistant Director for Campus Operations at Tufts University, and if she could have dinner with anyone tomorrow, it would be with the woman who inspires her most: Brené Brown. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

Check I'm Here is now Presence. Learn more about this change in our blog post here.