3 ways the onboarding process will be more difficult in 2021

Welcome to our new series where we explore the most important industries, trends, and topics related to your career from every angle. This month we are exploring remote onboarding in 2021.

With the unpredictability of 2020 in the rearview mirror, everyone can rest easy and remember that all that’s left to worry about is the unpredictability of 2021. It’s all downhill from here, right? Whether you’re a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty type of person, that statement will hold true.

One of the many things that is going to be more difficult in 2021 is the onboarding process. In 2020, lots of companies had their on-site onboarding processes rendered irrelevant thanks to the global overnight shift toward remote work, and the businesses utilizing hybrid onboarding frameworks had to rebalance and overhaul their operations’ scales on tight timelines.

And as 2021 settles in, it’s becoming clear there’s no end in sight for the sudden appearance of new roadblocks. Here’s a heads-up article on the onboarding difficulties to expect this year, so you know what’s coming up and have time to prepare.

1. Remote or bust

Though some folks are optimistic that a potential COVID-19 vaccine may flip the script on the oddities of 2020 and bring the planet back to normalcy in 2021, the odds of that happening are … well, slim, to say the least. Many workforces were already slowly gearing up to embrace remote work and the pandemic simply expedited their plans.

And for those businesses that were forced into accommodating remote work and are holding out hope for a return to the old ways, the reality is that it’ll take more than a few years and vaccines to revert workplaces back to anything remotely (sorry for the pun) like they were before.

What this means is that the huge number of businesses with little desire to stay remote are going to have to adapt, which will require work, money, and mindset shifts. Translating on-site onboarding procedures for a remote audience, developing familiarity with important conferencing and communication tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Slack, and relearning how to onboard new hires from the ground up will be necessary. If that’s not a difficult set of tasks, nothing is. Even hybrid companies will have to worry about streamlining processes if they choose to go all-in on remote operations.

2. Building relationships will be trickier

Kyle Bruss, the Director of Talent Acquisition for Talent Plus, Inc., shared his thoughts on how the remote standard will make onboarding more difficult in 2021.

“You simply don’t get the same read on someone’s kinetic energy through the video screen when they are sitting in a chair with headphones on,” Bruss said. “As well, you also lose the ability to physically show someone your space and give them the ‘nickel tour.'”

It’s undeniable—there is something unique about connecting with people in a physical, face-to-face environment that Zoom just can’t compete with.

“When someone can meet the team, even if only in passing, they are able to better visualize their new work home, the energy of the team, how they collaborate in space, etc.,” Bruss continued, reiterating the difficulties presented by remote onboarding in 2021. “In many ways it’s one of those things you can describe conceptually but experiencing in person is believing in so many ways.”

If a new hire can’t connect with their new company because their interactions with teammates feel limited and confined to a few Slack texts and brief, impersonal Microsoft Teams conferences, that’s bad news. For reasons such as that one, building relationships that retain new teammates is going to be trickier in 2021 for lots of companies.

3. Company culture will be harder to share

How do you communicate that your company’s culture is unique and worth caring about when you’re stuck with the same remote onboarding software and limitations as every other company?

“Talent Plus has a highly relational culture but it’s hard to create individual relationships when there are 60 people on a Teams call where you introduce your newest colleague(s),” Bruss told me, highlighting an issue many companies are struggling with right now. However, he was optimistic that with a bit of effort and creativity, even culture could be conveyed remotely.

“What HR, onboarding and technology leaders need to do is ensure they can enable remote relationship building and a memorable Day 1 on Day 1,” Bruss said. “This requires a lot more thought and planning than before the pandemic and more than a little flexibility.”


Therein lies the difficult part. Companies are going to have to be a lot more nimble and adaptable to make sure that their onboarding strategies are effectively winning over new hires and organically integrating them into company culture. Game nights via Microsoft Teams, video call lunches, and other creative strategies are going to be needed for relationships and culture to flourish in a remote environment.

New hires will be looking for the human element in their onboarding experience, so make sure it’s there. Do that, and there’ll be one less onboarding challenge for you to face in 2021 and beyond.