This is what HR experts really think of remote onboarding 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.

Remote onboarding is a bigger deal in 2021 than it’s ever been before. Companies all over the world are trying to figure out what the best and worst aspects of remote onboarding are and how to deal with them, and whether on-site onboarding will—or should—ever go back to being the predominant form of onboarding. It’s a turbulent time, to say the least.

Given that remote onboarding becoming the worldwide norm has affected every company differently, I reached out to three experts in different sectors to get their thoughts and opinions on the state of onboarding and to hear how their processes are changing. Here’s what they had to say.

It pays off in the long run

Jenna Knudsen, Principal at CO Architects, provided these thoughts on remote onboarding.

“Relocation time is no longer a consideration, so we’ve been able to get new hires started sooner,” Knudsen said. 

Waiting for a new hire to travel to a specific location does present a logistical hurdle for companies during traditional onboarding processes. The era of remote work is certainly helping speed things along on that front since peoples’ living rooms are their new offices.

“When onboarding, it really helps to have a coordinator, to make sure that everything runs smoothly and ensure strong communication in the preparation for the first day,” Knudsen said. “The coordinator can also check with the [new hire’s assigned office buddies] to be sure they are being purposeful about checking in. Virtual onboarding requires more upfront time, but it has proven to pay off in the long run.”

Easier to structure

Josh Tolan, the CEO of Spark Hire, a video interviewing platform, offered his view of how remote onboarding has affected workplace operations.

“From the HR perspective, remote onboarding is much easier to structure due to avoiding in-person scheduling conflicts,” Tolan said. “Offering new hires a clear schedule at the beginning of onboarding raises their confidence in the company’s organization significantly. They know exactly what to expect and when all their questions will be answered.”

However, for all the benefits of remote onboarding, there are a few hurdles to pass as well.

“With that said, HR is challenged to keep clearer communication with new hires and they have to put their trust in the efficacy of technology and the new hire’s ability to navigate the training alone,” Tolan said. “It’s a careful balance between efficiency and effectiveness when HR really needs to accomplish both.”

New possibilities and limitations

In response to my request for comment, Val Matta, the co-owner and leader of business development at job hunting and career management solution CareerShift, gave her thoughts on the current pros and cons of remote onboarding.

“Remote onboarding comes with an increased opportunity for self-guided learning,” she said. “HR simply designs courses to teach new hires platforms and processes, and new hires can work at their own pace to limit getting overwhelmed, asking questions as needed.”

The independence offered by remote work, as well as the instantaneous access to coworkers via tools such as Slack and Zoom, can be boons to new hires. However, while these aspects of the onboarding process benefit from the remote factor, other elements of the process become that much more difficult.

“The downside?” Matta said. “Connecting with the team and culture is huge to the onboarding experience, and remote onboarding tends to limit deeper personal connections.”

And therein lies one of remote onboarding’s big issues: for many companies and the people within them, it’s harder to build bonds with new hires in a remote environment. It’s not easy for new employees to feel at home in a company when they’re trapped behind a screen, lounging around their house, unable to physically shake the hands of their new coworkers.

HR opinions on remote onboarding, in summary

There is no unified consensus on remote onboarding just yet, since so many companies are still adjusting to the unusual realities of the current work world. And even for companies that have found their stride and gotten to grips with remote onboarding processes, different individuals within said companies will feel differently about the implications of said processes no longer taking place in-person.

Is onboarding slower or faster than it was before? Is it more or less resource-intensive? The answers will change depending on who you ask and what industry they’re in. It seems as though remote onboarding isn’t better or worse than on-site onboarding—it’s just different. And depending on the company in question, those differences could be beneficial or detrimental.

The only constant that many, many people seem to agree on when it comes to remote onboarding is that establishing human connections is a lot harder through a screen. That’s not exclusive to onboarding, though. In the current world, everything about the human experience is harder via a screen.

Maintaining friendships, dating, hosting celebrations—nothing’s quite as grand when it’s displayed on a monitor rather than experienced firsthand. But who knows? Maybe the very same tech companies that built the framework for the remote world we live in will someday cook up a substitute for the missing human element such a world has produced.