Virtual Onboarding Strategies for your New Employee’s First Day, Week and Month

by Tracy Marshall

Senior Vice President

Posted December 10, 2020

By now, working remotely has become the norm for nonprofits nationwide, and it’s likely to remain the norm in some capacity for the year to come. This means that if your organization hasn’t welcomed new staff virtually already, then chances are you will at some point soon. When you do, consider these guidelines to ensure the successful onboarding of employees in a fully virtual environment…


Before the First Day

In the days or weeks leading up to your new staff member’s first day, the onboarding process should focus on two key elements: logistics and fostering a connection to your organization’s mission. In terms of logistics, connect with IT to ensure your new staff member is fully set up to access their email, files, and necessary software from home and with HR to ensure all paperwork, etc. is taken care of (ideally prior to their first day). When it comes to encouraging a connection to your organization’s mission, do not be discouraged by the limitations of not being in-person. Instead, get creative! You might:


Arrange for a remote ‘tour’

Many nonprofits have made their museum exhibits, artist performances, campus tours, classes, and other programming available online for their constituents – your new staff member can benefit from these offerings, too!


Send swag

Sending a ‘swag bag’ of branded items—whether it be a mug, shirt, office supplies, etc.—is a nice touch that helps new staff feel included from the very start.


Share donor materials

Consider sharing materials created for donors with your new staff; not only will it inform their understanding of your communications strategy, but it will also help develop their own knowledge of your organization’s history and impact. Think, too, about what materials you have that capture the culture of your organization; perhaps it’s an employee handbook, recent editions of an internal newsletter, or blog and social media posts that highlight staff.


Hybrid and remote work have skyrocketed as organizations continue to transfer digitally, whether by choice or unforeseen circumstances. While this can deliver several benefits to an organization, from reduced costs to increased productivity, nonprofits worldwide have had to rethink their onboarding process. Effective digital onboarding is essential to keeping employees engaged and productive, consider this guide to ensure your employees thrive in a fully virtual environment.


Day One

Between first-day jitters and getting situated in a new professional environment, any new employee’s first day can be an overwhelming experience. That’s why having a seamless and purposeful onboarding process is essential in ensuring your new employee feels supported and ready for the first few weeks.

There are many ways to guarantee a successful hybrid or virtual onboarding experience. Video calls are your most effective tool to ensure employee engagement and comfort. On the first day, schedule a virtual greeting and introduction with the team the new hire will work with to help create a personal connection.

It’s also a good idea to schedule a virtual orientation where your new hires can better understand your organization and their role. Here, you can also introduce and demonstrate the tools and resources they need to complete tasks.


During the First Week

Starting a new job can feel overwhelming as staff try to navigate new responsibilities, coworkers, and office culture; this can be even more daunting when remote. Where they may have popped into your office with a quick question were you all in-person, your new employee may be less likely to pick up the phone and give you a call. The key here is regular, proactive communication. We recommend you:


Schedule regular video check-ins

For the first week, set up daily check-ins with your new hire. You may be tempted to stick to an audio call, but using video will create a more authentic connection. During these daily check-ins, you can track their progress, explain upcoming duties, and answer any questions that have come up throughout the week. At the end of the week, you can gauge whether these check-ins are necessary moving forward.


Assign a buddy

The first few weeks in any organization can be tiring and overwhelming for your new employees as they learn the ropes. As remote work can be isolating, make sure your new team member has the support they need. Choose someone from your department to act as a ‘buddy’ to be available for questions and guidance regarding office protocol, etc. Setting up a virtual lunch or two with this buddy is a good way for the new team member to make an important personal connection.


Host a welcome meeting

Provide your new staff member and current team with a chance to meet on the first day. Encourage your team to schedule one-on-one meetings with the new staff member as well, so they become personally acquainted just as they would if they were sharing an office space.

During these meetings, your new hires must feel welcome and comfortable being themselves, so organizing a few classic icebreakers may be just the thing. While they may feel tedious, it’s an excellent way for your team to find similarities and interests that can be great conversation starters.


Plan socializing opportunities

Coffee breaks, lunches, and happy hours help staff develop deeper connections – especially when remote. If these aren’t already a regular occurrence within your team, onboarding a new staff member is the perfect opportunity to change that.

And thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can now organize virtual activities from Pictionary to murder mysteries and treasure hunts. Not only are these fun, but they also encourage teamwork and creative collaboration.


First Month

By now, your new hires should be well adjusted to their new routine and completing tasks without assistance or extra support. However, you still need to make an effort to ensure they remain engaged and satisfied with their workload. In addition to continuing to meet with your new staff member regularly, plan to do the following in their first month:


Broaden exposure beyond your department

As appropriate, ensure opportunities for your new employee to meet with staff from other departments, executive leadership, volunteers, and Board members. Exposure to the impact of your nonprofit’s work is also important; consider having your new hire spend a day shadowing a staff member who interacts directly with your organization’s constituents. This broadened exposure will deepen your new employee’s understanding of how their role and your department fit into the organization’s overall structure, strategy, and mission.


Regularly review—and revise—performance goals

Set aside time within the first month for you and your new staff member to review their job description, adjust as necessary, and set clear goals for their first three months. And of course, provide clear and consistent feedback on a regular basis. Your new staff member will appreciate your guidance as they adjust to their new role.


Development Guild — your trusted nonprofit executive search firm

While it’s important to have a thorough onboarding process, you’ll first need to find the right person for the job. In a competitive market for talent, Development Guild can help recruit leaders who will affect positive change. We are a leading consulting firm that provides nonprofit consulting services, including fundraising counsel and executive search.

• • •

Your new employee will be coming excited to start the new job and be part of your team. Helping them to feel connected to their colleagues and the organization’s mission and to have a clear understanding of how they can be effective in their role will enhance their enthusiasm and hopefully minimize the challenges of not being together in-person. If your virtual onboarding strategy is communicative, inclusive, and engaging, your new hire will be off to a successful start.  

We pride ourselves on our rigorous, fair, and transparent executive search process. Learn more about our executive search services or how to become a candidate.