Virtual Onboarding: A Closer Look

By Adriana Scott August 28, 2013
It’s day 1 of the new-employee orientation. All the new hires and the HR representative hosting the event are scheduled to meet in the company’s lobby at 10 a.m. But for this “virtual orientation,” a growing trend in onboarding, all they’ll have to do to participate is log in to their computers, which will take them to an inviting virtual corporate environment. Once there, they’ll be provided with all the information and networking opportunities they’ll need to hit the ground running in their new job.

This is also how the Marriott chain has revamped its onboarding process, said Tom Masotto, the vice president of ON24, which collaborated with Marriott on its virtual environment.

ON24, which helps clients integrate virtual-onboarding elements into their employee training programs, discovered in its 2012 surveythat 33.3 percent of 3,000 participating HR and learning professionals said that supporting a global workforce was their companies’ largest challenge.

“Consistency across a global workforce is a key objective we see with a lot of organizations,” Masotto said. In a July webinar, “The Benefits of Virtual Onboarding,” sponsored by ON24, Masotto detailed how the virtual-onboarding process can help achieve that goal.

Marriott Employees' Voyage

Marriott’s vice president of HR, David Traina, said company leaders decided to introduce virtual environments to the onboarding process in order to “bring everyone to one common place” in an international business. In Marriott’s 12- to 18-month onboarding program, Voyage, new employees are prepared for leadership positions while learning the ins and outs of the company by interacting with their superiors. Most employees enrolled in Voyage are straight out of college.

“We engage [new hires] in a series of different ways,” Traina said. “One is a leadership speaker series.”

In a series of webinars and other activities, those who’ve just joined the company are able to listen to and interact with leadership speakers online. Speeches may feature Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson as well as the company’s continent presidents and HR professionals. While the new employees gain on-the-job experience via their actual positions, they spend about 30-45 minutes per workweek in the Voyage program.

“Don’t forget to include corporate-culture familiarization in the onboarding program,” Masotto said, referring to one of the crucial elements of going virtual. “It shouldn’t be limited to information pertaining to company products and specific job skills.”

To accommodate all of its international employees, Marriott introduced chat rooms and other social media venues that are country-specific and continent-specific, said Traina. The company also supports an all-encompassing global group.

“[The] environment is accessible to trainees 24/7 via mobile and tablet as well as desktop computers,” Traina added.

The use of a virtual onboarding system can be a vast attachment to the physical training process, which Marriott also conducts, or as specific as a virtual message board that can nudge new hires along in the process.

CBG Employees' Virtual Enrollment

Chris Costello, the founder of Massachusetts-based CBG Benefits,a brokerage service firm, regularly uses Brainshark programs to communicate with new workers. Using audio and presentation slides, employees can access online lectures about company policies and be introduced to some of the company’s seasoned staff.

“It’s virtual enrollment,” Costello said of the virtual side of CBG Benefits’ onboarding program. “It’s virtual presentation. It’s virtual communication.” It’s also open to feedback—some programs offer new hires the opportunity to rate their experience with the virtual changes.

The percentage of the onboarding experience that is virtual depends on the company. Whether a firm has locations around the globe or in just a few cities or worksites, a virtual introduction of new hires can find its way into—and enhance—the employee experience.

Adriana Scott is an editorial intern for SHRM Online.​



Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.

Discover what’s trending in HR

Search and download FREE white papers from industry experts.

Search and download FREE white papers from industry experts.



HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.