Virtual Onboarding: Tactics for Successful Engagement

COVID-19 has changed the way Americans work. Finance professionals, CPAs, and the firms that employ them are seeing the impact. While deploying a remote workforce was largely reactive, in some sectors, it is proving to be a durable and even preferred arrangement.

By late 2020, more than 70% of employed adults in the U.S. were working from home. According to Pew Research, most were finding it very or somewhat easy to meet deadlines and maintain work-related motivation. The real question most executives and HR departments are now asking is whether this ability to work from home means that the situation is sustainable.

In the world of accounting and finance, the answer appears to be a resounding: yes.

Once the flurry of software licenses and VPNs or issues of access were addressed, the financial sector settled pretty well into virtual work. A Gartner study reported that about 74% of CFOs plan to intentionally shift at least 5% of on-site workers to remote arrangements. For many, this is a cost-saving tactic that reduces overhead.

Once the decisions are made to employ remote talent, the challenge becomes how to effectively integrate these off-site team members. Premier Financial Search recommends integration begin before you even make an offer, during the interview process. Our professionals are experts at sourcing exceptional accounting and finance professionals to further your strategic and tactical goals. We pride ourselves on placing the best talent in the industry, and we understand what it takes to position accounting professionals for success. For virtual hires, the first impression is everything.

Craft Experiences and Plan Ahead

Onboarding of virtual employees is, for most firms and businesses, an entirely new endeavor. It is vital that all stakeholders are aligned on what this looks like. We recommend a visualization exercise that addresses touchpoints like this:

What technology or supplies will this employee need?

Anticipate timeline for:

  • Ordering devices/equipment
  • Setting up computers or devices with software, connectivity, etc.
  • Shipping that configured tech to the employee in time for day one of work

Additionally, consider the timed benchmarks for a new virtual employee’s experience:

  • What kinds of interactions can we facilitate once the employee accepts the offer?
  • What should/will occur during the first week?
  • What should/will occur during the first month?
  • What will occur at a 3-month check-in?
  • What will occur at a 6-month check-in?

It is important that teams meticulously plan and sequence the chain of events that are catalyzed at these critical moments of engagement. Implement processes that include accountability measures for management teams.

Create a Sense of Belonging

The difference between walking into an office on day one and logging into a video call is the experience. HR teams can thoughtfully consider how to facilitate an experience that offers the same value, if not the same events, to both types of employees. Virtual employees need to feel as though they belong.

For example, if you would typically take a new employee out to lunch on the first day, could you consider a virtual lunch and have food delivered to them? Seek to extend the same courtesies, offer up the same guidance, and check-in the same ways even for employees who join through a screen.

Provide the Right Tools

One pitfall for virtual employees is that they can be “out of sight, out of mind.” If you can’t see what they need, you, as an employer, need to go to greater lengths to equip them with the appropriate resources. In addition to standard technology, you may adopt a stipend program for home office improvements, a consultation with an ergonomic specialist to arrange their desk, or other means of support that might normally be provided for in-office employees. These kinds of measures generate goodwill and remind virtual hires that this is a position for which high performance will be rewarded.

Communication and Follow Through

In recruiting, we talk a lot about expectations. Expectation management is mission critical for successful integration of virtual employees. Clear expectations should be communicated from the start – even as part of the hiring process. Provide detail on what you expect from virtual team members and what they should expect from you.

Keep in mind that expectations can and should be fluid, especially if your firm is new to accommodating remote workers. Some adaptation and intentional interaction are vital to reliable productivity.

Nurture Team Culture

This is perhaps one of the most discussed aspects of the virtual onboarding process: how can you replicate the water cooler talks, walk-bys and pop-ins that typify a traditional office? While there may not be a 1:1 exchange on these, there are ways to build a virtual team, they simply require more forethought.

For instance, keep communication flowing and ensure people hear from their team and directors about more than just work performance. Embrace technology and create fun spaces (be it live chats or video lunches) where people can connect as humans, not just fellow employees. All of this is key to employee satisfaction and banking all-important goodwill.

Ask for Feedback

For many firms, managing virtual teams is a new endeavor. There will be some trial and error. Soliciting regular feedback, and adjusting appropriately, is an important way to reiterate the value your organization places on its team members.

There is no one-size-fits-all for remote workers. The most important direction you will take is the one that is right for your team. Let your remote teams tell you what they need, and provide it.

Premier Financial Search: Where Exceptional Talent and Elite Firms Converge

Premier Financial Search is a leading national executive recruiting and staffing services firm with a focus solely on the accounting industry. As one of the nation’s largest and most respected firms, PFS has been a valued strategic partner to accounting firm leadership in developing and advising on talent strategy investments. If you are looking to expand your team, remote or otherwise, we can help. Contact us to learn more.