Posted: 05 Jun. 2020 5 min. read

Building engaging onboarding experiences in the context of virtual work

Posted by Denise MoultonMackenzie Wilson, and Matt Deruntz on June 5, 2020.

Facing significant workplace disruption, today’s organizations have had to quickly rethink their talent processes and practices. Top of mind for many of these organizations is how best to support remote work. One critical aspect of talent work is the design of virtual onboarding experiences. High-performing organizations1 understand the importance of addressing onboarding as a companywide, integrated initiative that promotes belonging and enables productivity.2 How can organizations use the “new normal” to reconceptualize the traditional onboarding experience to help individuals onboard virtually?

We define onboarding as “the process of hiring, orienting, and immersing workers in their roles and in the organization’s culture.” Given the breadth of that scope and the potential negative implications of poor onboarding (e.g., high turnover, increased time to productivity, decreased engagement, and worker satisfaction), organizations would do well to reimagine their onboarding experience, setting up themselves and their workforce for longer-term success through an integrated, worker-centric approach that more effectively addresses individual needs.

Although many organizations recognize the value in delivering a lasting experience for talent, onboarding is often a program focused primarily on compliance instead of experience. Part of the reason for such a lackluster approach can be attributed to a disconnect between an organization’s understanding of the importance of creating, designing, and executing compelling onboarding experiences. This problem is likely to be compounded when onboarding is being implemented in a fully virtual environment without the ability to fall back on some of the informal networking and support that might exist in a coworking environment.

How can organizations provide a meaningful onboarding experience in a virtual environment?

The goal of any onboarding program should be to help workers transition seamlessly from the point of offer to the first year—or more—with the organization. The process for creating an engaging virtual onboarding experience is largely dependent on the status of the organization’s existing program. Organizations that currently execute a more transactional onboarding approach (i.e., generally limited to a series of discrete activities and tasks) should begin to think about it more strategically, reconfiguring the approach to equip new hires with the tools necessary to succeed within the organization. Organizations that have already adopted a holistic approach can focus immediately on how leveraging existing systems to deploy new solutions can help contextualize information to a remote workforce and create engaging, collaborative conditions.

Regardless of your organization’s current ability to transform its onboarding program into a virtual context, you should consider the following four approaches:

  1. Shift compliance-related materials to virtual exercises that can be completed in advance of the start date. By offsetting these time-consuming tasks, workers can instead focus on understanding the company culture and their new role as well as on building their networks.
  2. Understand the critical resources required to get work done in a virtual environment. Remember that new hires will be wholly focused on completing their onboarding and will want to optimize the experience. Organizations must understand the digital landscape, content, and delivery model to effectively deliver in a virtual environment. Additionally, organizations must specify both formal and informal contact points for new hires to help guide them through the traditional challenges of embarking on a new experience (e.g., access, collaboration, process flow).
  3. Prioritize the most appropriate technologies for effective virtual onboarding experiences. Consider simplicity, user experience, and ease of understanding when selecting technology. Don’t overwhelm workers with complex tasks that require a lot of explanation. Make the experience rich in content yet easy to navigate and find information.
  4. Make your communications count. Communicate often and provide data and context that are most relevant and useful to accelerating workers’ early stage development and enculturation.

Tell us about your onboarding solution

Organizations seeking to leverage technology and create meaningful virtual onboarding experiences for their workforce need to differentiate between the array of solutions available in the market today.

We are launching a new research series focused on helping organizations do just that. It will also explore how solution provider offerings can align with the strategic activities of high-performing organizations. Technology plays a critical role, serving as the connective tissue that can create a single engagement layer for the worker as they move through the onboarding journey. The Solution Provider Market Research helps organizations understand which capabilities are currently available in the market and whether they are widely available, differentiated, or of future focus for providers.

If you are a technology vendor that supports the hiring, orienting, and immersing of workers, we invite you to participate in our Onboarding solutions survey and tell us about your solution.


Denise Moulton, vice president, Talent Acquisition Research leader, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Mackenzie Wilson, senior research analyst, Solution Provider Market, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Matt Deruntz, senior research analyst, Workforce Experience Research leader, Deloitte Consulting LLP



1  Five Top Findings for Elevating Workforce Experience, Deloitte Consulting LLP/Christina Rasieleski and Matthew Deruntz, 2019.

2 The social enterprise at work: Paradox as a path forward from 2020 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends, Deloitte Insights, 2020.

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Denise Moulton

Denise Moulton

VP | Human Resources and Talent Research

Denise leads human resources and talent research for Deloitte. Specializing in talent acquisition, talent management, HR administration, and field operations, Denise is also skilled at driving reinvention across onboarding programs, employment branding initiatives, and recruitment management. Her 19 years of experience include talent program development, cross-functional campus recruitment, and recruitment ambassador programs. Denise holds a bachelor of arts in English, and has completed coursework toward a master’s in labor relations and human resources from the University of Rhode Island.

Matthew Deruntz

Matthew Deruntz

Senior Research Analyst

As a senior research analyst at Deloitte, Matt studies organizational approaches towards workforce experience and performance management. Through his analysis and storytelling, Matt creatively interweaves client experiences with data driven findings to create pragmatic, real world examples of business practices that bring HR research to life. Matt brings 10 years of experience in human capital consulting, quantitative data analysis, and marketing research to his role. He previously worked at Willis Towers Watson as a research consultant, as well as marketing firm IRI. Matt holds a BA in sociology and history from Purdue University, and an MA in social sciences from the University of Chicago.