How to Onboard Virtually as an Assistant

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Following on from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, office life has changed beyond measure and if you’re a Personal Assistant, Executive Assistant or Business Support Professional; then more may have changed for you than for most.

Business etiquette pre pandemic meant face to face meetings, private dining events post business meetings, hallway conversations with colleagues and when it came to the hiring process; in person interviews and an intensive onboarding strategy to not only induct people into the business but into the role as well.

Gone are those days and to survive we must adapt and thrive in a new world without fear of failure or the fear of the unknown. We must optimise our ability to stay resilient and resourceful and be more proactive than ever, traits that become particularly important when we’re onboarding a new staff member or going through that process ourselves as a new starter.

In true Assistant Room style and harking back to a 2016 motto from our Founder Jess, The Assistant Room was/is a platform created for PAs by PAs and so we reached out to three successful Business Support professionals for their take on how to successfully onboard virtually as an assistant. Through their own recent experiences of either joining a new business, onboarding staff or both; here’s a crash course to making a daunting process much easier, more enjoyable and less emotionally draining…

Jessica Moretti, EA to CEO at Project Etopia

Little but often goes a long way

Every Executive Assistant will have a good sense of emotional intelligence and within days of working alongside their boss and colleagues, the mental notes of every discussion, facial expressions and mood will have built up enough to know roughly what is what. Working remotely however can add an extra layer of challenges. Normally in the office you can determine if your boss is overwhelmed and in need of a calming influence. My way of overcoming this within the first few weeks was to have frequent quick catch ups.

It’s a marathon not a sprint

I was in my previous role for 10 years. I could do it with my eyes closed and knew everything and everyone. I then started a new role in which I was so eager to please and almost subconsciously was trying to recreate what I had previously into this role. I put an enormous amount of pressure on myself and set myself high expectations and punished myself for making any mistakes. By the first week, when the C-Suite told me how happy they were, I let out a little tear of relief. Luckily, I have bosses that are very appreciative and reminded me, it was my first week and not to take on too much. 

The second and third week, I had to remind myself, this is a marathon not a sprint, ask questions, be observant where you can and ask for help if needed. It’s what I did on my first day with my previous role so why should it be any different now. 

Virtual connection

Another challenge we are all facing is the need for ‘normal’. Where I would normally go out for coffee or have a drink after work with my new colleagues, I needed to re-create that human connection. Instead of writing a quick email, I picked up the video chat function on Microsoft Teams and just spending a few extra minutes to check-in and get to know as many people as I could was such a great way of creating those connections virtually. Eventually we got round to talking about the task at hand! 

Starting fresh

In any job, it is also important to outline your work/ life structure. Now I was in a new job, I could start fresh from the beginning and set the standards not only for my boss, but for me. For most Executive Assistants, a work/life balance can be so difficult as we are juggling so much which can disrupt our personal time. For me, being honest and voicing when I was ‘offline’ was important for setting boundaries. Simple communication and just a quick WhatsApp saying “I’m going for a walk to clear my head, if you need me, I will be back at X” or “I’m signing off, speak in the morning”. I won’t be doing this forever, but it just gives your new boss a view into how you structure your day as well as help them create a healthy boundary. Of course they know you can always be reached in an emergency.

Kelsea Lindsey, EA at Intuit

During the pandemic, I have been subject to virtual onboarding as well as onboarding others virtually. Here are my top tips to successful onboarding, whether you are the one being onboarded or you are onboarding new starters virtually:

Make a comprehensive plan

A couple of days before onboarding, I received an excellent 4 week onboarding plan packed with my 1:1s, company specific training and dedicated time to complete my mandatory training. This allowed me to have an idea of what to expect in my first four weeks and understand who my key stakeholders would be from the start. These were all ready in my outlook calendar but also meant that if I was having any tech issues, I would have a document outlining my plan without having to rely purely on my email

Liaise with IT

If you are onboarding a new starter, the IT team need to be completely aligned with you and keeping you up to date on when the new starter will receive their equipment – has the correct equipment been ordered? How will they receive their login information? etc. I’d suggest the first meeting a new starter has to be with is someone in the IT team, to make sure they are all ok logging in, have access to everything they need and if not, it can be rectified quickly.

Assign a buddy

Most companies have this as standard, but it is even more important in virtual onboarding. We do not have the luxury of being in an office and just asking anybody a quick question if we aren’t sure of something, so having that one person you can reach out to will be a huge help particularly in those early days. 

Help make organic connections

We miss those “water cooler moments” working virtually, and it can be difficult to make some organic connections outside of your key stakeholders. I’d ask for an org chart wider than just your team (just how wide depends on the company) and look at settling up some 15 minute speed meetings. No agenda necessary, just use the time to get to know the individual, what they do for the company etc. Those connections outside of your usual stakeholders can be critical in the future; you never know when you may call on each other for assistance! 

Be kind to yourself!

For those who are not used to being onboarded virtually, be kind to yourself! This is going to be a strange time, it may take you a bit longer to get to grips with things but this is completely understandable; you are working from an environment you may not be used to, with day to day distractions and missed opportunities to network and gain information. Be open and honest with your line manager or HR if you are having any problems, just like you would if you were joining a new company in an office environment.

Karina De-Bourne, FTI Consulting

Having been working virtually since last March, I have subsequently onboarded a number of individuals including senior executives and EAs, some of which were also in a different country. This was a new experience for all involved, however the feedback I received was that the entire process ran smoothly and these are the reasons why I think they were a success!


Be honest!

I was very open about the fact that this was new for me as well and that it had been a learning curve for the company. This allowed for an almost level playing field in that we were working through something new together. We have then since had a good foundation for our relationship which has stemmed from this joint experience. 

Plan, plan and plan!

I was obsessively organised with exactly how to do the process itself. I went over and over every minute detail with my current colleagues as well as myself until I could do the process in my sleep. This also meant that I had put myself in their shoes and thought through every possible question or scenario where the technology might fail and was well versed to deal with it. Alongside this I also made sure they had multiple calls already scheduled with the rest of the team ahead of them joining so that they would have as close to an office experience as possible. 

Accessiblity

Finally, I made myself even more available than I perhaps would have done in the office. I gave them free reign to call me with any and all questions at any time. This may seem obvious or trivial, however something that would be a very quick question in person, might not seem worth calling someone on Zoom for. I emphasised that this was not the case; it did not matter if it would only take 30 seconds or 30 minutes, I would make just as much time for them, if not more, so that they felt as settled in as possible. 

Good luck in taking these tips and tricks forward and we hope you are looking forward to embracing a more confident you throughout the onboarding process!