In-person vs. remote onboarding: A transparent comparison

June 21, 2022

Before the pandemic, in-person onboarding was a no-brainer. Not only could your new hires train with, collaborate with, and ask their managers questions face-to-face but they could also get to know their new-hire class and team and build connections with them. 

Even if you had to shell out some extra cash on your remote new hires’ flights, food, and accommodation, the payoff was worth it. You flattened their learning curve as much as possible, they made new work friends and had some fun, and they went home feeling motivated to do their best. 

But then Covid happened. And every single one of your new hire’s onboarding was experienced through a laptop screen. Talk about a shift in doing things. 

Flash forward to today and some companies have decided to permanently stay remote. But some companies have decided to adopt hybrid work models and some have even required their employees to return to the office, albeit with a rather strong backlash from their employees. And this has placed a pressing question at the forefront of every Chief People Officer’s and VPs of People’s minds: Should we keep onboarding remotely? Or make it in-person? 

Below, we’ll go over the pros and cons of in-person and remote onboarding and help you make that decision for yourself. 

In-person onboarding

Pros

Learning, collaborating, and making connections in person is natural. We’re human, after all. That’s why, besides a few trailblazing remote companies, in-person onboarding was really the only way to onboard before the pandemic.

Learning and collaboration

During training, new hires felt like they were back in school again. They could see and hear an actual person as they taught them about the company, their industry, and their product. They could easily ask them questions just by raising their hands. And they could go up and talk to them after a training session ended. 

After training, new hires could collaborate with their managers by swinging by their desk or working in a conference room together. In-person training and collaboration can reduce the learning curve much faster than Slack or Zoom. 

Making connections 

During training, new hires were in the same room as their new hire class. Just like school, they could make friends during breaks and bond with people outside of their department, which made them feel connected to the entire company, not just their team. 

After training, new hires could develop their relationship with their managers through their working sessions. And throughout the day – during lunch, work breaks, or happy hour – they could get to know their team and connect with them. 

Getting new hires up to speed

According to research from Harvard Business School, onboarding new hires remotely is the fifth hardest step to handle out of the seven steps of the hiring and recruiting process that they listed in a survey to executives. 

This is worth noting because new hires who ramp up at a slower pace can’t hit their productivity goals. And it also costs a ton of money to hire and recruit new employees to replace the ones who didn’t get off to a good start and left the company earlier than expected. In-person onboarding can alleviate these issues. However, that doesn’t mean the process is free of any blemishes. 

Cons

It’s a half-baked experience

The full in-person onboarding experience only exists if everyone is in the office. So if your company has adopted a hybrid workplace, it’s hard to replicate that experience because some of your trainers and managers are likely full-time remote employees. And your new hire’s team is likely scattered across the country or globe, too. 

New hires with remote managers might not get an official greeting from anyone on their team when they first step into the office. They also won’t be able to collaborate or connect with them in-person after training. New hires with remote trainers won’t get any in-person teaching, which is the most important aspect of the classroom experience. 

And this begs the questions: what’s the point of in-person onboarding if your new hire does the same exact orientation and training in the office that they could’ve done at home? 

It’s not as safe

Today, people are not as comfortable with going into the office, especially if they’ve had Covid, one of their friends or family members has had it, or if they’re at a higher risk to contract the virus and experience more severe symptoms. Work should be a safe space, mentally and physically. 

It’s expensive

In-person onboarding can cost a pretty penny. You need to fly out all remote employees, book their accommodations, and cater their breakfast and lunch. 

Remote onboarding

Pros

With 77% of the US workforce working either in a remote or hybrid workplace, remote onboarding is the option that’s the most employee-centric, safe, and affordable. 

Employee-centric

Even before Covid, remote and hybrid workplaces were gaining traction because companies knew they couldn’t attract top-tier talent from a handful of metropolitan areas. They needed to expand their pool to the entire country or even the entire world. And allowing employees to work and live from wherever they wanted was the key to doing that, especially during onboarding.

Remote onboarding is crucial for people who can’t just fly across the country for a few weeks and leave their families. It’s also accommodating for people who prefer to work remotely — you won’t uproot the work routine that they’ve established over the past two years or irk them by forcing them to go into the office. Additionally, remote onboarding helps new hires crystalize how exactly their team works and collaborates with each other when they’re scattered across the country or globe, which will set them up for success in the long-term. 

Safe

Remote onboarding poses zero risk to your employees in regards to catching Covid. The last thing you want a new hire to experience is an outbreak in the office, which will not only make a bad first impression on them but also skyrocket their anxiety. 

Affordable

Financially, remote onboarding is much more cost-effective than in-person onboarding. There’s no need to fly anyone out, book accommodations, or cater breakfast and lunch. All you need to do is set up Zoom meetings and sign into Slack everyday. 

Cons

Ask anyone who attended Zoom University during the pandemic, and they’ll tell you that paying tuition for remote learning wasn’t what they signed up for. Your new hires obviously don’t have to pay for their training, but learning in-person is definitely a more engaging, immersive experience. 

With remote training, your new hires can listen to trainers and watch presentations. However, they’re less likely to ask questions because it feels more intrusive. And since they haven’t met or connected with their fellow new hires, they also don’t feel as comfortable asking them for clarification if they need it. 

After training, the challenge of communicating and interpreting social cues on Zoom makes it much more difficult for new hires to develop relationships with their managers and team. They also have to ask questions through Zoom or Slack, where things can get lost in digital translation. 

With no in-person collaboration during remote onboarding, you need to put in a lot of extra effort to make up for that loss. The people in charge of orientation and training have to craft more detailed, comprehensive sessions and presentations that will leave no question unanswered. Managers need to plan out each of their training sessions in the same manner and develop a list of internal and external resources that can also answer any lingering questions that their new hires might have. 

In-person or remote onboarding: Which one is better?

Even if your product is less technical than most and your new hire’s role doesn’t have as steep of a learning curve, in-person onboarding is still the ideal choice for learning, collaborating, and connecting. As humans, these things are just natural face-to-face. 

However, the working world is turning remote. And if you truly consider yourself an employee-centric company that not only puts their employees’ needs before their own but also prioritizes their safety, remote onboarding is likely the best move. Just make sure you put in the extra effort to craft an onboarding experience that can make up for the loss of in-person collaboration.

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