While 2020 has been an intense and stressful year, it has also provided several learning and growth opportunities for us at BayWa r.e. Solar Systems. In the area of team management and talent recruitment, I would like to talk about one aspect where we learned quite a bit — Virtual Onboarding.

Onboarding — that initial period where a new hire is trained on company procedures and welcomed as part of the team — is a pivotal moment for making employees feel included from day one. It sets a tone for the company and culture and lays the foundation for their future success.

Our Own Growing Pains

Six years ago, when we hired our first full-time remote employee — that employee had to stay at our New Mexico headquarters for three months. Worse, we did not have a structured onboarding plan prepared for them. Yikes!

Since then, a lot has changed. Our company grew, we hired more and more remote employees, and today, our colleagues work from their home bases across the United States and even Europe, spanning many time zones.

Even still, it wasn’t until November 2019 that we onboarded someone – completely virtually – for the first time.

The decision for a virtual-only onboarding was made because the employee had a baby at home and couldn’t travel all the way to Santa Fe. However, we were excited about the employee and wanted to accommodate their needs. We were also confident that we could make this experiment work, since approximately 70% of our workforce already worked and were managed remotely. The onboarding was a success and we also learned a great deal to improve future onboarding sessions.

Setting the Tone for Virtual Onboarding

Virtual onboarding is very similar to traditional in-person onboarding. It’s an opportunity to connect and engage with new employees and introduce them to our fully remote work environment. Before a new employee starts, we send out a “new hire communication” email that includes all necessary information and expectations, such as:

  • An overview of their first day and all their meetings
  • Sheet with important homepages to bookmark
  • Login sheet with all necessary logins and passwords
  • Selection of equipment to choose from for their home office setup

We also want to support our employees in setting up their home office properly. A company laptop is standard, but to give our employees every opportunity to create an accessible, comfortable work-from-home setting, new hires can choose to receive:

  • Up to 2 monitors
  • Wireless mouse and keyboard
  • USB headset
  • Standup Desk

Providing this equipment is important so that the new hire can learn comfortably. Our marketing team also sends company swag to our new hires to add to the warm-hearted welcome.

Virtual Onboarding Checklist

The first day of work is always a special day, not only for the new hire, but also for me. As our company’s People Experience (PX) Program Manager, I am responsible for all onboarding. I continually remind myself that I am setting the foundation for someone’s experience at BayWa r.e. I am the first colleague they speak to. The first face they see. The first memory they make at our company.

Ultimately, it is my job to make our new hires feel welcome and included, and it’s important to me that our new hires know that they are valued, appreciated and that we are setting them up for success.

Here’s my checklist to create a healthy, onboarding experience.

1. The Opportunity for Feedback: At the beginning, we explain that “giving constructive feedback” is a part of our company culture. Creating a feeling of inclusion — and establishing a culture where individual backgrounds and needs are welcome — means providing space for someone to share constructive feedback in a safe environment.

2. Facetime with New Colleagues: Back in the day, we used to fly new hires to Santa Fe for onboarding. They would go to different team lunches and visit different departments. But remote hires don’t have the benefit of those in-person introductions and office interactions.

Onboarding Checklist

  1. Establish the Opportunity for Feedback
  2. Facetime with New Colleagues
  3. Take Advantage of Technology
  4. Keep Checking In

To overcome this, we schedule daily, 30-minute virtual coffee breaks where new hires get to meet various BayWa r.e. employees from around the company. Each new hire also attends a 1:1 virtual coffee break with our CFO, as a relaxed, approachable way to meet senior leadership. We have received great feedback about our virtual coffees, and highly recommend including them into your virtual onboarding experience.

3. Take Advantage of Technology: We want to ensure that new hires can be effective in their jobs as quickly as possible. Throughout their first week, our PX team schedules a suite of “Core Training” modules for new hires. These are recorded trainings about our software, apps—everything that BayWa r.e. employees use on a day-to-day basis. For larger businesses, there are many benefits to invest in recorded trainings, including:

  • The opportunity for experienced employees to consolidate and refresh what we’ve learned as a company and offer the training materials on-demand.
  • The opportunity to create consistent messaging – every new hire goes through the same core training, so we reinforce our culture of common tools and language.
  • The ‘engagement factor.’ New hires can get to know co-workers and part of the culture through video recordings, putting names to faces.

4. Keep Checking In: During onboarding, we also schedule daily, 30-minute check –in calls for our new hires to make sure that all questions are addressed and to make sure everything is going well. If the new hires don’t have any questions or concerns, I take the opportunity to check in with them and ask how they’re feeling. Building a connection and establishing trust at this stage is important. New hires need to know that their new company is always there for them and truly cares about their well-being.

What’s Your Onboarding Magic?

The BayWa r.e. onboarding experience goes beyond the checklist I shared above. (There’s a lot of nuance to interpersonal relationships!) But I’d like to suggest that the emphasis for any onboarding plan is to set up your new hires for success and to create a sense of belonging. A sense of belonging improves motivation, happiness, and the health of the employee and cultivating it is worth the time and cost — whether you have a dedicated PX manager at your business or if you take it on yourself, as company chief.

I would be very interested to know about how virtual onboarding is going for your solar business, how you make sure that your new hires feel included, and what you’ve learned from your experiences. If you have great ideas to share or questions about how we got started, let’s talk!

Since 2019, Ira-Sofia has held various roles at BayWa r.e. including Returns Manager, PX Program Manager, and PX Generalist. Currently, she guides the Leadership Team's approach to Scrum, removing obstacles and distractions from daily work and ensuring the entire team is focused to meet their goals.

BayWa r.e. Solar Systems LLC supplies residential and commercial solar installers in the United States with quality solar + storage components, forecasting, business planning advice, and a community of experts. Visit www.solar-distribution.com to read our industry insights articles and stream our Solar Tech Talk and Solar Town Hall podcasts on YouTube and Spotify. Follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook to stay connected. Ask us about our Split Pay financing program and use our industry-leading Webstore to save time, get gear shipped, and get jobs done! Part of the BayWa r.e. Global family of renewable energy companies.