You’re in the job search during a pandemic. Even though the career seeking norm has been online for some time, it can still be a daunting process when thinking about how you will conduct your interview, or even fill out your onboarding paperwork remotely. The process can be equally challenging for human resources professionals, who may have never had to complete an employee onboarding process from home.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is advising agencies to virtually onboard new employees, in hopes of not stalling the hiring process while still observing social distancing recommendations.

“Agencies may elect to perform onboarding processes remotely, via visual inspection using remote electronic capabilities (e.g., Skype, FaceTime, etc.),” Michael Rigas, OPM’s acting director, wrote this week in a memo to agencies. “Agency HR directors should work with their respective agency chief information officers to determine the best options.”

Much like telework policy, OPM is simply offering recommendations, but it is still up to individual agencies and their staff to make the decision of how to onboard employees and fulfill critical functions. The silver lining in requiring onboarding to occur remotely is the fact that there are hundreds of tools to put to use to make remote onboarding easier.

OPM’s guidance allows agencies to virtually administer the oath of office to new employees over Skype, FaceTime, BlueJeans, MS teams, Google hangouts, Zoom, BambooHR… ok you get the point.

The Department of Homeland Security is joining in to play in the remote playground, and said they will ease up on Form I-9 requirements. To comply with the requirements under the Immigration and Nationality Act, agencies and businesses usually review an employee’s identity and employment authorization documents in their physical presence or else have the documents notarized for remote employees. As a 100% remote employee before the pandemic, I’ll never forget starting employment on New Year’s Eve, only to realize that I may not get my I-9 forms notarized and mailed within the three-day mark! Agencies typically review an employee’s identity and employment authorization documents in his or her physical presence, however, DHS is allowing agencies to review these documents remotely without a notary.

All these procedures, including the DHS exceptions, are meant to be temporary and only apply to the current COVID-19 crisis, OPM said.

Agencies, and even business, will need to keep hiring to maintain current operations during the pandemic, and some departments said they’ll need additional staff for the response, including the Department of Veterans Affairs. They are planning to rehire former physicians, nurses and other medical professionals. The U.S. military has also issued voluntary recall notices to a variety of medical professionals.

Tips for Virtual Employee Onboarding

With virtual reality becoming the norm with quarantining as a preventive measure, how do you virtualize an event that for some agencies, has almost always happened in person? Just as you establish procedures and best practices for in-person onboarding, create a checklist and procedures for virtual onboarding, as well. A poorly designed onboarding structure can make new employees feel disengaged in their work and uncomfortable while entering their new place of employment. A successful onboarding program will create a connection, increasing satisfaction and the goals of the organization until the current concerns about coronavirus subside enough to resume regular onboarding processes.


Some personalities are more prone to feeling isolated and uninvolved. Get ahead of the curve during onboarding. Following meetings with HR, make every effort to set up a video conference call with their respective team to introduce everyone. Set up individual calls so team members can give an overview of their role, and how they’ll be working with the newbie. Provide your new starter with an organization chart! The human brain can only remember 3 or 4 things at a time, so sending this electronically for onboarding can allow them to feel prepared. It is essential to facilitate real time communication through chat software or email, too. This lets remote employees communicate with colleagues directly and helps with the adjusting process in such an unprecedented time in the US.

Baby Steps

Overwhelmed? For remote employees starting during COVID-19, this feeling is most likely magnified. Without physically working with people or having face to face engagement, remote employees that are onboarding will probably be affected by information overload – wrestling with technical difficulties, name recall, or virtual conference calls. If you are onboarding a virtual employee with many duties or team members, break them up into different parts and introduce them in steps. Chaos and mayhem can interrupt workflow, but with clear and concise instructions, employees will understand their expectations. On-the-job training or shadowing for the first few weeks can be helpful in breaking up the content into building blocks that will allow the process to be more efficient.

Get Organized

Stay extremely organized and have detailed outlines of everything you need done from your new employee – it’s easy to get distracted and lose track of every detail. A simple way to do this is a shared document where the outline links to several other related documents. An all-in-one approach to every resource the employee needs. Again, use the technology at your disposal. Another great way is creating a task list with precise due dates which can be easily done in Trello or other similar project management software. Creating a task list ensures that each employee is assigned to what needs to get done. This reduces any confusion. Other organizational guidance OPM gave was for agencies to make all onboarding documents available electronically with new employees signing these and emailing to their agencies, either with an electronic form and signature, or by simply taking a picture of the completed document. HR specialists can review these documents and include them in the employee’s electronic personnel file and official personnel folder.

Roll with the Punches

We’re all taking things day by day, and what works for one person may not work for another. It’s completely acceptable in any onboarding process, whether remote or face-to-face, to make adjustments after collecting feedback. By regularly collecting feedback from new hires, you can improve and adapt to changing needs to ensure that they any employee has a great start in your agency.

Once the national emergency ends, agencies will be able to take measures to ratify the temporary actions taken to onboard employees during the coronavirus outbreak. Agencies need to keep hiring to maintain current operations during the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean an employee’s first encounters with the agency shouldn’t be positive and seamless. Even if they are miles away.

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Katie Helbling is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 10+ years in the DoD supporting multiple contractors with recruitment strategy, staffing augmentation, marketing, & communications. Favorite type of beer: IPA. Fave hike: the Grouse Grind, Vancouver, BC. Fave social platform: ClearanceJobs! 🇺🇸