Onboarding vs Orientation: Key Differences Every Virtual Employer Should Know

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Knowing the difference between onboarding vs orientation can help you greatly improve your system for bringing in new hires.

In this post, we’ll take you through what each process involves to help you distinguish them. We’ll also go over how to integrate these processes into your systems for more successful virtual hiring.

Onboarding: A Comprehensive Process

Onboarding is the process of integrating new hires into a company, helping them adjust to the new environment. 

The goal of this process is for new hires to become familiar with the company culture, mission, and goals. It should be a smooth and positive experience, leading to increased productivity, engagement, and retention.

Some onboarding activities include:

  • Completing official paperwork 
  • Attending orientation sessions
  • Learning about the company’s products or services
  • Shadowing colleagues and completing training
  • Meeting team members
  • Setting up work accounts and profiles for tools
  • Connecting to support resources 

Key Components of Effective Virtual Onboarding

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Virtual onboarding requires a well-structured approach to ensure that new hires feel welcome, informed, and connected. The following key components can help you create a program that sets new hires up for success.


Before the first day of orientation, consider sending new hires a welcome package. You don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money sending them company swag. However, a personalized note to go along with your handbook or training materials builds excitement and gets them prepared.

Plan to make the first day of orientation special. Be intentionally welcoming and encourage connection. For example, you can have three key team members come on to personally encourage new hires. This helps to foster a sense of belonging right from the start.

Structured Learning

Take the time to organize training and development plans so new hires have a clear roadmap for learning. Offer a mix of online resources so they can learn at their own pace in addition to live sessions.

Schedule separate virtual introductions with managers and mentors to help new hires understand their role within the larger team. This is a good time to introduce the buddy system, where someone is assigned to answer questions and provide informal support.

Intersperse learning times with team engagement activities where you can facilitate connection with other team members. This doesn’t only break up the monotony, but also integrates them with the team and company culture faster.

Communication and Feedback

Maintain open communication channels and regularly check in with new hires. Encourage them to ask questions and let them know you love feedback. Make sure they know who to approach, too.

The Role of Technology in Virtual Onboarding 

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A variety of digital tools and platforms play a critical role in facilitating effective virtual, or remote onboarding. Some exist specifically to help virtual team members overcome the physical distance barrier. They help managers to create a smooth integration experience.


Technology bridges the gap by automating administrative tasks. This frees up HR professionals to focus on the more strategic aspects of onboarding.

Virtual onboarding tools support these aspects by facilitating clear and consistent communication among the parties involved.


Advanced tools allow virtual teams to engage in interactive learning and team building experiences. They also make it easier to track progress and revisit sections as needed.

Modern collaboration tools help new hires connect with colleagues remotely in a way that fosters a sense of team spirit.

Performance Tracking

You can use technology to track progress through onboarding milestones and provide feedback mechanisms. These help you assess learning and identify areas where virtual hires need additional support.

Orientation: The First Step in Onboarding

Orientation is actually the initial step in the longer onboarding process. This is where new hires get acquainted with the company and their role. 

Onboarding vs orientation can be tricky. Onboarding focuses on a wider range of activities specific to the role and long-term success. Orientation, in contrast, focuses on general company information. 

For instance, as mentioned above, new hires get a broad overview of the company culture, mission, and values. Orientation also covers company policies, benefits, and administrative procedures. This is also where you make initial introductions to the team and key contacts.

Integrating Onboarding and Orientation into Your Virtual Hiring Strategy

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The easiest way to develop a seamless transition is to set expectations that distinguish onboarding vs orientation. Orientation usually takes only an hour or so. Tell new hires that you’ll give them a brief overview of everything. Anything after this will be part of onboarding.

Start orientation with a warm welcome and introductions to key people. Then, run through your remote company culture, just for awareness.

Don’t worry about being brief. You can get better integration results later by engaging new hires in various activities infused with your company culture. These activities happen throughout the onboarding process . 

Move into getting new hires access to any systems they need to use. Then set clear expectations for their role and responsibilities. Let them know what you want to see from them after the first few weeks and months on the job.

Onboarding will, then, follow smoothly as you conduct other meetings and begin the activities. 

Virtual Onboarding vs Orientation Customizations

Here are some tips for translating in-person orientation and onboarding for virtual teams:

Video Resources

  • Take advantage of video tools to send personalized welcome clips instead of just emailing a note. You can also send an animated virtual card, of course, with some music. This can supplement your initial welcome message.
  • Schedule virtual coffee chats to build rapport and answer questions in an informal setting. Encourage new hires to bring their favorite snack and drink and share about them to break the ice.
  • Include virtual recognition programs to celebrate new hires’ achievements and contributions to the team.
  • Virtual onboarding can actually be more effective because you can clearly separate learning times from getting-to-know-you sessions.
  • Pre-recorded training modules give new hires better opportunities to go through the material when it’s conducive for them.

Live Video Calls

  • If you have a physical office, don’t eliminate the office tour for virtual hires. You can either create a video or take them through the departments on a live video call. Have teams greet them like anyone coming in person to make them really feel like they’re part of it all.
  • Host live meetings like Q&A sessions so new hires can connect with leadership, ask questions, and raise any pressing concerns.
  • Don’t rely solely on documents with bios and contact information to introduce existing team members. Facilitate introductions through video calls so they get a more personal experience.
  • Even if you have pre-recorded training materials, always schedule video calls to address questions and discuss progress and challenges. Live demonstrations help a lot for new tools to ensure new hires feel comfortable using them.


Be clear and consistent with communication because virtual environments can lead to information gaps. Use asynchronous communication tools like chat and project management platforms to facilitate information sharing.

Check in with team members more often because you won’t be able to do random visual assessments. Let virtual hires know you care about their well-being and provide support for maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Frequently Asked Questions

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How can I measure the effectiveness of my virtual orientation program?

You can use quantitative and qualitative data to measure the effectiveness of your virtual orientation program.

Quantitative Data

  1. Track how long new hires spend on each module of the program. This helps you track engagement and interest as well as areas that might be too long or lack detail.
  2. Track the average scores of hires on any quizzes or knowledge checks you give throughout the program. This can help you assess knowledge retention and identify areas for improvement.
  3. Track attendance at ongoing events to see which participants find them valuable.

Qualitative Data

  1. Gather feedback after the program to understand the overall experience, the clarity of the information presented, and collect suggestions for improvement.
  2. Monitor ongoing feedback through team managers to understand the general sentiment of comments and discussions in the workplace. 

How long should the onboarding process last for virtual hires?

The ideal onboarding process length varies depending on what your team members need. Generally speaking, it can be from one week to about a month, with periodic check-ins throughout the year. 

A company with a strong, collaborative culture might require a longer onboarding process. Virtual hires working closely with established teams may also need additional time to get integrated. 

Roles with steeper learning curves or more technical requirements might also need more time for proper training. This also applies when learning new tools.

Can we skip the orientation phase if the hire is experienced?

In some cases, the orientation phase of onboarding for a virtual hire can be shortened for experienced hires. We do not recommend, however, that you skip it entirely. 

Even experienced hires need to learn about your company’s specific culture, policies, procedures, and tools. Orientation also helps virtual hires meet their team members and understand the dynamics of working with them.

Orientation covers important best practices and expectations within teams for communication, time management, etc. It also covers other role-specific information or workflows unique to your company.


What Is Outsource School?

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Outsource School helps you to unlock the potential of virtual assistants and accelerate your business growth.

This is the exact system Outsource School’s founders, Nathan Hirsch and Connor Gillivan, used to go from zero to 8 figures and 40+ virtual assistants with an exit in 2019.

Since being founded in 2020, Outsource School has helped 1,000+ business owners hire 2,000+ virtual assistants for their companies.

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Knowing the key differences between onboarding vs orientation can help get new hires properly integrated into the team. Equipped with this knowledge, every virtual employer can guide new hires to high performance and job satisfaction smoothly and quickly.

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