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Managing Change in a Time of Disruption – Virtual Onboarding

The workplace is evolving quickly and juggling the increasing demand for labour while navigating barriers to traditional onboarding and training delivery methods can create unique challenges for organizations of every size. With many companies shifting towards a virtual workplace, there are plenty of considerations to be made around how these organizations will recruit and train their new hires, develop their people and pivot in favour of this new change. Recently, one of our clients, Direct Energy, was transitioning to a virtual-only model where training delivery, train the trainer sessions and other learning opportunities needed to be delivered virtually, an area where the company had limited experience in.

Organizational changes like these have a lot of moving parts to consider alongside a series of potential roadblocks to overcome. The Harbinger Training and Communications team which included me, Tomas Nilsson, Sr. Training Consultant, and Nicole La Roche, Sr. Communications Consultant, were able to support the design and other elements of this transition with Direct Energy. Together we were able to achieve a smooth transition for the company despite the short timeline. In this blog, I’ll be sharing the steps we took to help enable the process to virtual onboarding, lessons learned, and how we overcame the various roadblocks along the way.


While only having a week to prepare for the new onboarding process, it was critical to plan efficiently for what might be required to make the transition as seamless as possible. We chose Zoom as our tool for delivering new-hire training. With functions that were practically made for online learning such as Breakout rooms, Hand-raising, and moderator support, it was a no-brainer. We procured the appropriate licenses and our team of client trainers set out to perfect their use of the tool by participating in practice sessions and learning best practices such as ensuring the mute button is used appropriately or monitoring whether participants are engaged or not.

The trainers have all had experiences with virtual training where the days seem to drag on forever! To combat this problem, they reduced the training hours from 8 hours to 5 and augmented the loss of hours with self-practice and “homework”. This proved to be a tremendous success as participants were more engaged during the training sessions and used the self-practice time to get acquainted with and reinforce what they learned that day. With virtual training, less is more, so giving the participants freedom to practice on their own, while simulating their future virtual work environment was very effective.


One of the main caveats to a successful or on-time training session is often a user’s inability to connect, install, or operate the chosen delivery tool, in this case, Zoom. To help steer our users on the right path, the trainers found immense success in hosting brief sessions with small groups to ensure that they could not only access their training tools but also understand how to use them effectively on the first day of training. This drastically improved the timeliness of the first sessions, creating an enjoyable and engaging experience for new hires right from the start.

While troubleshooting training software issues was seamless for our team, navigating IT matters with computers, log-in access, and VPN connections proved to be a tougher task. As all participants began their role 100% virtually, laptops were mailed out, and all login and related information was emailed. However, many of the participants expressed that they had issues logging in when they received their laptop – Or did not receive their laptop at all! Luckily, the trainers held the preparation sessions and had the time to follow up with IT internally to help diagnose and resolve their issues. Knowing that some users had no laptops – the trainers were still able to come up with creative ways to engage them in the sessions.

Planning for distractions is nearly impossible, but the trainers were able to get a glimpse into possible disruptions during their initial setup sessions and were able to mitigate some of the more common issues. Users with excess background noise were reminded to mute themselves or remedy whatever was causing the excess noise, or if participants had children the trainers were able to provide more flexibility and other opportunities for breaks. These changes were happening quickly, and it was crucial to remind our users of expectations in the virtual workspace. While it is always best to have a quiet working space with no other distractions, we also must be mindful that this is not easy for everyone, especially when these changes are happening during a crisis. Many people were unprepared for the overnight virtual changes, so giving our peers some flexibility and understanding during this time was an important part of the transition.


Tomas Nilsson, Harbinger Sr. Training Consultant, said that “good training is good training regardless of how you do it” when referring to what techniques need to be used when training virtually. Treating a virtual training session like an in-person session and applying all your training experience will provide a great experience for your participants. Just look at this article by ATD – All these virtual training tips (that don’t have to do with technology) are things you would do in person too!

Being an engaging trainer is just as relevant virtually as it is in person. The trainers found that they could continue training with the same energy and style they normally do, keeping the participants engaged and learning. Keeping participants engaged manifested itself in a variety of ways through a combination of technology and classic training techniques.

Breakout rooms are essential for users to get the most out of virtual training. They allow participants to interact with their new coworkers, trainers and moderators can assist users one-on-one in breakout rooms, and most importantly they can simulate the virtual working experience users will eventually move. One of the most effective uses for the breakout rooms was to create self-practice spaces where students could work by themselves or with one other person to put what they had just learned into practice. If any issues arose with what they just learned they could simply “pop-out” of the room and connect with the lead facilitator or moderator and ask a question!

While our training was not always seamless, the trainers did a phenomenal job of making sure the learners got the best experience possible. There were a few instances of which I thought were notable in the way our team handled them:

  • Ensuring users are engaged is one thing in the classroom, but doing it virtually is a much taller task, requiring the use of technology and constant monitoring. Technology like Zoom gives the host insight into whether someone is tuned into the meeting or surfing the web, giving them the ability to rein the participant in. The trainers were also vigilant in getting the participants to contribute; actively monitoring whether they were speaking and redirecting questions to those who were not, in order to get them focused on the training.

  • Unfortunately, some of our participants were last-minute hires and didn’t have access to the corporate network, however, the trainers were able to adapt and found that letting those users drive (remotely work the instructor's screen) was beneficial to not only the driver but the other participants as well in keeping them focused and to help retain knowledge.

Lessons Learned

While the training team prepared extensively for delivering their in-person training virtually, they ran into numerous obstacles they had not expected, which taught them valuable lessons for future training sessions. One of the major learning takeaways for the trainers was the lack of relationship building that comes across through virtual training, and how necessary that is to establish an engaging and effective training experience. The team also had to adapt and manage the role an IT professional would normally play in the classroom environment. What would normally be a quick message to the onsite IT team, now became the responsibility of the training team to resolve. Moving forward, the trainers will try to mitigate these technological disruptions through collaboration with IT teams, as well as building in extra time to help troubleshoot any ongoing issues.

They also felt like they missed certain items about training in-person that made the training great – Developing those crucial relationships, having informal conversations during lunch and breaks, and seeing the faces and emotions of participants when they’re successful.


Both Trainers and participants walked away from the remote training sessions commenting on how smooth the transition has been from in-person to remote training. Our participants mentioned just how much they enjoyed “learning from the comfort of their home” and how great Zoom as a tool for virtual training was. Here are some observations based on a mid-training comprehension test completed with a virtual class that began last week:

  • Overall class size: 12

  • Number failing/at risk: 2

  • Overall termed during training: 2

How it compares to similar classes taught face-to-face:

a. Comprehension: No difference based on test results

b. Attrition levels: No difference based on the size of class and numbers termed.

While the training wasn’t without its hiccups, these observations have shown us that virtual training has been just as effective as in-person training in that users walked away with what they needed to know, and trainers were able to cover all the required topics.

As much as you prepare for delivering a virtual training session, no amount of preparation can mitigate technical issues, distractions, or connection issues. As the trainers experienced, there will constantly be issues plaguing the virtual onboarding process, and it’s up to the trainer and participants to adapt in order to make the training a success.

With so many new changes happening every day, I’m excited to see what’s in store for us next. Business environments and workplaces will continue to evolve and learning how to deliver training remotely is just the tip. As many have suggested, things are probably not going back to normal when this crisis is over, so having experience in leading a transition to virtual training is something I’m confident I’ll need to leverage again in the future.

If you’re looking for help with your virtual workplace transition, visit our resource hub for some helpful tools and tips on managing change through disruption or contact us at We’re happy to discuss your virtual training needs or any other virtual workplace queries.



Colin Carmon-Murphy

Sr. Financial Analyst / Consultant




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