Even in this time of continued disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the creative work will go on and so will the need for robust onboarding of new team members. But there are obstacles and new challenges that make devoting time and care to the onboarding process even more critical to the success of your in-house agency (IHA). The so-called Great Resignation is real and attrition is impacting the success of IHAs. Never before have soft skills been more important during the onboarding process. Positive first impressions drive retention.

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One of our clients reached out to Cella with a need for a new project manager on their team. We were able to move quickly to fill the position, but now the hiring manager was faced with a different challenge—onboarding this new hire in their now-virtual work environment. It’s important that we build and nurture our teams to manage the new normal of our work lives and make all team members feel that they are part of a cohesive and supportive group. You may have seen our post highlighting remote work best practices, but what about onboarding a new hire when an in-person orientation is not an option?

Remote or virtual onboarding can still be an effective high-touch process is managed in an organized and personal fashion. I spoke with the leader of an in-house agency who managed through this process, and several other Cella colleagues, and here are some best practices they’ve put in place to educate new hires on standard operating procedures, explain how to successfully work in the IHA, and also make the person feel that they’ll be valued and cared for.



The Basics: Securing Equipment and Access

At the very least, you need to make sure that new hires have all the necessary tools (hardware, software and network access) so they can train up and do their jobs. Without that, not only can they not begin the onboarding process, they will likely feel the IHA is either incompetent or doesn’t care enough about them to provide the support they need to be successful.

Christine Molinaro, a Cella consultant who was leading an in-house agency at a major healthcare company, pulled out all the stops to get the project manager mentioned above, and another new hire, up and running in the midst of a work-from-home mandate. Her first step and best practice was to proactively contact HR, IT, Facilities and Security to get needed virtual (and eventually physical) access to the company, along with email addresses and a calendar for scheduling, well ahead of her new hires’ start dates. One of Christine’s team members physically went to their office to pick up the new hires’ laptops, briefly meeting with one in-person on-site and meeting the other at a local restaurant a few days later. In spite of the extraordinary circumstances, Christine and her team were able to leverage their relationships with IT and partner with them to secure the needed equipment.


Integrating a new hire and getting them to feel that they’re part of the team is hard enough in person, let alone doing it virtually. Make it easier by sharing brief bios of your IHA team with those you’re onboarding. And share org charts as well. Doing so will help the new hire place their coworkers and clients within the IHA (and larger organization), and better understand where and how they fit into the group. 

After ensuring that her new hires had access to the company’s network, Christine arranged for introductions. First, she sent bios of the new staff members to her team and clients with a letter of introduction. This paved the way for Christine to then set up virtual “meet and greets” with peers, managers and clients, making sure there would be no surprises when the new project managers jumped into their jobs. 


In addition to the prescheduled introductions, Christine arranged for other appropriate team members to virtually meet and review the in-house agency’s standard operating procedures, workflows, org structure and client profiles with the new hires. The position description is particularly important to review with newly hired staff. It sets expectations with talent and acts as a contract on performance between the new hire and the IHA.

We recommend that some of this training be prepackaged and automated, saving your trainers’ time and allowing new staff to plan out their own onboarding schedules. Christine made sure that company-mandated Security, Facilities and HR training were set up and available for the new hires to complete online. In addition, branding guidance, archiving and naming conventions and other studio-specific practices can be set up as pre-recorded training modules.

Cella's Senior Vice President, Jackie Schaffer, actually blocks out two weeks’ worth of orientation and introductory meetings in Google Calendar, so that when a new hire opens his or her schedule it’s already prepopulated. Jackie says that rather than feeling overwhelmed, her new hires appreciate the structure that enables them to spend time, energy and focus on getting onboarded.

A Cella consulting team member, had an orientation packet printed, bound and packaged in a fancy tin box that she would send to her new remote team members, along with a personal handwritten greeting. Not only did this help her new hires familiarize themselves with the agency and how they fit into the organization, the personal touch made them feel valued from the very start. Another one of our consultant leads, who headed up a Cella creative team, provided a screensaver with a special customized welcome message for his new staff. 

It can’t be stressed enough that these personal flourishes are critical to your virtual onboarding process. Other ideas include sending gift cards to takeout restaurants for lunch meetings, scheduling a virtual group happy hour to introduce new members to the team and mailing new hires swag with your company’s or IHA’s branding on them.

The Work

In coordination with her project management team, Christine identified what projects the new hires would take on prior to their start dates. Project complexity, timing and resourcing were taken into account so the new talent would be set up for success. She’s found that the best and most efficient way to onboard staff is to provide a mix of immediate training along with actual on-the-job experience that takes the initial training and applies it to real-world scenarios.

Her new hires received extensive training on the project management tool they’d be using to manage their projects. In addition to virtual classes, Christine’s team created reference materials that the new project managers could easily access when schooling themselves on the tool. Christine’s new hires are now both onboarded and successfully engaging in their jobs. They started with a sense of gratitude for getting their jobs and are impressed with the agency’s competency and commitment to its staff.

Additional Virtual Onboarding Best Practices

There are a few final best practices to share that I’ve personally put in place to remotely onboard new team members. 

Mentoring: When onboarding remotely, it’s especially important to assign a mentor to new hires to “show them the ropes.” This not only helps them quickly navigate logistical issues, but gives them a sounding board if they encounter any challenges that should be escalated and addressed by senior management. It’s also a professional development opportunity for the mentor. The mentors should be chosen not just for their functional knowledge, but their personality and embodiment of your IHA’s culture. They will lead and train by example and set the emotional tone for your new hires.

Intranet: Many (and hopefully, most) teams have an internal site that is stocked with reference materials, a detailed org chart and position descriptions. Don’t forget to give early access to new staff so they can incorporate the intranet into their onboarding. This site should include an up-to-date list of contacts for various needs such as IT support, and an HR frequently asked questions and answers document. We also suggest a list of any internal email groups that new hires should be aware of.

Remote work guidelines: Make sure to document and provide remote work guidelines and expectations as well as home office design recommendations that will help set your new talent up for success, while letting them know you’re truly committed to their onboarding experience. Guidance on how to communicate virtually and advice regarding recommended communication tools is also a plus. Frequent check-ins from you in the first few weeks will not only allow you to address any hiccups in onboarding in real-time, it will also let your new hires know that you truly care about them and their future success in your IHA.

Most recommendations in this post are applicable to in-person onboarding; however, they become crucial when bringing on new staff in a remote work environment. Though today’s environment is still not business as usual, work-life, including onboarding, can go on when addressed in a focused and deliberate manner with a special focus on that personal touch that often gets lost in virtual environments.

If your team needs assistance staffing key positions, or with virtual onboarding processes or other general studio operating procedures, please reach out. Our experts are happy to be of assistance!