With the start of the COVID pandemic, many office-based businesses had to adapt to the new normal by moving to a work from home model. Furthermore, according to the Future Workforce Report, a whopping 36.2 million people will be remote by 2025 just in the USA (Ozimek, n.d.).
The main challenge here is how you can make sure all your new remote recruits are fully prepared to deal with the problems their job presents while remaining highly motivated working from home and facing an overload of distractions.
Remote onboarding vs in-person onboarding
For all intents and purposes, remote employee onboarding is the same as in-person onboarding. It helps your new recruits:
- Understand your vision and company culture;
- Find their place in your organisation and feel welcomed;
- Establish the best ways of communicating with the rest of your team;
- Provide them with the necessary training and tools to be an integral part of the everyday workflow.
The main difference with in-person onboarding is that instead of face-to-face, in remote (or also known as virtual) onboarding you use video calls, webinars, electronic documents and online training platforms to deliver the same results.
According to a 2019 survey, 76% of people say they can usually tell within the first six months of starting a job whether they’ll stay with the company. Almost 40% of those who left in the first six months blame it on ineffective onboarding (Indeed, 2020). You can see that if you want to raise employee retention, you need to get your onboarding right. Let’s find out how you can do that.
Before Day One
Prepare in advance
You can start by organising any onboarding materials into a “digital vault”, an intranet your company can use to store everything that goes into your onboarding knowledge bases, such as videos, guides and paperwork and templates associated with new hires.
Help new employees complete HR paperwork
To reduce the amount of printing, scanning and emailing your new hires need to complete when filling in the necessary paperwork, you should consider using online documentation tools for paperwork delivery and collection. Popular examples of such tools are DocuSign, RightSignature and HelloSign.
Provide an agenda for the first week
In a document or a video, list out everything you will cover during the new recruit’s first week and what they should expect to learn.
Come up with a detailed schedule for that time, including breaks between modules and enough check-ins and touchpoints so your remote employees feel attended to.
Send them a welcome email
In that message, include all they will need to know before their first day, what equipment they should expect to receive from you and when, links to relevant communication tools and your intranet, the agenda for the first week and so on.
A good way to make your new employees feel welcomed from the outset is, in that email, to include a recorded message in which your current employees greet their new colleagues and point out why your company is such a great place to work and why they’re excited to have them on the team.
Deliver work equipment
If your employees are required to have certain equipment for their job, share with them a detailed checklist of what that equipment should be.
If it’s you who provides the equipment, make sure that the shipping company you are using is reliable and all necessary documentation is filled out correctly. When the equipment arrives with the employee, get them to confirm they received it and test it to see if it fits their needs. In your shipment, you should also include manuals and other instructions.
Send a welcome kit
As soon as possible (at least a couple of weeks before their start date), send your remote employees information about company culture, the projects they will be working on as well as company swag. That is guaranteed to make a positive first impression even before they start.
Allow your employees the time to go through the materials at their own pace. Be mindful that, working remotely, they may be struggling to maintain the work-life balance.
In the welcome kit, you can include:
- Digital employee handbook
- Video stories about how the company came to be
- A presentation about the company mission, values and culture
- Pictures from all-hands meetings
- Helpful videos and other materials, such as guides to navigate remote work
- Swag box with branded merchandise (coffee cups, pens, t-shirts, notebooks, even sweatpants)
- Hand-crafted gifts from yourself or some of your employees (scented candles, bracelets or even homebrewed lager if you think the recruit will appreciate it)
Assign a welcome buddy
Starting a remote job sometimes comes with the feeling of isolation. To be mindful of your remote employees, you should consider assigning them a welcome buddy.
The welcome buddy will become the go-to person for your new hires and help them settle in, guiding them through their first steps at work. They can also introduce your recruit to the rest of the team and help them build personal relationships.
Add the new recruits to your communication channels
Some points to consider here:
- Set up a company email for them with a proper signature.
- Give them access to the Slack channel they will be using on a day-to-day basis and describe who they should contact and with what queries.
- Make sure they understand how the video conferencing tools your business uses work.
- Provide them with access to your file-sharing applications and cloud backup software.
- Arrange training with the IT department if necessary.
Make yourself or team leads available to answer questions your remote employees may have. You can even create an intranet page or a Google doc for those questions where they will be revised and answered at least once a week.
Let your current team know of the arrival of their remote colleagues
Send a New Employee announcement to inform your team of the hires. Encourage them to send a welcome message to the new colleague.
Introduce the remote employee in the #general channel on Slack or during a team meeting.
Meet the team
On their first day, invite your recruits to a virtual hangout with the rest of the team.
Plan out icebreaker activities to relax the atmosphere, for example, job-related quizzes.
During their first days in the role, your employees should meet with:
- Their teammates
- Their line managers
- Employees from other departments they’ll work closely with
Many new remote employees report feeling like imposters at the start of their job. Make sure you set up a Slack channel and encourage your old employees to engage with your new recruits in a casual chat about their day, the challenges they face and the help they need.
Slack also gives you the Donut integration where new hires can meet people across your company for a virtual coffee.
Hold a company orientation
Arrange a virtual meeting with your new employees during which you should cover the following:
- Review of company history, mission, vision and values
- Company structure
- Overview of your products, services and support
- HR policies and procedures
- Details about perks and benefits
Make sure the people facilitating the orientation are prepared beforehand and are familiar with the agenda.
Onboarding remote employees, you should take it slower than usual. Don’t overload them with information. On the first day, keep it down to only the essentials of your company and their new job. Spread out the rest over a week or more to give them time to absorb the information.
Week One (and After)
Keep it engaging
Be aware of “webinar fatigue”, or the overly extensive use of video conferencing that leads to mental exhaustion. Use different formats to convey your message, such as online training videos, PDFs, phone calls and so on. For more ways to fight webinar fatigue, read this blog post.
An effective way to make sure your onboarding training is both effective and engaging is by taking it online and turning it into an interactive course your new recruits can complete in their own time. Specialists such as the Learnium team can help you create a coherent, online-native training course, saving you time and money.
To reinforce the scene of human presence in an online onboarding process and build up a future team, you can get your current employees involved with the training of the new employees. Ask them to cover a specific aspect of the training or just bring them up to share personal experiences.
Cover role responsibilities and expectations
Give your new recruits specific tasks they need to complete over the first weeks of their employment. Make the line managers set both short-term and long-term goals with the remote hires.
As a part of that, create goals for their first 30, 60 and 90 days on the job. You can also invite the recruits to suggest goals they find exciting.
Scheduling weekly (or more frequent at first) one-on-one check-ins over video calls with the employee to discuss progress and resolve issues is crucial to ensure the smooth transition to the job and the reaching of the 30/60/90 day milestones. You can also use those calls to answer questions and provide feedback.
Start off professional development from the very beginning
Almost ¾ of all remote employees report a need for more work-related training. Give your employees the opportunity to grow up professionally, offer them on-job training, and sign them up for online training programmes or relevant webinars or conferences.
Ask your employees how you can contribute to their career development and adjust your onboarding accordingly.
Encourage collaborative learning
To make sure the new hires properly understand the flow of the work, you should engage them in job shadowing where, via video calls and screen sharing, they can observe how their more experienced colleagues fulfil their duties.
You can also involve your new employees in group projects where they could have the chance to learn from other team members, show off their skills and establish their positions in the company. Working together is also perfect for developing solid work relationships.
The fact someone works remotely doesn’t change their need for them to feel a part of a larger team and feel included. If anything, not being there for company functions or casual meetups makes it harder for the remote employee and increases the sense of isolation.
To tackle this, you can organise regular virtual team building activities, such as online coffee breaks (for example, via Donut, the Slack integration) or playing games (such as quizzes, charades or escape rooms) at least once a month.
One thing to remember is that, in a remote environment, team building needs to be intentional and planned ahead in order to work for everyone.
Celebrating together cultivates a sense of belonging that is needed in every community, moreover so when part of your team works remotely.
Make an effort to get to know your remote hires and their preferences. For example, during a one-on-one meeting you can ask them if they are a coffee or a tea person and when the occasion presents itself, like when they reach a significant milestone, send them a celebratory coffee gift set.
You should also announce their achievements in your #general Slack channel so everyone on the team can appreciate the value the remote employees bring to the business and congratulate them.
Gather onboarding feedback
You need to make sure your onboarding programme reaches its goals and leaves your new hires with confidence on the job and a sense of belonging to a team.
One way for you to measure the success of your onboarding is by handing out an employee satisfaction survey (e.g. using Google Forms or SurveyMonkey) and allowing your recruits to leave open-ended feedback. Using such a survey you can monitor satisfaction as time progresses, for example once after one week and again after 45 days on the job.
For more ideas on how to measure the success of your training, we recommend this article.
Remote onboarding software tools
Communities – a private social network with webinar delivery. You can create a network for your trainees, connect them with their mentors, allow them to exchange ideas, opinions and resources, facilitate training courses, monitor progress and assess results.
Slack – a communication platform offering chat channels organised by topic, private groups and direct messaging.
ProProfs – a cloud-based payroll services and HR software for small businesses. In addition to their main payroll product, they also offer tax filing services, benefits administration, time and labour tracking and talent management.
Monday.com – a customisable web and mobile work management platform, designed to track projects and workflows, visualise data and team collaboration.
To sum it all up…
Due to the restrictions introduced in response to the COVID pandemic in 2020, the work-from-office landscape changed dramatically, with almost half of the businesses switching to remote mode overnight. And that trend appears to be here to stay: when asked if their company is planning on permanently allowing remote work, as much as 46% of the responders were a firm yes, with only 16% being against the idea (Buffer, n.d.).
Onboarding new remote employees, however, doesn’t come without its challenges, ensuring the effectiveness of the training process and making the recruit an integral part of the team to name but a few.
One of the most important things onboarding managers should remember is that when working with remote employees they need to plan ahead and not rely on spontaneity. Give your employees the time to go through your onboarding material at their own pace. Send them the meeting agenda ahead of time. Be mindful of them trying to maintain a work-life balance.
Remember to include your remote recruits in group projects and online company functions so they don’t feel isolated from the rest of the team who might be working from the office.
You should also monitor the success of your onboarding efforts, meet one-on-one with your remote hires and gather their feedback so you can always adapt and improve processes with your employees in mind.
Thank you for reading and until next time!
Apostolopoulos, A., 2019. Are you training your remote workforce? 67% say they want more. TalentLMS Blog. Available at: <https://www.talentlms.com/blog/remote-work-statistics-survey-2019/> [Accessed 31 March 2022].
Buffer, n.d. State of remote work 2021. Buffer. Available at: <https://buffer.com/state-of-remote-work/2021> [Accessed 1 April 2022].
Indeed, 2020. Onboarding Remote Employees (with Checklist & Sample Schedule). Indeed. Available at: <https://www.indeed.com/hire/c/info/16-steps-to-effective-virtual-onboarding-with-checklist-and-sample-schedule> [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Ozimek, A. n.d. Economist report: Future workforce. Upwork. Available at: <https://www.upwork.com/press/releases/economist-report-future-workforce?utm_source=PartnerCentric&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_campaign=2033810_smallbiztrends&irclickid=wW%3AVwNRKMxyIT0wQfeSStWSMUkGQNd1ZERxr1Y0&irgwc=1%3Fcampaign&source=Upwork_Impact> [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Workable, 2020. Remote employees onboarding checklist. Workable. Available at: <https://resources.workable.com/remote-employees-onboarding-checklist> [Accessed 30 March 2022].