How to Effectively Onboard Remote Employees

By Josh Brown

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Remote Onboarding

The trend for remote work offers exciting new opportunities, but we must adapt our approaches to meet the demand. Onboarding happens much more organically when your company operates from a physical location, and the environment is part of your company culture. Instead, when your employees don’t come to you, you must go to your employees. 

Unfortunately, 24% of companies lack an onboarding strategy. Don’t be one of them. Your remote onboarding process should combine the right technologies, lists of tasks, and interactions with your people to welcome your new hires. Many recruits have never worked remotely before, so don’t assume they will be at all familiar with your processes. 

When we onboard new employees, all relevant information must be centralized, be comprehensive enough to cover everything, easy to search, and invite exploration. “Everyone talks about building a relationship with your customers. I think you build one with your employees first,” says Angela Ahrendts DBE, American businesswoman and former senior vice president of retail at Apple Inc.

Why You Need an Employee Onboarding Process

Your remote onboarding process is your new hire’s introduction to your team’s remote culture. It’s crucial to make a good first impression. The entirety of the onboarding process may take months to complete and varies with an individual’s job role, but you can aim to get everyone off to the best start possible. 

Onboarding must be about providing access to the right information and also making the introductions to the remote social relationships that characterize a distributed team. Your employees won’t literally set foot on your premises, so you have to feed them into your processes and team virtually. New employees won’t know exactly who to ask if you don’t set them up with all the right tools and the correct systems and may feel hesitant about asking too many questions.

If you share the responsibility of the onboarding process with multiple people, this can be an opportunity to review your processes and make adjustments. Form the habit of asking for feedback on your processes every time you onboard someone. New hires often have a more detached perspective on your company, and they can identify issues that would otherwise remain invisible. 

Benefits of a Solid Onboarding Process

The benefits of a structured onboarding process are significant. It has repercussions that will persist throughout an employee’s entire time with the company.

Turnover rates for new hires are a thorny problem. The average cost of losing an employee is over a third of their annual salary, you will lose productivity, and have to start the recruitment process all over again. Employees are 23% more likely to stay in the position if their manager clearly explains their role and responsibilities. A good onboarding process improves the overall retention rates for your company. 

When you onboard employees more effectively, new hires reach full productivity faster. Your seasoned employees then spend less time training them, which is time spent away from their primary responsibilities. Your bottom line rises.

In any growing company, your unique culture must be constantly renewed and relayed to new employees. The onboarding process is your first chance to express the existing company culture effectively, and also helps your new employee to feel part of the team. For this reason, HR professionals are the gatekeepers to the culture and should honor their role.

Social isolation is also a big problem among remote workers. This is your big chance to help new employees build their connections with the rest of the team, and understand that they have chosen a great place to work.

Vital Components of an Onboarding Process

General Considerations

Your remote employees may be based anywhere in the world. You might want to consider country-specific policies and guidelines for each employee, and take into consideration different time zones.

Ask your new hires if they have any questions, and try to address any concerns. Don’t treat them like a number – make sure you have enough time to devote to every new person you onboard.

Employee Handbook

Share your employee handbook containing all the necessary information about your company. This can include links to sites or documents, procedures and processes, and access to any databases or repositories they might need. Company policies such as compensation, vacation, and sick leave, need to be spelled out explicitly. 

Setting Up the Workspace

If your company is BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), let new hires know how to set up their device to comply with company policy, and download any software they might need. They may need to access your systems through a firewall or a VPN, for example. Remember to tailor your instructions for macOS, Linux and Windows. 

If you are a software company, there will be important compliance rules for how to access your software and customer data in the interests of security. These rules must be followed. 

Social Introductions

Nominate one person who personally invites the new hire into the team and introduces them to their coworkers. It can be helpful to arrange a group video call so people can get to know the new person. Arrange a warm welcome in Slack, with everyone introducing themselves and what they do. 

Some companies want to be relatively informal in this area. This means that employees can understand they are being welcomed as a person, as well as a new role. “Create caring and robust connections between every employee and their work, customers, leaders, managers, and the organization to achieve results that matter to everyone in this sentence,” says David Zinger, founder of the Employee Engagement Network.

Official Documents

Collect the essential documents from your new hire, including signed contracts, identification documents, proofs of qualification, and payment details. Enroll them in the payroll system, and set them up with your time tracking process

Introduction to the Role

Assign the right person to take your new hire through the responsibilities of their new job role and start training them. Make sure their team lead provides them with a series of introductory tasks to get started on the job. A good set of first tasks could be a backlog that has been waiting to be cleared, which could provide a series of small wins. 

If someone is hired onto the software engineering team, set them up with access to the code repository, and arrange a pair programming session with a senior developer. 

If someone is new to your customer support team, arrange for job shadowing with a senior support rep to give them time to learn the ropes. 

Tech Stack for Your Remote Onboarding

Any remote company worth its salt needs a solid tech stack for its employees to reach maximum productivity. It’s often worthwhile to embrace the SaaS model and integrate your different software systems to create unique and powerful workflows.

Employee Management Software

You can use HR software like HR Partner to streamline your onboarding process and ensure new employees have access to vital services like the employee directory with contact details, organization chart, onboarding checklists, training videos, documents to sign, and the ability to control their profile details. 

Internal Knowledge Base

If you want to invest in an internal knowledge base that functions as an employee handbook, knowledge base software like Helpjuice is perfect. Access can be customized so employees have access to only the information they need, and your site can be designed to fit in perfectly with your business’s brand.

Password Managers

Many companies now operate with password managers like LastPass, which store all account login details in a secure vault, which is much more secure than sharing passwords by email. Employees can share passwords more easily, and when login details are updated, all employees have access through a shared folder in LastPass.

Communication and Collaboration Tools

Being able to communicate effectively with remote employees takes extra effort. Not only do you need a communication plan, but you also should make use of internal messaging tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, Troop Messenger, or an equivalent remote workspace tool. 

There are likely to be a lot of new tasks awaiting your new employee. Give them access to your project management tools such as Monday, Atlassian, Asana or Basecamp.

Remote Meeting Tools

Set your new employees up with your remote meeting software such as Skype or Zoom, which are commonly used for small meetings and larger conferences. 

Final Remarks

The remote onboarding process is an exciting opportunity to welcome new members of your team and show them your company culture. Your goal is to be thorough and efficient, but inclusive to as many people as possible.

Remember that some people have lifestyles that affect their remote work, such as people with young children, people who don’t speak English as their first language, or someone living in a different timezone. It’s easy for important things to get lost in translation when working remotely, so try to be as clear and explicit as possible.

Don’t miss the opportunity to gather feedback about your processes and find areas for improvement. This is your new hire’s first real impression of your company, so grab the chance to shine.

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