People & Leadership

How to onboard employees when working remotely

How do you welcome an employee you've never met? Here's what you need to know about remote onboarding.

People Company

How do you welcome someone you’ve never met face to face? It’s a question that companies everywhere are grappling with as the Covid-19 crisis forces them to work remotely. Figuring out how to find and hire new recruits in this environment is tough enough, how do you tackle remote onboarding once they’re ready to join the team?

Even in normal times, successful onboarding is critical to a company’s long-term success. Studies show that as much as 20% of staff turnover happens within the first 45 days of employment. Organizations with a standard onboarding process experience 50% greater retention of new hires. Getting an employee up to speed quickly and painlessly can help ensure they stay with you for the long haul.

To avoid the common pitfalls of remote onboarding, consider incorporating these steps into your process.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

You don’t want your employees’ first days to be filled with confusion and chaos, so take the time to make sure everything is in place before they log on.

If your company provides employees with the tech they need to perform their job—a laptop, software, access to a database—make sure it’s in their hands before their start date. And make sure IT is available to walk them through setup.

The same goes for any documents they may need to sign or review. Make sure you are prepared to send new hires their employment contract, Form W-2, medical insurance enrollment forms, employee handbook, and any other document they need to sign as part of their remote onboarding. Most documents can now be signed virtually, so choose a service and advise new hires to create an account ahead of time.

Prepare current employees for the arrival of their new colleague. Something as simple as an all-staff email announcing the new hire, complete with previous work history and the details of their new position, can help ease the transition.

If your company doesn’t already have one, create an onboarding checklist that covers everything a new employee will need on day one. This will help make sure you’re not scrambling every time someone new comes aboard.

Set clear expectations

We all know the feeling: It’s the first day of a new job, and you’re sitting at your desk trying to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing. Now imagine that same scenario, except the desk is your kitchen table and your nearest coworker is 100 miles away.

When onboarding employees remotely, it’s essential to set clear goals and expectations, both for the short and long term. Again, this is work that should be done long before the employee actually clocks in, either by the hiring manager or the employee’s supervisor. Have them provide the new employee with a task calendar containing the objectives, and schedule regular one-on-one follow-ups to discuss progress and adjust expectations.

Be sure to build in time for the new hire to ask questions, too. Starting a new job remotely requires a person to absorb a lot of information in a short period of time, and many people don’t learn as well virtually as they do in person. Make sure to occasionally stop and ask new hires if they understand what’s expected of them.

Meet small, then meet big

Even at a small company, meeting all of your new coworkers at once can be intimidating. On your new employees’ first day, start them off with small virtual meetings or phone calls with their team, supervisors, and direct reports. Save the full-staff introduction for later in the day. This way, they will have familiar faces to refer to when scanning the crowd.

Depending on the size of your company, it can be hard to schedule face-to-face time between the owner or president and every new employee. But even a few minutes with the top boss can go a long way toward making new hires feel welcome and valued. If possible, schedule a virtual chat or phone call between the president and new hires within their first few days.

Share your culture

Your culture makes your company unique. But without an office, how will new hires get a sense of that culture? To truly integrate new employees, it’s important to include aspects of your corporate culture into the remote onboarding process. This can be accomplished a number of ways:

  • Make a slideshow of pictures and videos showing your physical workspace and past social gatherings among coworkers. (Be sure to include captions so your new employee can match faces to names.)
  • Host a virtual happy hour to welcome your new employees. Include games or activities to foster useful interactions.
  • Create virtual versions of any office rituals, such as weekly group lunches or trivia nights.
  • Randomly team up new hires with one or two other staff members for semi-private “Get to Know You” video chats.
  • Circulate a weekly email roundup of staff accomplishments, both work-related and personal.

Sooner or later, the day will come when companies can once again welcome their full staff back into the office. But even then, experts expect remote working to remain more common than before. With that in mind, approach your remote onboarding protocol not just as an emergency measure, but as an investment in your company’s future.

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