How To Onboard Remote Employees

Remote Onboarding

After hiring, onboarding is the first step towards a great employee experience, especially when your team is remote. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how you set your remote employee up for success.

The benefits of doing onboarding right

Even though it is widely understood that onboarding is a critical part of successful people management, let’s recap the reasons why onboarding is so important in the first place.

DETECT FALSE HIRES EARLY

Hiring the wrong people is one of the most costly mistakes any business can make. This is in part due to the salary you pay a new hire during the time you need to discover that he or she isn’t a good fit. A great onboarding program will help you to learn about the new employee the same way as it helps your new teammate to learn about you. 

The earlier you discover that a new employee isn’t a good fit, the earlier  you can act on this knowledge and end or change the working relationship. This way, a proper and well-managed onboarding process will help you save cost.

BUILDING A BASIS FOR A LONG RELATIONSHIP

A great onboarding program serves as a great first impression on a whole employee experience journey. With a welcoming, well-prepared onboarding experience, you set the foundation for a long-lasting company-employee relationship.

IMMEDIATE PERFORMANCE OF THE NEW EMPLOYEE

Your onboarding program aims at helping the new hire learn everything they need to be successful in your company. The faster you are able to give the new employee knowledge about and exposure to company culture, the right people, the processes and tools they need, the faster your employee will be able to perform for you.

What’s different in onboarding remote employees

Onboarding new remote employees work by the same rules as onboarding an onsite-employee, but the tools and methods you need vary. Here are some examples of what’s different for a remote workforce.

CULTURE EXPERIENCE IS LIMITED 

We experience company culture through so-called cultural artifacts – little visible behaviours and rituals that are expression and influence factor of culture at the same time. These artifacts can be found in person-to-person interactions (eye contact, tone of communication, hierarchical vs. peer-oriented gestures), but also in asynchronous and digital tools like email, chat or video calls (Greetings and endings in emails, tonality in company chats, etc.).

This means for onboarding that we have to emphasize the artifacts that do work in a remote setting to balance for the artifacts the employee doesn’t experience.

THE RISK OF THE WHITE BOX

You are probably familiar with the concept of the black box, where you are lacking transparency over a part of your operations or processes. In a remote work environment, there is often an opposite effect that I call the white box. Remote employees often know their own field of work and their tasks inside out. But they lack transparency over most things outside of their job. Their own job is the white box, the rest is black. This effect is specific to new remote workers, as they don’t even see the day-to-day of the rest of their team.

RELATIONSHIP BUILDING MUST BE MORE INTENTIONAL

Team building and relationship building doesn’t work in a fundamentally different way with remote teams, but as there’s no natural, informal communication, it must be planned more intentionally. You have to deliberately create situations and space for your new team members to actually meet their colleagues.

Catalyzed by the Covid19 pandemic that forced millions of companies to work remotely, an amazing new category of software has evolved that’s trying to mimic physical office spaces and thus create the same high chances of randomly meeting people. A great example for this is Kosy.

1. Preparing the Onboarding Process

Ideally, you have your onboarding process for different roles pre-built as a standard operating procedure so you can use it as a template for all new hires. Here’s a structure on how to capture this process.

ONBOARDING CHECKLIST

The onboarding checklist contains all steps that are necessary to perform a remote employee onboarding from start to finish, that is, from hiring decision to 12 months after the hire. It lays out all steps prior to and during onboarding, outlines responsibilities and best practices.

All the topics below have to be covered and addressed in this document. The onboarding checklist is a living document that should be continuously improved: After every new onboarding, distill the lessons learned with all stakeholders and incorporate improvements into the onboarding checklist. 

Maintaining and updating the onboarding checklists will be done by either the hiring manager, a general hr position or a specialized onboarding manager.

ONBOARDING PLAN

The onboarding plan is the document that is handed out to the new employee. It lays out the steps of the onboarding process, tasks to complete and all relevant dates, contacts and meetings. Also, make sure to include the learning targets you want the new employee to achieve. The onboarding plan – as the checklist – can be well developed as a template that is being customized for each new hire. It should be prepared by the same document owner/process owner as of the checklist.

EXPECTATIONS

Before finalizing the onboarding plan for the hire, we suggest getting in touch with them to ask if there are any specific expectations for their onboarding process. Thoe could be meeting the rest of the team upfront, specific suggestions for the first week, etc.

2. Contract, Payroll, Paperwork

The best idea is to get all the tedious paperwork out of the way before your new team member starts to work. Here are some common things you want to take care of.

CONTRACT

Send out the contract well in advance to allow for enough time for the employee to check, sign and send it back. Next to traditional paper versions that might be impractical for international remote hires, digital signature solutions like docusign are on the rise. (Depending on your process, don’t forget to send your new hire a copy that is signed by both parties as well.)

PAYROLL

Start setting up payroll early. In most countries, you will need some or a lot of data about your new employee, such as tax and insurance numbers, bank account information. As some people don’t have that data at hand, it pays to give them some time to collect it and send it back. Depending on the country you are in, payroll cutoff days can be very early, so make sure you have all things prepared – ideally before the new hire starts.

OTHER PAPERWORK

If further documents need to be signed, this should be handled early as well. That might include non-disclosure agreements (NDA), additional policies that need to be signed or further contracts, e.g. for benefits. The best way is to send out these documents together with the questionnaire that collects payroll information.

3. Tech Infrastructure and Work Tools

Another field you want to cover before the new hire starts their work is to provide all necessary tech infrastructure and other work tools. You might have experienced yourself how bad a first impression it is when you arrive on your first day, and you don’t even have a computer or desk. It’s the same for remote hires.

HARDWARE

If you provide hardware for your new hires like a laptop or other devices, start sending them out as soon as you have the paperwork ready. You might also want to send out a swag bag now if you decide to do that, so it arrives in time (see below).

SOFTWARE AND SYSTEM ACCESS

For all software that your new hire uses, you want to create a user, grant permissions and – important – share the login credentials (user and password) with your new team members. Software types to consider:

  • Video conferencing software like Skype, Zoom or Webex
  • Email Address and Software like Outlook or GSuite
  • Login credentials for your intranet if you have one
  • Other collaboration tools like Slack or miro
  • Whatever other software you will use

It makes sense to make the software catalogue you need for a new hire part of your onboarding checklist – it’s too easy to forget things.

EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK AND OTHER WORK TOOLS

Share information about how you operate upfront. Employee handbooks or standard operating procedures can be a great read for a motivated new hire. Make sure that you send out everything that requires time to get familiar with in advance.

4. First Day

Finally, the first day has come and the new hire is here. As you already have had multiple contact points, the employee shouldn’t feel all new anymore. Ideally, you have scheduled a video call with the new employee already to go through the remote onboarding process.

The below ads up to quite a number of meetings, so plan them as early as you can to ensure the availability of all parties. 

ONBOARDING CALL

In the onboarding call, the direct manager and the human resources manager have the chance to go through the remote onboarding program with the new hire. This should be an interactive call that aims at clarifying all questions, learning about the expectations of the new hire and setting the right direction for the following weeks. Also, you should get the commitment from the new hire on the learning targets.

FIRST 1-ON-1

The manager should use the first day to get onto a first 1-on-1 with her or his new direct report. This will not only show appreciation but also is a great chance to start the relationship off on the right foot. Of course, this 1-on-1 should be the first in a long row.

MEET THE TEAM

In another video call, the new employee should meet the team. Having direct contact to co-workers will work against the feeling of isolation, social interaction and make the new employee feel like a part of the team.

MEET THE MENTOR

The first day is the right time to meet the mentor or buddy. See below for details.

ANNOUNCE THE NEW COLLEAGUE

Depending on your companies usual channel for this, announce the new team member. Be it in a general slack channel or via email, this announcement will do two things: It will increase the visibility of the new employee in the relevant parts of the organization. And it will give your new team member a sense of appreciation.

People & Culture

During the next weeks of orientation, the new employee should get in touch with all relevant players in his or her field and also some people outside of their field. This is important to get some insight into how the company functions as a whole (remember the “white-box-effect” from earlier). Contact with people must be much more intentional in remote settings because the usual water-cooler talk doesn’t happen by accident. Here are some things you can do.

SWAG BAG

Your employee will not have the experience of walking into an office and soaking in the vibe. Nor will he or she be exposed to a lot of corporate design etc. Those might be small things, but they add up to a critical part of the employee experience. To still get some company colours to your remote employee, consider sending out swag bags, filled with company-branded goodies. It’s a great sign of appreciation and will contribute to your branding as an employer. Prepare the swag bag in-house or use a service that does it for you, like swagup.com, for example.

MENTORSHIP OR BUDDY PROGRAMS

Mentorship or buddy programs are a great tool to help new employees navigate the company as a whole, not only their individual team. Generally, it’s about teaming your new hire up with an experienced leader (mentorship) or co-worker (buddy) from a different but related part of the company. The idea is to have regular meetings to help the new employee get a great picture of the company and understand what the core values are and how the organization works. In the first months, arrange a monthly meeting of the two if you can; when the new hire gets more experienced, it’s fine to space them out to a three or even six months interval.

SKIP LEVEL MEETINGS

Skip-level meetings are another great tool to show the employee appreciation and give him or her the big picture. It’s a one-off or recurring meeting with a senior executive of your company.

HELP BUILD RELATIONSHIPS

Relationship building in remote setups must be more intentional than for in-office setups where people can go for beers after work or have a quick chat over lunch. There’s a variety of things you can do, but all of them aim at creating the informal, non-work-related contact points that are necessary: Have joint team lunches through video call, have a lottery where each week, two random team members are paired for a 20-minute call, etc. Get creative and bring people together.

IF YOU CAN, BRING THEM IN

If you are not fully remote or have some kind of regular gathering, it is highly recommended to meet new employees in person as early as you can. Even a single personal encounter can improve collaboration and employee retention for a long time. This will depend on budget and feasibility but we think it’s worth it.

Processes and Tools

Next to people and culture, processes and tools are the other big topic you want to cover during your onboarding process.

WORK SHADOWING

Shadowing is a great tool to show employees how experienced co-workers perform their work. Next to video chat or call software, there are dedicated work shadowing software offers out there. In addition to the sessions about the very own field of work of the employee, we recommend at least five cross-functional work shadowing sessions to avoid the white-box effect. 

PROCESS AND SOP TRAINING

Arrange dedicated meetings to explain and train the processes that you use. You will be able to cover smaller things in team meetings or 1-on-1s, but if you really want to dive deep into more complex topics, you will need dedicated time for it.

TRAINING SESSIONS FOR ALL TOOLS

If you use tools and software that the new employee is not familiar with, arrange calls to explain them. Video tutorials are another great tool to train software.

Long-term onboarding

Onboarding shouldn’t end after the first weeks or months. Research shows that full integration of a new hire into the company, culture, values and processes can take 12 or even 18 months.

TEAM-BUILDING

In an ongoing effort to increase team coherence and shape the companies culture, continue to invest in remote team-building measures.

SUCCESS TALKS AFTER 1.5, 3, 6 AND 12 MONTHS

In addition to the hopefully very regular feedback and development sessions of the leader and her direct reports, take the time to schedule success talks with the new hire. The goal is to check-in on how things are going, where he or she needs support and what development steps might have come out of the onboarding process. This continued engagement will contribute to a great employee experience and is a first step to building high retention.

Quality Control

Last but not least, you want to measure how good your onboarding process is. You can use different metrics:

  • New hire retention
  • Hiring manager satisfaction
  • Time to competence
  • Employee satisfaction with the onboarding experience
  • External ratings (glassdoor.com, etc.)

The goal is to feed back all information you get about the onboarding process into the SOP for the process.

Customize

This list is very comprehensive, and you might want to leave out or add things here and there. But try to make sure that you cover all areas. If you do things in your onboarding process that we have not mentioned here, please let us know in the comments. ✌🏻

Happy onboarding.

Best

Benjamin

The templates:

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