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Keys to Onboarding Success: How to Effectively Onboard Remote Workers

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By this point, you know a structured and personalized onboarding process greatly benefits your new hire and your business. But one type of the unique challenges of remote working is having an effective process for onboarding remote workers.  

According to a study by Flexjobs.com, 58% of people surveyed indicated they would prefer a full-time remote job. If your company allows employees to work remotely or hires remote workers, you can’t afford to leave them out of your onboarding process. An effective and thorough onboarding process will help set your remote employees up for success in their first 90 days. 

The needs of remote employees are different from those of in-office employees, and their onboarding should reflect that. Let’s examine a few tips to properly onboard remote employees.

Before the first day 

  • Verify your remote employee

Bringing in an employee is an act of goodwill and good faith, by both parties. But, while it may sound a little paranoid, it's crucial that you appropriately verify that your remote new hire is who you believe them to be. New hire fraud has become an item of rising and serious concern for security and IT teams, and for good reason. Given the nature of our connected, digital work environment, employees have increased access to a company’s most important assets, like data, documents, and confidential information. So, before you begin your onboarding, make sure that you have absolute confidence that the person logging into your system is the person you hired. 

  • Take care of the paperwork

Onboarding becomes a much more arduous process when it includes signing documents, completing training, and answering questions. Thankfully, modern onboarding software simplifies new hire paperwork by putting it all online and lets new employees complete most of their documentation before their official start date. This is an enormous benefit for remote employees and drastically reduces headaches on all sides of the onboarding process.

Establish points of contact

Remote work can lead to increased productivity and personal responsibility, but it can reduce important communication and the sense of being connected to your fellow employees. That’s why it’s crucial to provide points of contact to your new remote employee.

  • Introduce new remote workers to your team

A warm welcome gets things off to a good start. If you have an office and it’s feasible to bring your new remote employee to the building, make a point to provide training and introductions in person. This way, they’ll feel more connected to your business and their team members.

If they can’t come into the office, host a Zoom call with all the members of their department and have everyone introduce themselves. The more time the new hire gets to put a face to the name of their team members, the more they’ll feel connected to your business.

  • Use technology to stay connected

Remote employees need to be able to connect with you when they have a question or need help performing their job duties. There are several tools to help you and your new hire communicate, from email to Slack to Zoom to Google Chat; pick the tools that fit your company's culture and budget then encourage remote employees to use them. Communication doesn’t have to be constant, but it does have to be accessible and timely. A quick review of preferences for key team members can be helpful as well, so they start out knowing who wants an email, who prefers chat, and who’s in a different time zone. 

It can be helpful to ask an employee after their first couple of months for feedback to help improve the onboarding process.

Provide an organized onboarding process

Time is of the essence when training remote employees. If you have the luxury of bringing remote workers into the office for training, you have to maximize the amount of time you have. Organizing your process into something that’s easy to repeat will make employee onboarding less stressful for everyone involved.

One helpful asset is a master checklist that can double as an agenda, ensuring that onboardings are internally consistent and regularly updated to reflect the current state of work at your company.

  • Share core values and culture

One piece that’s often overlooked during onboarding is an orientation to your company. Every employee should be introduced to the company’s mission, core values, and goals. This helps to create alignment across the workforce as a whole and provides a sense of unity. 

Information on the business’ history, client base, culture, and success stories help new employees see the importance of their role in the story of the company. Most employees will benefit from familiarity with brand guidelines and marketing standards, including tips for talking about the business and its products and services.

  • Provide your remote work policy

Any business with a remote workforce needs a remote work policy that sets clear expectations for its employees who are working remotely. The policy should cover things like availability and work hours, levels of schedule flexibility, and how employees should track their time working, how productivity is measured, including deliverables and outcomes of the work produced. 

The policy is also a good place to share some company norms as well, for example if cameras are required to be on during video meetings, any restrictions on background environment or meeting attire, and whether the company’s virtual happy hour is wet or dry.  

  • Clearly state work times and expectations

During onboarding, clearly state when you expect your remote employee to be working, noting deadlines or any other company guidelines to reduce misunderstandings. Encourage all employees to put their appointments on their calendars, including lunch breaks, so it is easy to see their availability.  

  • Provide communication norms

We don’t think twice about someone in an office being away from their desk momentarily at 11:00 am or 3:00 pm. Still, if you send a message to your remote worker at 2:30 and don’t hear back immediately, it’s tempting to become suspicious of their productivity. It’s these types of situations that lead to frustration and moments of misunderstanding.

Remote teams frequently rely on asynchronous communication, so it’s common to set timeframes for employees to respond to different messaging types. This helps prevent a common communication pitfall – the false sense of urgency. Setting guidelines for how long it can take someone to reply to a message is important, as is the process for what should happen if there’s an actual communications emergency.  

Providing set expectations across all employees improves communication success.

  • Introduce the tools they’ll use

Remote teams rely on a staggering number of software tools, and all of them are important. Provide the most comprehensive list possible for your new employee, as well as links to any documentation they can access. Starting out, they’ll often need to become quickly familiar with:

  • Company human resources platform 
  • Employee payroll portal
  • Company password manager
  • Group workspaces
  • Time tracking tools 
  • Company calendars 
  • Communication channels
  • Software they’ll use in the course of their regular work

It’s especially helpful to have a list of beginner tutorials and frequently asked questions that will reduce the burden on the person providing the orientation. If an employee will be expected to take an online course or receive specific training during their employment, it’s helpful to provide a timeline of how and when those will happen. 

One helpful asset is a master checklist that can double as an agenda, ensuring that onboardings are internally consistent.

Keep up the communication

  • Stay in touch and provide feedback.

An unfortunate reality of remote work is the lack of feedback at the moment it is necessary. It can stunt employee growth, and managers may become frustrated by missed expectations. You can reduce missed expectations by staying in touch with your new employee after onboarding is complete. It may be necessary to have frequent check-ins with your new remote employee for the first 90 days of employment.  After that time has passed, schedule a regular cadence of touch base meetings, at least quarterly, after your new hire is well acquainted with the role and the company.

  • Set performance goals

Remote employees want performance reviews as much as your office workers. They may not be excited about performance reviews, but you can help them progress in your company by setting, accomplishing, and reviewing goals. Performance management software helps keep employees and supervisors on the same page about critical objectives and competencies.

Remote employees need more than just a packet filled with your company handbook and benefits information. A guided, structured onboarding process will help you nurture strong employees and ensure remote workers stay connected to your business.

  • Look toward the future

A new job or new role is an opportunity coated with uncertainty. One way to help employees focus on the opportunity is to provide a sense of what they can expect in the next week, month, quarter, and year. You can also include the kinds of opportunities that are on the near horizon, like professional development, special projects, and team- and company-wide social events. 

And, looking toward the future, it can be helpful to ask an employee after their first couple of months for feedback to help improve the onboarding process. Sometimes there are changes in a role that aren’t noted (like a change in software for a certain task, or a process that has been updated but never documented) and this provides an opportunity to share knowledge and update documentation. 

Download The Free Remote Work Policy Guide

Consider periodic refreshers

Policies change and processes change, so it’s worth having periodic refreshers for all employees from time to time. Some events are natural triggers for these: a brand update, retirement or launch of a product or service, changes to business policies, or when it’s just clear that a reminder is needed about an existing policy. 

It’s also helpful to offer some group “open onboarding” sessions from time to time that all employees may attend. It’s surprising how many employees may wish to be guided through the remote work policy or attend a presentation on the company’s core values and branding. These also provide employees who may have had a less formal onboarding experience a chance to understand their roles and your company better. 

While this article covers many ideals, if you don’t already have an onboarding process, just start somewhere and let it expand over time. Eventually you’ll have an onboarding that will provide your new employees with everything they need to begin their work with confidence.

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