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How to Onboard Remote Employees: Everything You Need to Know

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December 24, 2020
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The number of employees working remotely keeps growing every year. However, in 2020 due to the global pandemic, it has skyrocketed. This rapid change caused a lot of disturbance to every process, and onboarding is no different. New employees have felt nervous about the first day at a new company even before this, so what can companies do to make them feel at ease?

Every employer needs to understand that although the method might be different, the results still need to be the same. Every remote employee that joins your company needs to feel like a part of the team. As if the online part was never there unless you can use it to your advantage. Let's see how you can do precisely that.

What are the challenges of a virtual onboarding process?

Remote workers are becoming part of your company without actually meeting their own team members or colleagues physically. That friendly office where-can-I-eat-the-best-tacos chit-chat is simply out of grasp. This means that one of the biggest challenges of a virtual onboarding program is making your new employee feel like a part of the team.

In addition to this, it might take a lot longer for new hires to learn the ropes, so to speak. Without seeing most of their colleagues daily, getting the hang of their roles, positions, seniority, and importance will probably take a lot longer. You should have this in mind when you plan their orientation.

Whether you are a startup or a company of 100+ employees, if you want to successfully onboard remote employees, you need to handle the logistics of it all as smoothly as possible. Signing papers, delivering equipment, setting up new software… It is not impossible, but it might require you to jump through a couple of hoops.

What are the benefits of a remote introduction of new hires?

At first glance, it might seem like Covid-19 has deprived you of all the most important aspects of a good onboarding process. On the contrary, the need to do everything online comes with a couple of perks that might be very useful for new hires. Remote work has many benefits in general, and onboard is no exception.

For starters, your new employees will have a much better focus. They won't be distracted by a noisy, vibrant office. Instead, they will have enough time to learn all of the important information you will provide them with during their first week. This will lead to a whole new generation of remote hires, onboarded virtually, with a solid head start.

One of the biggest concerns is always the lack of social contact. But if you plan an onboarding process that includes other colleagues, strategically and thoughtfully, your new hires will feel like part of the team since day one. How so? Instead of getting a passing "Hello", and a polite "How are you?", they will get dedicated time, carved out of their colleagues' busy schedules, with the sole purpose of getting to know them. This will make them feel valued and appreciated.

Finally, the last benefit of virtually becoming a part of the remote team is the shared experience. Due to the global pandemic, everyone is going through a very challenging period. What also characterizes these new circumstances is that we are all in this together. Your new employees will have a sense of belonging that your previous hires won't ever get a chance to experience. In troubling times,  feelings of solidarity and the need for a community go through the roof. Use that to your advantage.

What are the goals of the remote employee onboarding process?

Your new remote employees need to achieve the same milestones as the ones who were being onboarded before them and before this change. At the end of the process, they should feel not like a new hire but like a part of the team. The bonds they form with their colleagues should be important to them, and the excitement of a new job shouldn't be diminished. Lastly, they need to feel empowered to tackle all the challenges of remote work. When the onboarding is over, your new hires should feel like they are capable of doing their job and like they are a welcomed and important part of the team.

First step - Recruitment and selection of new employees

Before we even discuss the onboarding process, we need to make sure that you have found your new team members. Understandably, this change has impacted the hiring process as well. To make sure that the end results won't lack in quality, certain adjustments to the process need to be made due to the newfound limitations. For example, since the candidates will, more often than not, differ to the website, and any written communication, make sure that the message you are sending is straightforward and aligned with your company's goals.

Interview is the first step in the onboarding process

Every recruiter will tell you that judging someone based on the interview process is a guess at best. Keeping in mind that you won't actually get to meet the candidate face-to-face, your hiring process should expand and include more steps. One of the best ways to achieve this is to add an assignment. To accurately asses your candidates' abilities, present them with a challenge, or give them a task.

Keep in mind that during this process, the candidate is judging you as well. An interview is how the onboarding experience starts. Leave a good impression, even when dealing with a candidate that won't be a good fit.

Setting the right expectations is a job half done

Many candidates you will meet are going to be first-timers. They have never done a virtual interview, let alone wholly onboarded, without ever meeting their colleagues or superiors. They need to know what to expect - from the process, from the job, and from you. Video calls are uncomfortable and awkward when done with someone you've never met. Make them feel at ease, guide them through every step, and make yourself available if they have any follow-up questions.

Is your new employee a good culture fit?

It is possible your company culture has changed during this year. From big comfy chairs and huge conference rooms, you have switched to video conferencing from 9 to 5. No matter what your culture looks like now, make sure that your new hire is a good fit. Becoming a part of the team might not be so easy when done remotely. Your task is to choose a candidate who will be welcomed by their colleagues because of who they are.

Second step: Welcoming your new employees

Now that you've chosen your ideal candidate, and they have enthusiastically accepted your offer, the crucial part of the welcoming begins. If you need to transfer them to one of your colleagues from people operations, make sure they have all the info, so your candidate won't mind the switch.

Get the paperwork out of the way

Coronavirus has had a couple of positive impacts on society, and making all that paperwork digital is undoubtedly helping the planet. In addition to that, it can help the HR department, too. Instead of filing a whole bunch of papers for every new hire, you can implement a new tool that can allow you to sign all the necessary papers electronically.

This change will also be beneficial for your new employee. Send them all of the papers in advance, so they won't have to lose a moment of their first day signing it as they would typically do. Schedule a video meeting to guide them through the process, and you are good to go. This is also a good opportunity to introduce them to the remote policy if your company has one.


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Make sure your new hires feel welcome

We now come to the hard part. Achieving the same level of closeness, camaraderie, and an office atmosphere that new hires can benefit from won't be an easy task. However, there are steps you can take to make sure that their connection with the company and its employees starts on their very first day and only grows over time.

During their first week, assign a different colleague every day to be their buddy - to check in on them, introduce them to more people, and talk about things not related to work. Include everyone from the interview process in this process as well. This initiative shouldn't feel mandatory or forced. Allow people to make connections naturally while providing them with the opportunity and support system to do it. Instruct your employees to use Slack, Zoom, or another remote tool to foster collaboration and promote communication throughout the company.

If you have employees scattered across different time zones, you might not be able to include everyone. In that case, limit the assignments to people in the recruit's new team, make introducing them and interacting with them a mandatory part of their team meetings. Leave the focus on them until a new team member arrives.

Another step you can take is sending a welcome package to your employee's home. Just because they aren't in the office, that doesn't mean that they can't enjoy some company swag - cups, pens, notebooks, etc. Challenge all the new hires to make the best picture with the merchandise they got and come up with a symbolic prize.

Third step: Turning newbies into colleagues

The part where your candidate becomes your new hire is over. But, you can still take it one step further and make sure your new employee becomes a valuable and irreplaceable team member. The first couple of weeks on a new job are critical, and there is a lot you can do to ease this transition.

Do your remote employees know what to expect?

Once all the papers are signed, and everyone has been introduced to one another, it is time for your new employee to get to work. But, where to begin? They will most likely be very confused and maybe a little insecure. This is where you jump in. If you haven't done it up to this point, this is an excellent opportunity to fix that and create an employee handbook. Come up with a template,  a sort of onboarding checklist, that you will adjust accordingly and fill this document with useful information about the position, responsibilities, and expectations.

You should also add information about the company, their direct manager, team members, and everything else you might find interesting. Your new remote workers have a lot to learn.

Knowledge is power, and they need to learn

Most HR managers make a mistake when making the onboarding plan and fail to include the big picture. In addition to learning about the company, hierarchy, communication tools, and messaging software, they also need to understand everything about their role.

What do we mean by it? Well, they should know what the planned goals for their department and their position are. What will be expected of them and how to achieve that. How they can improve the position, and in which direction the company is heading.

Introducing new recruits to their role inside the big puzzle that is your company is a great first step into turning them into productive and meaningful employees. It is also a great way to increase your retention rate - if they believe they are valued and irreplaceable, they are less likely to quit.

Teach a man to fish…

We all know how the saying goes. You can give lectures until you lose your voice, but in the end, they need to start doing the job themselves. Every training session that your new hire receives needs to have a practical part, where they get to practice what they will do every day. It isn't easy to achieve this via video conference. However, it is necessary. Come up with interactive games, assignments, include everyone. Create company-wide challenges that will boost overall productivity and the level of knowledge while also enabling your employees to get to know each other faster.

The onboarding process is never really over

Your remote employee's start date will come and go. They will become important members of the team and valuable company employees. But to make sure they continue to do so, you should understand that the process of onboarding an employee is never really over. Every other  HR process needs to be streamlined from this one, achieving the same goals - fostering collaboration, empowering employees, and making a stronger company. Evaluate the process as more new employees arrive and adapt if necessary. The time and effort you invest in this first touchpoint will be invaluable down the road.

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