How To Improve Remote Onboarding

Imagine you’re at a game night and someone takes out a board game you’ve never heard of before. You could just dive in and figure it out as you go, but you’ll have no sense of what to do when it’s your turn or how to win. Is the game based on luck or skill? Are there teams, or is it more individual? It would be better for your friend to explain the rules of the game and what the goals are so everyone is on the same page about how to play. 

This is similar to the concept of remote onboarding

What is remote onboarding? 

Onboarding refers to the activities or tasks that a new employee must engage in to familiarize themselves with the company they will be working for and the role they will be performing. An effective onboarding process is crucial for an organization to get their remote workforce set up for success and feeling prepared for a new challenge. Remote onboarding refers to this same process, but targeted at new employees who will be performing their duties virtually. 

The onboarding process is a chance for an organization to help a new team member build confidence, foster relationships with the team, and feel good about their skills and how their role fits into the work of the company as a whole. Effective employee onboarding also benefits the organization by arming new employees with the tools to effectively do their jobs and contribute to the mission of the company with the utmost confidence and preparation. 

And it’s worth investing time and resources in: effective remote onboarding can increase employee retention by 82%. And workers are twice as likely to seek out another job if they have a poor onboarding experience. 

Check out our Employee Retention Guide

The role of an employee can evolve, and their skillset should certainly grow as they progress and move forward with the organization. But having a solid foundation is an important place for anyone to start, especially for a remote employee, and the onboarding process is the first step in this. 

With so many companies going remote or hybrid these days, employees should be set up for success just as thoroughly and effectively as they would be in a traditional work setting. Remote onboarding can present some unique challenges, but there are strategies and methods for making it work and helping all team members start off on the right foot and with the right tools. 

Get practical 

Be realistic about the challenges of remote onboarding so you can get ahead of any potential miscommunications or issues. Challenges are bound to come up the first few days, weeks or even months on a job. For all of its benefits (like more flexibility and convenience), remote work can bring some extra difficulties, especially in the onboarding process. Human resources professionals can’t pop on over to a new employee’s cubicle to give them a document to sign, and remote employees can’t visit their manager’s office throughout the day to ask questions. Virtual onboarding might take some more communication and coordination. 

But there are ways these challenges can be mitigated by having a successful remote onboarding process, and all it takes is some foresight and preparation. 

Start with the offer letter

If you’re going through the onboarding process, the employee has already been hired. But you can help get them set up for success even before making it to this point with a solid offer letter. A clear, thorough offer letter is especially important for making explicit the expectations of a remote role. Include information about the employee’s schedule, the company’s vacation policies, sick policies, and how performance will be tracked or measured.

Get paperwork squared away

You don’t want a new remote employee to spend their whole first day with the company filling out monotonous paperwork when they could be building connections with team members, shadowing colleagues, or diving into their role. But this part of onboarding remote employees has to be done at some point. 

Work with the company’s HR team to create a standard virtual new-hire packet with the offer letter, tax forms, information about health insurance or other employee benefits, bank forms to set up direct deposit, and any other documents that will need to be read and signed as a prerequisite for starting the role. Use online tools like DocuSign so the remote employee can give their autograph on all necessary documents virtually. They can knock out any necessary signing quickly and efficiently, all in the comfort of their own home office or coworking space. 

Provide resources

With little to no in-person interaction with managers or colleagues, it can be easy for a remote worker to feel disconnected from the organization, so you should err on the side of giving them too much information rather than too little. Make sure new hires have contact information for all team members, as well as a record of any important documents, like the schedule, employee handbook, copies of the relevant company policies, daily or weekly checklists, and anything else that a team member might need to refer to throughout their time with the organization. This information can be shared via online tools like Google Drive for easy access. 

And don’t hesitate on sending resources at any point in the virtual onboarding process. Giving new employees documents and information a few weeks in advance gives them the opportunity to prepare in their own time and could get them even more excited about starting the job. Spreading it out can also reduce the feeling of information overload, because starting a new job can involve getting a lot of new information all at once. 

Get technology in order

On a practical level, proper equipment and a strong wifi connection are often the only things keeping remote workers connected to their managers or colleagues. Make sure new employees are set up with all the proper technology to do the job prior to their first day of work, whether it’s making sure they received a company laptop or phone, or just getting set up with all the necessary accounts and passwords. You can even arrange a meeting with IT so the new employee has a chance to ask questions to the experts. 

You can also give them guides or lists, such as a checklist of all the Slack or Teams channels they should be a part of or checking on a daily basis. The goal is to help the new employee feel prepared in all ways possible, and making sure they have a good grasp of the technological factors of the job can reduce anxiety and minimize logistical issues as they begin the new role. 

Be clear

You don’t want to leave anything up to interpretation. Remote employees can’t rely on picking up on the unspoken norms of an office and its workplace culture, so be clear about the company’s mission and expectations. Explicitly go over meeting etiquette, working hours, level of formality, communication methods - and make sure the employee is able to ask questions.

Create connections

Remote work can be isolating. Employees may never come into the office (if there even is one), and they might not ever meet their colleagues in person. But there are ways to build bridges during the onboarding process that help employees feel connected to the organization and set up for success. 

Have an onboarding liaison 

Think about your first day on a new job. Wouldn’t it be nice to know exactly who you could go to if any questions came up? Designate someone to be an informal mentor to the new hire as they begin their role. This person should be different from their manager and can reach out to the new hire even before the first day of work to establish themselves as a go-to resource. 

Onboard in groups

It can be time-consuming to onboard new employees individually, especially if the same information is being repeated for similar roles or departments. In order to be more efficient and to help new team members connect with each other, onboard them in groups if you’re hiring several new employees at a time. In addition to saving time and effort, this helps remote employees feel connected to others who are in the same boat as them and can give them additional resources for asking questions or seeking advice. 

Get them excited

The new hire might have some pre-first day jitters, or be dealing with some practical or emotional challenges as a result of leaving their previous job. Have current team members reach out to the new hire welcoming them to the organization to let them know they’re part of a community. You can even have a standard welcome letter that’s sent to all employees, with certain parts tailored to the new hire and what they bring to the table. Making employees feel valued as they go through the onboarding process will increase their enthusiasm for the job and get them excited about this next chapter. 

Make sure to have new employees introduce themselves to the team as well, whether it’s through an email, a presentation, or a virtual meeting.

Build a broad network 

One-on-one relationships with a mentor or onboarding liaison can give employees the chance to establish deep and solid connections with another individual in the organization, but it’s important to build rapport with the team as a whole. Have new remote employees virtually sit in on meetings and group discussions right off the bat so they can get a sense of how things are discussed and accomplished. It will also help them feel like a part of the team, even if they’re brand new to it. 

Time to get started

When all the documents are signed, the proper technology is in place, and the team is introduced, it’s time to start the job! Make sure new hires know where to begin. Be clear with them about their first tasks, how to achieve them, and what will be expected. Set up regular video or phone check-ins after the first 30, 60 and 90 days. 

And the communication goes two ways: Seek feedback about how the remote onboarding experience went so you know what worked well and what could use improvement. Use this feedback when it’s time to onboard your next set of hires, and continually update the remote onboarding guide so managers know where to begin. 

Guidance doesn’t stop when the onboarding process comes to a close. It’s important to give remote employees ongoing support as questions arise, the role evolves, and they face new challenges or opportunities for growth with the organization. But getting new employees set up remotely with a thorough and effective onboarding process gives them a solid foundation that primes them for success and growth within the organization. 

Onboarding remote employees is something many companies are learning to navigate as they transition to virtual or hybrid models. Having a solid virtual onboarding system in place is worth the time and effort so remote workers can feel their best and be ready to succeed.