Onboarding Remote Employees: Best Practices

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Onboarding is a crucial activity when hiring new staff. Companies that are the most effective at onboarding see revenue growth 2.5 times that of companies that are the least capable. Most businesses know how to onboard new hires who will work with them in an office setting, but onboarding remote employees requires quite different tactics.

What Does Onboarding Involve?

Through onboarding, workers learn about job responsibilities, expectations, and the company culture. They also receive training about how to be more successful and feel welcomed to the company.

Some activities in the onboarding process are formal, such as training and assessments. Other aspects are informal, like meeting the team or collaborating with other employees to learn how to do tasks.

The process of onboarding can span for just a couple weeks or even several months. It depends on factors like the complexity of the role, how long you’ve been in business, and your own preferences.

The Onboarding Process for Remote Workers

Since every company has unique needs and a distinct culture, the onboarding process is never the same from one business to another. This framework will help you build a remote onboarding process that fits your needs.

Stage 1: Recruitment Phase

Onboarding remote employees should begin even before you’ve made a hire. Whereas starting onboarding this early is useful for in-person employees, it’s essential for remote workers. This is because remote workers are more likely to have struggles with aspects like workload, expectations, and accountability. Onboarding provides candidates with clarity about the role, your company’s values, and the team’s work style.

You should include elements of onboarding in everything from your job posts to the interviewing process. This will help candidates know exactly what a job entails, allowing them to make an informed decision before they either apply for or accept a position.

As a result, you’ll receive more candidates who are qualified for the position and who want to work at your company. You’ll avoid useless interviews and see a lower turnover and higher employee satisfaction.

Stage 2: Orientation

People often confuse onboarding with orientation. In fact, orientation is just part of onboarding: it’s the stage right after an employee accepts your offer and provides you with all the paperwork you need.

By beginning orientation before employees start working at your company, you prevent wasted time on the new hires’ first day. You may even find that an occasional employee drops out at this stage, which means you’ll still have time to offer the position to another candidate.

It’s important to keep onboarding simple during orientation. After all, you’re not paying new employees at this point and they may still be working at another job. What you can do is start building their enthusiasm and let them know what they’ll be doing over the next couple weeks.

Stage 3: Initial Working Phase

At the beginning, it’s important to strike a balance between keeping employees busy and overwhelming them with work. Start with simple activities. This will help them become accustomed to the new working environment. At the same time, help them feel part of the company by introducing them to coworkers and showing them more of what your business has to offer.

Stage 4: Subsequent Support

Onboarding continues while new employees settle in. You’ll need to check in with new hires more regularly than you do with seasoned remote workers, as they may need additional support. This phase is also your chance to provide feedback on work to improve quality going forward.

Ideas for Onboarding Remote Employees

Remote employee onboarding is most effective when workers enjoy the experience. Some aspects are unavoidably tedious (like reading documents), but it’s still possible to make every stage of the process dynamic and fun.

Stage 1. Collaborate on a Task with Teammates

When interviewing employees to work with you in person, you can often decide if a candidate would be a good team player by considering personality alone. When hiring a remote employee, you need to do a more in-depth assessment, since it’s more challenging to collaborate remotely.

One thing you can do is conduct a short test during the final stage of the interview. Invite other team members to the conversation and then have them work together on a task to check if your working styles are a good match.

Stage 2. Send a Welcome Pack

A great way to help new employees feel instantly part of the team is to send a welcome pack with branded items, like a coffee mug or pen. If it’s unfeasible to send a physical package, you can create a digital welcome pack. Include things like a personalized note introducing the new hire to your team and quotes from other employees about why they like working at the company.

Stage 3. Create a Two-Week Schedule

At the very beginning, it’s useful to create a schedule for new hires. This helps them know what they need to achieve over the first couple weeks. After this initial period of onboarding, most employees will feel confident enough to create their own schedules.

Stage 3. Use Team Building Activities

Introduce your new hire to the team and get everyone used to working together by using remote team building activities. Many cost nothing and only require a chat platform like Slack or video conferencing software.

Stage 3. Train Employees to Use Tech

Over the first few weeks, new employees may need to use a variety of software. Provide them with written instructions, video tutorials, or walk-throughs with another team member. Knowing pro tricks for software like Asana can make a huge difference to productivity.

Stage 4. Hold Virtual Coffee Meetups

Introduce new hires to each of your employees in turn through virtual coffee meetups, such as by adding Donut to Slack. This will make working together much more natural and enjoyable.

Stage 4. Coach Your Employees

Remote employees will be more productive, make fewer mistakes, and stay more motivated if they receive support. It’s even better if you create a mentorship program, led either by you or by an experienced coworker. This will enable new hires to acquire the skills they need to flourish at your company.

Tips for Onboarding Remote Employees

Finally, here are a few tips to ensure that onboarding remote employees is a success.

1. Detail the Job Requirements in Writing

You’ve specified duties and requirements in the job post and then discussed what the position entails in the interview. When you make an offer, clarify all of this one last time. Send the candidates a document that states key information including work schedules (these may be flexible), vacation and sick leave policy, details of mandatory training and events, and the reporting procedure.

2. Provide Employees with Your Business Handbook

A great way to ensure new employees understand your company’s missions, values, and culture is to give them a business handbook. You can create either a PDF or a microsite that employees can check out before they start working and refer back to at any time. If the business handbook contains a large amount of information, give employees recommendations about which parts they should read before joining the company.

3. Answer Questions

New hires may have questions at any stage of the onboarding process. Make sure that, if you are available, they know who to ask. Something as simple as adding new hires to Slack during the orientation phase can make a big difference. If you keep receiving the same questions from new employees, add FAQs to your business handbook.

4. Ask Current Employees to Review Your Onboarding

Once you’ve developed a remote employee onboarding procedure, ask current employees to assess it for you and give you feedback. You may be overlooking something important that employees who have been through the onboarding process themselves will notice.

Remote Employee Onboarding Checklist

To make sure you covered everything, use this virtual onboarding checklist:

  • Create a job description that clearly states duties, expectations, and workload.
  • During the interview, discuss accountability and explain how the employee would report to you.
  • Design a collaboration task to include in the final interview.
  • Send a detailed offer letter along with documents for the employee to e-sign.
  • Provide new employees with your business handbook.
  • Create a welcome pack to send to virtual workers.
  • Figure out what information you’ll need for new hires before their first day.
  • Set up accounts and permissions for new employees.
  • Design a schedule for the first two weeks of work.
  • Make sure employees know who to turn to with any doubts or questions.
  • Check in with your employee on a regular basis.
  • Organize team building activities at times when everyone is available.
  • Provide training for software and other tools.
  • Schedule virtual coffee meetups between coworkers.
  • Set up an ongoing coaching and mentoring program.
  • Ask current employees to review your onboarding procedure, and then make any necessary changes.

Follow this same protocol with every new remote employee, even if some of them have held virtual positions in the past. As you hire more remote workers, you’ll find that you’re able to fine tune your virtual onboarding process to suit your business.

Onboarding remote employees is just the start, though. To see success with your remote team, you’ll need to take some extra steps. Download our guide to remote work management to learn all about the most common mistakes HR professionals make.

Laura Holton

Laura is a professional writer specializing in content aimed at small businesses and entrepreneurs. She has helped countless startups find the information they needed to take their ventures to the next level.

Laura Holton

Laura is a professional writer specializing in content aimed at small businesses and entrepreneurs. She has helped countless startups find the information they needed to take their ventures to the next level.


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