How To Onboard Remote Employees

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In this tight job market, employee experience is crucial. This experience starts on day one with onboarding.

Simply put, effective onboarding is key to engagement and retention, and 88 percent of employees told Gallup that their companies’ onboarding was poor or nonexistent. “Employees make judgments and form opinions about their organization every single day — from the first day,” Gallup said. “Initial impressions matter.”

Remote Onboarding Challenges

Companies are often unintentional about onboarding because they view it as expensive and distracting for the manager and staff.

That can be true. Onboarding does require some upfront resources and time from you and your team, which can result in a short-term slow-down of productivity. But first impressions can be more impactful for remote employees, because these workers do not have anyone else in the office to ask for help. Sitting in your home office waiting for someone to provide guidance is lonely.

But the long-term benefits of onboarding far outweigh the risks. Hireology found that 33 percent of new hires look for a new job within the first six months, and it costs 100 to 300 percent of the individual’s salary to find a replacement. That’s why onboarding truly is an ounce of prevention to reduce turnover, and a pound of cure to boost productivity and loyalty.


Beyond Orientation and Compliance

Many companies confuse onboarding with orientation and compliance — also known as an office tour and new job paperwork. But successful onboarding programs for all employees, remote or not, are a combination of information and inspiration.

The Day One experience is essential. Have you ever shown up for a new job and waited in the lobby because no one helped you get started? It’s even worse when you are sitting at home. You feel like an afterthought and wonder why the company hired you.


Before Day One

The best onboarding starts before the first workday — what some companies call Day Zero. You should make playbooks documenting key business practices, processes, and resources available to the new employee. If you were a football team, rookie players would get a playbook, right?

Teams with remote employees need a central source of truth with standard operating procedures for all essential functions. These include:

  • Your mission, vision, and values.
  • Your business’s history.
  • Organizational charts.
  • Internal contact lists.
  • Guides for commonly used tools.
  • Workspace setup.
  • IT contacts.
  • Software tutorials.
  • Security standards.
  • Templates for standard documents (presentations, email invitations, sales follow-up emails, etc.).

Other tasks you should complete before the employee starts are:

  • Get W-2s, right-to-work documents, benefits registrations, and so on out of the way. Use an e-signature platform to make it easy.
  • Ship out a computer with all applications and tools the new hire will use like email, chat, project management, or CRM.
  • Create an email address and signature for the new employee.


Day One

Show your remote employees they are valued and needed by being ready to integrate them into your business. Following this checklist will make it easier:

  • Add the new employee to the relevant chat channels.
  • Introduce the new employee on those chat channels with enthusiasm — you hired this person for business and cultural reasons, so share them.
  • Hold a team video call, make introductions, and let each team member share how they expect to work with the new hire.
  • Show them their onboarding calendar (more on this later).
  • Provide a guided tour of your playbook.
  • Hold a “Big Picture” session — review your mission, vision, values, company goals, and department goals.


Day 2 Through 30: The Onboarding Calendar

The key to effective onboarding is engagement. New hires want to be productive and add value quickly, so you and your team need to stay engaged and provide as many touchpoints as possible.

On Day Two, walk through the onboarding calendar that will guide their first month with the company. This can be a simple spreadsheet or a more sophisticated Trello or Monday board and should include:

  • A first project: Give them a meaningful but straightforward project right away. The project should be something the new hire can complete in one week.
  • The first meeting with an onboarding buddy: One of the hardest things to do when remote is ask dumb questions. Providing a colleague that can be a safe ear works wonders.
  • Shadow sessions with teammates: Have the new employee sit in as teammates use tools and perform tasks in your company. Review workflows and how work is assigned, managed, reviewed, and completed.
  • Meetings with adjacent department heads: Let other leaders explain what they do and how they work with your team.
  • Daily check-ins: This may seem excessive, but it is crucial for new hires to know that you are invested in their success and that they are worth your time.
  • Weekly “ask me anything” sessions: Give the new hire the freedom to pick your brain.

The calendar can go longer than a month if needed. The important thing is to have a structure and schedule for remote employees early on, so they never feel lost or neglected.


The Training Wheels Come Off: 30-90 Days

After 30 days, the new hire should be performing their responsibilities without requiring much assistance from you. Here are three best practices to keep remote employees engaged and productive during the next 60 days and beyond.

1. Discuss Performance Management

After 30 days, your employee should be comfortable and understand their responsibilities. This is an excellent time to set clear performance expectations. Topics to cover depend on the seniority and experience of the hire and can include:

  • How performance is measured.
  • How you communicate and provide feedback.
  • How you set deadlines.
  • How to handle missed deadlines.
  • How you like to communicate.
  • How to track task progress.

During this meeting, you can also discuss growth opportunities — Gallup found that reviewing career goals and development during onboarding increases employee satisfaction by more than 300 percent.


2. Hold Regular Check-ins

There is a difference between holding someone’s hand and avoiding feedback. New employees constantly wonder if their managers believe they are meeting expectations and fitting in; they want to know if they are valued for what they bring to the team beyond their work products. Meet regularly with your new employee to provide guidance and assess their performance so far.

Frequency is more important than length, so these check-ins do not need to be long.


3. Treat Remote and Office Employees the Same

Make sure you engage with remote employees just like office employees. Use the same frequency of one-on-ones and team meetings. When something comes up in the office, make sure the remote employees can access the same information. When you want to bounce around ideas, include them.

This is especially important in the first 90 days, when you are all establishing trust. Remote employees are often left out of impromptu office conversations — sometimes that is inevitable, but try to be as inclusive as possible.

Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Onboarding remote employees with information and inspiration sets everyone up for success.


Author’s Bio

Bill Peatman writes for Prialto, a global service that hires, trains, onboards, and supervises remote executive assistants and places them with businesses in North America and Europe.

This article is part of Buildremote’s contributor series. If you’d like to share some insights about how you run your remote company, learn more here.

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