Effective Tips for Onboarding Remote Employees

Onboarding is an important part of the new hire process, but in the remote world, it can seem particularly challenging. It’s easy enough to have new hires fill out paperwork from home, but a good onboarding program is much more than that. Hopefully, you see onboarding as an opportunity to promote employee engagement and draw new people into your company culture. Don’t just take my word for it — in a survey of 1500 job seekers, 71% of respondents said that their onboarding experience was either likely or highly likely to influence their decision to stay with the company (Trendicators, 2017). The urgency has increased since 2017, influenced (like everything else) by the COVID pandemic. You’ve probably heard about the “great resignation” earlier this year. Almost 8 million people quit their jobs in April and May 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Ivanova, 2021). That “quit rate” is 24% higher than any previous 2-month span in the 20 years the Bureau has been tracking this information. If you are in the middle of onboarding remote employees and want to retain quality talent, you have to make them feel welcomed and appreciated — even before they start. Here are some tips for doing that in a remote and/or hybrid work arrangement.

Onboarding Remote Employees – 5 Tips

Focus on the employee, not the company

You want to train new employees on company history, products, and processes, of course. However, the overarching goal should be to ensure that every new employee starts to feel like a member of the team right away. Focusing on the employee is a mindset change more than anything else. For example, instead of saying, “you need to do A,” you can say, “you will make important contributions to A.” The rest of the tips will be more concrete, I promise!

A gifted touch

In my book, The Power of Company Culture: How Any Business Can Build a Culture that Improves Productivity, Performance and Profits, I offer some tips for promoting engagement and retention. For example, before the employee’s first day, send a gift box. It might contain all the office supplies they might need, along with a welcome note from the CEO. You might include some branded swag, such as a tumbler with a lid and your logo. The real key here is the “wow” factor: an unexpected gift arrives, and the new hire may open it in front of family and friends.

Ready in advance

Candidates who can “hit the ground running” are great, but let’s turn the tables. You should have everything ready to go, for the new employee, on day one, including laptop, login credentials, email accounts, phone lines, business cards, and more.

This lets the employee know that you have it together and sets an expectation that they should be on their toes as well. It also sets the stage for onboarding activities in the virtual arena, as we’ll talk about in just a minute. When things are NOT ready, it makes the situation awkward and reflects poorly on the company.

Here’s an idea from the book I wrote with coauthor Kim Shepherd, Remote Work: Redesign Processes, Practices, and Strategies to Engage a Remote Workforce – ask your human resources team to set up a welcome page on the employee portal that gives easy access to information and training resources. If they have the bandwidth, HR might establish virtual office hours specifically for new employees.

Face-to-face, screen-to-screen

Perhaps the strongest engagement happens while interacting with coworkers. In the virtual world, this is where you rely on video and chat platforms like Zoom and Slack. The first meeting on day one should be between the new hire and their supervisor. This is the time for the two to discuss goals, milestones and objectives for the new hire’s first 90 days.

The second meeting should introduce the new hire to their team, and I recommend organizing a video conference lunch celebration. This celebration will include some nuts-and-bolts conversation, such as who does what, but for the most part, it should be informal and fun. You might ask the new person to share photos or videos of their lives outside of work, such as family and hobbies. The message you’re sending is that the new hire is important and their addition to the team is cause for celebration.

Another video conference on day one should involve key contacts in other departments. It doesn’t have to be as much of a celebration as the team lunch but keep it light. Let the new person know about this meeting in advance so that they can bring questions. If your company organizes virtual happy hours or other online social events, be sure to invite the new person.

Buddy up

Pair your new employees up with buddies, peers who can answer questions, share tribal knowledge and help new employees integrate and adapt smoothly. At PeopleG2 we call these buddies peer mentors, and they are tasked with ensuring that the existing team fully embraces the new employee. Part of the peer mentor’s job is showing the new person the ropes, but there’s more to it than that. The new person needs to understand not just what the team does but why they do it.

To me, the most important point is the least tangible – making sure your remote employee onboarding program is about the employee. Put yourself in the new hire’s shoes and ask, “What would I want this experience to be like?” It may sound like you’re putting the company’s interests second, but this approach will help promote engagement and retention. That’s a win-win for both company and employees.

References For Onboarding Remote Employees

Dyer, C and Shepherd, K (2021) Remote Work: Redesign processes, practices and strategies to engage a remote workforce. Kogan Page, London.

Dyer, C (2018) The Power of Company Culture: How any business can build a culture that improves productivity, performance and profits. Kogan Page, London.

Ivanova, I (2021) People are quitting their jobs at record rates. That’s a good thing for the economy. Available from: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/workers-quitting-jobs-record-rate-economy [last accessed November 20, 2021]

Trendicators Report (2017) The Role of Recognition in Recruiting, Onboarding & Retaining Employees. Available from http://info.engage2excel.com/2017-trendicators-report-the-role-of-recognition [Last accessed December 7, 2021]