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How to onboard remote employees effectively to improve employee engagement and long-term loyalty

Remote Onboarding: How to welcome new employees from afar

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Onboarding can play a significant role in determining how an employee performs in their role (as we discussed recently here), but by necessity, many jobs in 2020 are being performed from home.

However, whilst we have seen great changes in 2020, one thing that hasn’t stopped (though it has slowed for many sectors) is turnover, which means people still need to be hired while organisations try to limit physical interaction as much as possible.

While there are plenty of tools and services available to enable virtual interviewing and hiring, actually onboarding a new hire into the organisation is a more delicate matter, with huge implications of done well or poorly. So the question remains of how to onboard remote employees in a way that makes them feel welcome and engaged?

Why onboarding is especially important for remote employees

If you want to learn more about the importance of onboarding and how to improve it in your organisation, then it’s worth checking out our recent article on the subject. But good onboarding procedure is especially important for remote workers. Effective onboarding should familiarise an employee with their colleagues, managers, their workspace, and what is expected of them in their role. Finally, it should leave them in a position to be able to work as effectively as possible. Quality onboarding is vital, as research by the Human Capital Institute found that 20% of all new hires left their positions within the first 45 days.

In a “normal” centrally-based role, employees have a whole workplace full of colleagues to interact with on a daily basis. Aside from making it easier to ask questions and get acclimated, this enables new employees to form social connections that contribute to a sense of belonging in the organisation.

Remote workers, however, are at greater risk of becoming isolated from the organisation. This can stem from a lack of effective communication and can make it more difficult for these employees to flag up when they need help. Beyond that, the impact it can have on their social wellbeing can limit their ability to engage effectively.

How to onboard remote employees: A physical 'hello' isn't usually possible for remote workers.
Lovely, but usually not possibe for remote workers!

How some businesses are implementing remote staff onboarding

There are plenty of organisations leaning into working remotely, such as Automattic, who have been 100% remote for years now. To companies like this, good onboarding is essential and the key questions of ‘how to onboard remote employees’ is one they have mastered through plenty of trial and error.

When considering how to onboard staff remotely, remember that not everyone has a fully functional home office ready to go. While just about anyone can sit down with a laptop and a WiFi connection, a poor work environment can cause a myriad of problems down the line.

To solve this issue, Automattic provides its employees with a $250 a month stipend that employees can spend on anything from office rental to coffee and internet. Automattic also reimburse costs of office setup like new chairs, monitors, keyboards, etc. This protects the physical wellbeing of their employees by ensuring that everyone has proper ergonomic equipment.

Another example is Atlassian, who send their new remote hires their work laptops and run them through a five-day virtual induction. On day one, they go through the basics of using the company’s systems and communication tools while getting to know their manager. On day 2, they attend a virtual orientation on Zoom and go over a variety of remote working and wellbeing resources. The final three days are spent completing self-guided exercises while the manager facilitates introductions, one-to-ones and social activities so new employees can get to know their teammates.

Tips for how to onboard remote employees effectively

While nothing’s quite like that in-person experience, there’s a lot that managers can do to give remote staff an effective induction. So to round off this piece, we thought we’d leave you with some simple tips for how to onboard remote employees in a way that works.

Set expectations: It’s best to set expectations as early on as possible, which is why this tops the list. While you or someone else has probably gone over the responsibilities of a role with the employee during the hiring process, this is your chance to do so in finer detail. Help them understand the objectives of the business and how their work impacts those goals.

It’s also important to give your remote employees a clear idea of what they can expect from you. This will include the minutia of things like wage payments or booking time off, but it’s also your chance to set their expectations in terms of the support you can give them, such as the frequency of virtual one-to-ones and other feedback.

How to onboard remote employees: A good onboarding experience is important for all staff, no matter where they choose to work
Onboarding is an important tool for all staff, not just the teams based at HQ.

Familiarise them with their virtual tools: Depending on your organisation, there are any number of tools and applications your remote workers might be using on a day-to-day basis (if you want some suggestions, our list of top remote working tools has you covered!). Perhaps the most important of these are tools for messaging and video conferencing, like Microsoft Teams

Then there are tools that aid collaboration, like Trello, or any file-sharing services your organisation uses. If you have your employees perform regular check-ins, you need to familiarise new remote workers with their update schedules and show them how to make an update. These check-ins can be especially useful for managing remote employees because they ensure that managers have up-to-date information about all their team members.

Help them get to know their teammates: It can be difficult to feel like part of a team when you’re all in different cities or even countries. Regular communication can bridge that gap, so you should take the time to have a video stand-up and introduce everyone.

While you should obviously be careful not to overload your team’s schedule with video calls, having a regular one at some point in the week can really help everyone stay connected. You could even set up some virtual one-to-ones so new employees can get used to collaborating remotely.

Assign them a remote mentor: Workplace mentorships can be extremely effective, and there’s no reason for your remote staff to miss out on them. A solid peer mentorship can provide your new remote team members a focal point for getting to know everyone. It’s also someone they might feel more comfortable approaching for emotional support or advice about their role.

Onboarding can be quite a lot to get through, but just remember to ease your employees into their roles, especially if it’s their first time working remotely. If you want information about setting up effective remote work policies and managing employee engagement, then the Weekly10 blog is the place to go!

Could frequent feedback and continuous performance management, via a simple employee check-in with a suite of AI-powered analytics tools, help you onboard more effectively?

Head of People Science