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Remote onboarding: How to welcome new employees from afar

Onboarding is the essential capstone of the employee recruitment process. It's a way of helping new hires to get their bearings. That way, they can get stuck into their role as quickly as possible. But it's also to make sure new employees understand the workplace culture they're entering. Until the Pandemic, however, businesses have largely looked at onboarding in terms of in-office work. But remote work is here to stay. And that means you need to know how to onboard remote employees effectively.

There are plenty of tools and services available to enable virtual interviewing and hiring. But actually onboarding a new hire into the organisation is a more delicate matter. Whether it's done well or poorly, the quality of your onboarding will have a huge impact on your business. 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

We've got you covered if you want to learn more about the importance of onboarding and how to improve it in your organisation. 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. Research by the Human Capital Institute found that 20% of all new hires left their positions within the first 45 days.

In an office-based role, employees have a whole workplace full of colleagues to interact with on a daily basis. For one thing, this makes it easier to ask questions and get acclimated. But it also 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 this makes 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.

Home office space is key for getting remote employees onboard

There are plenty of organisations leaning into working remotely, such as Automattic, who have been 100% remote for years now. So they're a great example of how to onboard remote employees properly. To companies like this, welcoming new hires is essential. And onboarding remote workers is something they've 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. Sure, just about anyone can sit down with a laptop and a WiFi connection. However, a sub-par work environment can cause a myriad of problems down the line. A bad connection might cause delays or keep them from joining meetings. And working eight hours sat in bed is a recipe for musculoskeletal problems.

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. They send their new remote employees their work laptops and run them through a five-day virtual onboard 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.

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5 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.

1. Set clear 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. Onboarding is the start of a dialogue that lasts for the rest of an employee's time with you. So getting started on that enduring two-way feedback process is vital.

2. Familiarise them with their virtual tools

Knowing how to onboard remote employees is a bit more than simply giving them a virtual workspace. But, depending on your organisation, there are any number of tools and applications your remote workers might be using on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps the most important of these are tools for messaging and video conferencing, like Microsoft Teams

Then there are tools that aid collaboration, like Asana or 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.

3. Help them get to know their teammates

Knowing how to onboard remote employees is about bridging the distance (both geographical and metaphorical) between them. 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.

4. 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.

Workplace mentorships help both mentors and mentees flourish professionally. But essential in the battle for better workplace wellbeing. A good mentor is a supportive figure. Someone who knows when to offer sympathy, and when to offer practical advice. New hires can sometimes be flight risks. But having someone to show them the ropes makes people more likely to stick around.

Onboarding can be quite a lot to get through, especially for remote employees. But just remember to ease your employees into their roles, especially if it's their first time working remotely. It's natural to want to put your best foot forward with new hires, remote or otherwise. And, hopefully, we've given you some idea of how to do that. But, if you're still unsure where to start, you can't go wrong by setting them up with an employee check-in!

5. Prep for their probation review from day one

Your new starter’s onboarding is coming to an end. It’s time to sit down, reflect, and plan the next steps. So, where to start? With some great probation review questions of course. The probation period gives you time to assess the abilities and fit of any new employee. It also allows your new employee to see how they like the job, culture, and work environment. And if they've been doing a regular check-in, they'll have all the evidence they need to support the great work they've been doing.

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