2020 ushered in a new era of work from home. Companies who never intended to function remotely needed to adjust quickly to the new normal. And no doubt, many companies have embraced this workstyle and will be going remote on a full-time basis.
But that means aspects of employment have to be rethought and altered to fit into working from home. This includes remote onboarding.
Today, not only are existing employees working from home but individuals and teams are joining remotely as well. Companies have to shift onboarding procedures to focus on the ability to smoothly integrate teams from a distance.
According to research from Zavvy, 20% of new hires onboarded during the COVID-19 pandemic feel less engaged with their company values than those hired before the pandemic.
That’s why figuring out good virtual onboarding processes are essential.
What are the best strategies for onboarding remote employees? Below, we'll answer the most frequently asked questions about the onboarding process for remote workers. By the end, you’ll understand the importance of remote onboarding, the full process, and how Friday can help you have regular updates and check-ins.
In conventional times, onboarding consists of new hire paperwork, orientation, and training. Over the last several years, companies have been referring to this collectively as onboarding and putting special emphasis on the introduction of corporate culture and expectations. Remote hiring can encompass all of this and more.
But we all know that in virtual meetings, this can be a difficult set of circumstances. Your new team member won’t have access to the traditional workplace environment to formulate an opinion or attachment to the employee experience, which means you may have to try harder to replicate that in virtual space. Your remote communication has to change.
Conducting virtual employee onboarding should consist of these key elements:
· Online new-hire paperwork using e-signatures
· Remote team welcome meeting
· Training and access to a mentor
· Regular check-ins with management to gauge performance and expectations
All of this works through various technologies currently available to businesses. It’s hard to imagine now what the world was like before Zoom became a household name. But you’ll need more than just a brief online meeting to properly onboard a new remote employee.
There are multiple resources your HR team can use to ensure new hires complete their pre-employment paperwork online. This includes important documentation such as W4s and from I-9 for employees and W-9s for contractors.
Zoom has been the most talked about, but there are plenty of online options for meeting virtually including Teams, Skype, Google Meet, and more. Encourage your new team member to become comfortable with whatever platform your company uses. In general, adopt a “less is more” attitude towards remote meetings once initial onboarding has been completed.
While email and private messaging can still accomplish this task, there are far more sophisticated solutions for collaboration in a virtual environment. The most common remote communication tools are Slack and Microsoft Teams are great for instantaneous questions and responses. For big picture--such as goal setting and regular updates, use Friday to automate these routines.
While it may be clear that the ultimate goal of virtual onboarding is to provide a great introductory experience for new remote employees, there is more to it than that. The actual goal is to integrate your new employee into your company culture, even if that culture is made up of remote workers. You need to encourage your new team member to work productively on their own as well as collaborate with team members who are not in the next cubicle.
But the benefits of remote employee onboarding are clear:
· Better new employee performance
· Greater employee engagement
· Increased retention
· Shorter time to productivity for new team members
This has been demonstrated throughout 2020 when many businesses were forced to make a shift to work from home arrangements. But it’s been shown that many employees are thriving in this new remote workplace environment and many organizations are planning to continue the practice.
If what you’re looking for is a step-by-step guide to the virtual onboarding experience, we have you covered. Start here with this onboarding checklist and you’ll be able to check off the items as you go.
1. Start with recruiting: When your company shifts to a remote workforce, you need to prepare everyone for that culture. This starts during the hiring process. Shift your questions to find out more about how a candidate will adapt to a work-from-home arrangement.
2. Communicate expectations in the offer: There’s no time to play around with indirect communication in a remote work environment. When you make the offer, be clear about your expectations for their role while working from home.
3. Complete new hire paperwork: Using a tool that allows new employees to complete important documents online, there’s no reason to wait until their start date to get this completed. Send them the e-signature links right away so you can have paperwork in place before they begin work.
4. Build excitement with early onboarding: Similarly, you don’t need to wait until they start to get them excited about the job. Have the team send them welcome messages before they begin and send a welcome package to their home with fun gifts and company swag.
5. Give them access to collaborative platforms: Your new employee may have questions that come up even before they start. If they have access to your platforms, they can submit questions that can be answered in real-time.
6. Deliver other important information: If they need equipment, make sure that arrives before their start date. They will also need other access such as their email address. You may also have them use a VMS or other tech that will need to be set up for them.
7. Support them through set up: While you won’t be there to see what their workspace looks like you can make suggestions and give your new team member a checklist to make sure they have everything they need for success. Providing the right work apps is also one way to provide your remote workers with additional support.
8. Welcome on the first day: Since you’re able to do a lot of the onboarding ahead of their start date, their day one welcome can be a lot more relaxed and motivating. Host a virtual meeting to introduce them to the rest of the company or their team.
9. Establish goals and set expectations: This is where you can begin the remote training process. It may be helpful for them to have access to a mentor in the company since they may have plenty of questions. This will also be your chance to foster remote employee productivity.
10. Continued communication: Onboarding isn’t a one-and-done situation. It’s a process and management will need to check in with the new employee regularly, especially in a remote situation. Set regular meeting times and one-on-ones for communication benchmarks throughout their first few weeks.
There may have been a time when employers flew by the seat of their pants when it came to new employee onboarding. It was a sink-or-swim situation. But new employees working virtually don’t even have the luxury of observation to learn what they don’t know. Having a checklist like the one above will make sure everyone is on the same page.
Throwing someone from the frying pan into the fire may not have always been the best way to train them, but it was a common method for a long time. As we have seen, remote onboarding doesn’t give employees a gradual introduction to the office culture, they have to make their own. For anyone who hasn’t worked remotely in the past, this can be jarring.
It’s clear that without a good program in place, employees may feel less committed, attached, and comfortable with their new workplace arrangements. It’s up to employers to fill in those gaps with the virtual onboarding process.
The hallmarks of successful remote onboarding include:
· Clear expectations
· Achievable milestones
· Support when needed
· Access to technology
If you can start with these basic concepts to create a bespoke onboarding experience for your new employees, you will foster a strong remote work program.
There are two specific aspects of onboarding remote employees that will be critical to their success and the success of your company.
Remote work is simply different from on-site work, so management needs to recognize that and shift gears to manage differently.
There has long been a fear that people who work from home won’t be as productive or accountable as their on-site peers. But shifting the perception of what is accountable may be better than shoehorning the outdated concepts of office productivity onto remote workers.
Trusting employees is the best way for you to create a symbiotic sense of accountability. By instilling good processes and work-from-home habits, you will be able to trust your employees to work well without direct supervision or, worse, micromanagement.
While events of 2020 forced a shift in the work paradigm, we have seen it coming for a long time. Remote work was already becoming normal for many organizations, this experience only pushed the timeline forward. Now that we’re solidly moving in that direction, it’s time for businesses to take an active role in the culture shift.
Remote onboarding is the essential first step to strong work-from-home employee relations and retention. It sets the tone for the entire employment experience, motivates your new team, and breeds loyalty to your company, but only if done thoroughly and correctly.
By following the proper steps and ensuring that everyone has the same positive experience, you can transition your entire business model to successful remote work.
Remote onboarding is only the first step. It sets the tone for everything moving forward for your work-from-home employees. You also have to keep in mind some of the challenges for remote teams, such as isolation from peers and distractions in the home.
That’s why you need to couple onboarding with the best practices for remote working. They include:
· Status updates with Friday
· Access to technology
And, probably the most important, a sense of your company culture.
Are you shifting to remote work? Here are some additional remote team best practices and resources to consider.