Effective Onboarding Process for Remote Employees

Last week, we created a detailed list involving tips on how to create an effective onboarding process with employee retention in mind. In the first inception, we had written an entire section involving the creation of a remote onboarding process for mobile employees. As of 2022, in a world formerly ravaged by a pandemic, remote working has become a new norm. It seemed to be a necessity to include. Unfortunately, this leads to words upon words piling into a completely different article. While initially correlated to the former article, we realized it might be more efficient to place it on its own.

For the basic entry-point of how to create an overall onboarding program, refer to the aforementioned article. The majority of the tips there can be used in a remote onboarding procedure. For more specifics, you are in the right place.

Brandon Hall Group reported in 2015 that an effective onboarding process can improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%. Furthermore, NorthOne has reported that we have seen a 91% uptick in remote work over the last decade. What is the summation of these two statistics?

Successful onboarding procedures are crucial for building a fantastic and long-living working team, regardless of if your employees report to work physically or remotely. With mobile work being the new norm, we have to reevaluate what makes a successful remote onboarding process.

What Is the Onboarding Process?

We will refer back to the previous article here. If you have already read through the initial work, this may seem redundant. Regardless, it’s important to note both the definition and need for an onboarding process, especially when speaking of remote work.

Before delving into the intricacies of a great onboarding program, it’s important to make a few clarifications about the concept of onboarding as a whole.

Firstly, onboarding is not the same as orientation. Ultimately, orientation is the act of shaking hands and signing necessary paperwork. This period may take a single day or even just a few hours. Sometimes, orientation can be done entirely through email, especially in the post-pandemic world. If you are doing entirely remote employment, you may not ever have your new hire come into the office.

On the other hand, onboarding is the beginning process of a new hire’s experience at your business or company. This involves the training necessary to fulfill the position. Depending on the position and company, the process can last from a week to three months. Sometimes the onboarding process is considered to be the entirety of the probationary period, which can be six months.

From getting set up on online communication platforms to completing the first project, every part of the training process is considered onboarding. Until the employee is entirely independent and has earned the company’s trust, they are being onboarded.

Why Is an Effective Onboarding Process Necessary?

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Circling back to the initial statistic, an exceptional onboarding process can raise employee retention rate by 82%. That’s more than a coin toss. Keeping great employees requires an onboarding process. There’s no way around it.

They (not sure who) say that first impressions are the most important. Potential candidates spruce up their suits and ties when turning in their applications. Workers practice interview questions relentlessly before meeting with hiring managers. That same level of effort should come from the employer, too.

The onboarding experience is crucial for setting a standard. Not only does it provide a great first impression for your new hires, but it allows for questions to be smoothed before things get too far. With remote work, multiple new factors and technologies are thrown into the mix. How do you communicate? How do you work together on projects? There can be a lot to learn.

How many times have you seen an employee quit shortly after the introductory period? This action may not solely be the employee’s fault. Maybe the intention and job were not clear from the onset.

Henceforth, the onboarding process should be clear, concise and inclusive. You should take the time to ease the employees into the role. This is the opportunity to turn an outsider into an insider. Be prepared to answer any question, be clear about roles and objectives and introduce the candidate to the rest of the team. The worker should leave the onboarding experience feeling positive and knowledgeable about the position ahead.

Being tossed directly into the fire can cause a lot of workers to burn out quickly. The training and tone you set from the beginning can dictate the entirety of a worker’s tenure.

Basic Onboarding Tips

We continue to beat a dead horse, but it’s important to note. A lot of these upcoming tips can work in correlation with the aforementioned article. All in all, you should take the tips on that post and include them with these.

We won’t repeat the previous tips word-for-word, but we will quickly gloss over them before diving into the remote-specific ones.

1. Create a List of Objectives

There can be a lot of things to cover when bringing in a new employee. Like every facet of work, creating a list can help you mark each box. Don’t forget to do something important because you are both overwhelmed with the new day.

Here’s a list of some objectives you may include in the onboarding process.

  • When will onboarding start?
  • How long will it last?
  • What does the new employee need to know about the culture and work environment?
  • What do you want the new employee to think about your company culture and ideals?
  • What information is needed to do the job? Are there requirements that the employee needs to receive?
  • Should the employee shadow someone in the same position?
  • How and when will you go about reviewing the employee and offering feedback during the process? Will you have a meeting at the end?

2. Always Have Supervisor Meet With Employee

The end of the first day should always include a one-on-one conversation with the supervisor. Not only does this allow the employee to ask any questions or air concerns, but it establishes a sense of mutual respect. It shows the employee that the supervisor cares about them and maintains an open-door policy for future inquiries.

Furthermore, a meeting allows the supervisor to plan the next few shifts accordingly. If the worker needs more time or does not accomplish all of the tasks listed above, time can be spent on it going forward.

3. This Is the Time for Hands-On Criticism

There are a plethora of workers that have felt as if they don’t understand the goals of their new job. We’ve all experienced it. Your new boss tosses you a project and takes off. You aren’t sure if you are doing it correctly or living up to standards until you’re finished. Don’t do this to new workers. Don’t create bad working habits off the jump.

The first few projects should include more criticism and communication than normal. The accompanying supervisor should make sure to introduce and explain quality standards and procedures. Now is the time. Regardless of the new employee’s experience level, they should still get intense attention until you are both on the same page.

4. Job-Specific Training Comes First

Your company may have an eye-crossing amount of procedures, policies and new technologies at play. While it’s important for your new employee to understand all of these factors, it should not be the first priority.

Make sure job-specific training is the top priority during the introductory period. Allow the worker to do projects that correlate directly with their new role, not a variety of other skills and traits.

How to Create a Mobile Onboarding Process

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So you understand the basics of creating an onboarding process. The new employee should not be overloaded with new information, should have close contact with a supervisor or buddy employee, and should have an initial project that isn’t of high priority.

Let’s get into the remote-specific stuff. That’s what you came here for, after all.

1. Pre-boarding Is Crucial

While pre-boarding is always important, it’s ever so with remote employees.

Basically, as soon as a new candidate signs on to your company, you need to begin getting them acclimated with all of the tools and programs you use for daily activities. As a remote company, you probably have communication software, emails, time clocks and other project management systems. Have your new employee signed in and prepared for these things before their first day.

Furthermore, make sure all of the paperwork is properly filled out and filed. This can be a long process without an in-person signing.

The most common problem with remote work (as we’re sure you already know) is technical hiccups. As stated, the first impression is critical for both employee and employer. Let the new worker know that you have a well-oiled and successful remote workplace right off the bat. A first day of technical and communication problems can make you look bad and unprepared. That’s never good!

2. How to Establish Goals and Culture?

It seems as if we talk about company culture and its importance to a workforce a few times a week. We’ve done countless, countless articles surrounding the importance of workplace culture. Trust me, I wrote them.

There’s a reason that we continue to hammer in the culture nail, though. Having a strong set of company goals and ideals is one the most important pieces of putting together a like-minded and successful workforce. You want your entire staff to be on board with your company mission and thought processes. Anything outside of the naturally curated ecosystem can cause disarray amongst an already established team.

Therefore, it’s still important to establish and show your company’s culture to a new employee, even if entirely remote. How to go about this effectively? That can be tricky.

It’s hard to have a remote onboarding process that shows and demonstrates your workplace culture. Ultimately, without the in-person energy surrounding an employee’s first few days, it can be hard for them to pick up on the established ideals. Luckily, meeting applications have become baked into remote work and prove to be a useful and close second.

We recommend meeting with your new employees over Zoom or Skype during the first week. Have their entire team (or selected coworkers) on camera in the meeting. Introduce the new employee and allow them to get to know the other workers. Just having quick video introductions can help build that ongoing camaraderie.

3. Online Buddy System

Going further with expressing workforce culture, it may be a good idea to partner your new worker with another teammate. While meeting with a supervisor at the end of the onboarding period is necessary, it’s not the entire process. Having a go-to peer can help fill in answers to cultural questions.

Furthermore, having a peer to meet with can help build working relationships immediately. There will always be a difference in working relationships between peers as opposed to employees and managers. The new employee should get a chance to make working relationships with new people, not just the supervisors.

The appointed buddy may be available to answer any quick questions over chat or meet with the new employee one-on-one to debrief department meetings.

Having a mentor allows the new employee to ask questions they may not feel comfortable bringing to the manager yet. Whether big or small, their questions should be answered appropriately. Having a new working friend can help ease the transition into the team, especially without any in-person communication.

4. Check In Regularly

As stated, the remote onboarding process should include an ample amount of attention from the supervisor. Making sure the employee feels comfortable, is living up to company standards and is heard is important to a smooth introductory period.

Luckily, remote work allows us to have quicker communication than walking through an office. It’s not needy or suffocating to send frequent chats to the new employee asking if they are okay or have any questions. In fact, you should be checking in with your employee frequently throughout the onboarding and training period.

Nothing makes a new employee feel more dejected than being seemingly tossed into the role without care. As an employer, your job is to make sure the new worker feels comfortable and calm when adjusting to the new responsibilities. Constant communication is key.

5. Give the Benefit of the Doubt During the Remote Onboarding Process

Try to remember that remote work is new to all of us. Some workers have yet to move into the at-home office. Some workers went throughout the entire pandemic with in-person jobs.

For example, as a writer, I spent the majority of the pandemic still working at an office. When transitioning to a new job after the pandemic, I was thrust into the new world of at-home work. Despite being the new norm, I had yet to experience it. Consequently, the remote onboarding process had a few bumps in the road. I was getting familiar with the new way of things. It does take some adjustment.

If your new employee is just starting to work from home, cut them some slack with the remote onboarding process. The newly formed habits of remote work and check-ins may have not been baked in yet. A few miscommunications or mistakes does not mean they are a bad worker.

6. Have a Shared Checklist

As noted earlier, you should have an overview of everything that needs to be done during the remote onboarding process. Furthermore, you should have a checklist for everything that needs to be addressed on the first day and first week. Ultimately, you should meet with your new employee at the end of the first day and week to check-in.

Here’s a magical aspect of remote work and modern technology. You can share the schedule with your employee, allowing them to see the objectives and tasks laid out for their first few working days.

With the amount of new information flooding their brains, it can be hard for a new worker to remember everything said. Having a shared checklist or schedule allows them to stay on track during the introductory period. After all, guiding them with a gentle hand is important to long-term success.

For example, let’s say you share a Google Document with a checklist of what they need to get done during their first week on the job. They can refer to it to keep themselves on track and communicate with their supervisors regarding questions or help.

7. Meet in Person if Possible

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We understand the reasons behind establishing a remote workforce. We deal with staffing every day. We’ve heard and expressed all reasons, not just ones related to the pandemic. We get it.

Ultimately, there is no better tip for onboarding a new employee than administering some face time (and we don’t mean the app).

If possible, you should meet with your new employee in person, even if just to file paperwork or shake hands. We begin to lose a cornerstone of communication when we don’t experience each other as humans. You learn so much about a person through body language and overall energy. It’s not to play extremely soulful or hippy-dippy, but there’s a point to be made. You should meet your employees in person to feel their energy at some point, even if down the line.

If your remote employees are from other places in the country, think about administering a trip or event at some point. Though not part of the onboarding process, it can help create a longstanding culture between your teammates.

8. Be Open-Minded as an Employer

Overall, the process of fully-remote work is new for everyone. It’s a form of employment that wasn’t possible a few decades ago. We are all still smoothing out the system, and maybe for a long time.

As an employer, you have to be open-minded to new ideas, especially during the onboarding process.

Employees want to feel heard. Employees want to feel valued. We are in the time of the Great Resignation. Potential candidates know their worth and they deserve to be treated as such. If a new employee notes something that should be addressed in the onboarding process they are going through, listen to them. It may help you in the future.