Many companies have announced a long-term remote or home working policy in the wake of the pandemic. A recent survey has revealed that as many as 78% of employers are now open to recruiting a distributed workforce.  Meanwhile, candidates are remaining firm about their desires for remote work.

As remote working becomes more and more prevalent, knowing how to successfully onboard this cohort of the workforce is crucial.  Onboarding remote workers present several unique challenges; some of which employers won’t have faced before. The logistics will be more challenging. You will have to consider the tools, tech, equipment and of course the online delivery of the remote onboarding program.

Why is onboarding important?

Offering a cohesive and thorough onboarding process is vital, and of course, this is easier to provide for your on-site workforce.

A successful and well thought through induction will

  • Help the employee learn the basics of the job
  • Understand the workplace culture
  • Build professional relationships
  • Give new starters the necessary tools they will need to succeed.
  • empower the new hire and facilitate a long and successful career within your organisation.

Of course, doing all these things rely on open channels of communication. Remote workers do not have the physical connection that onsite new starters do. You may need to employ ‘out the box’ thinking to ensure your remote teams have the same level of attention and care applied to their onboarding.

Done well, remote onboarding has the capacity to be truly immersive. It will give the new starter a cohesive and thorough induction into the role, the company, its values, and the culture they are entering. Done badly, the new hire will feel isolated, lacking motivation or commitment to the role and organisation.

How to do remote onboarding well.

Begin before Day 1.

Ensure that your new hire has everything they need before their first day. Commit delivery of the tech they will need, such as a company laptop, phone, and other office equipment a few days ahead.  You should also ensure that they have received clear instructions on how to set up this equipment along with the contact information of someone who can offer them help to do so.  This individual should be able to offer advice, support and handle any snagging for the new hire.

Your new hire should also already have their communication access set up and ready to go.  They should be issued their email address, telephone number, and company contact details in advance so that they are able to communicate effectively from the get-go.

If the remote onboarding program involves webcasts and online learning materials it is crucial that new hires can access these without issue.

Give an overview.

The first few days of a new job should offer the employee a holistic, 360 view of the company they are entering. To do this you should organise an online presentation with HR or key leaders within the business.

Of course, this will include factors such as benefits, company policies, and admin, but it should cover important macro points. For example, you should lay out the bigger picture such as the company values, mission, and overarching culture of the company.  Crucially, it must be made clear to the remote worker where their role fits in, and the part they will play in ensuring the success of the business.

Seeing how their role fits into the bigger picture is important to an employee. It incites a connection to the company, and in turn, helps to ensure employee motivation and loyalty. When a worker is on-site, showing how each role fits in is easier.  Remote workers find this more difficult, with some reporting feelings of disconnect.  Extra efforts must be made to cement the remote team by giving them a connection to the company.

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Establish realistic responsibilities.

Your remote onboarding process should make it clear what you expect from your remote workforce.

At the onboarding stage, leaders should establish realistic routines and schedules that work for both employees and employers.  Remote working puts employees at a higher risk of burnout and stress than their onsite colleagues. They have no distinction between work and home, and so are more likely to find it difficult to switch off.

The remote onboarding process should underline that a healthy work/life balance is part of the company values. When your remote team knows what is expected, they are more likely to allow themselves to thoroughly switch off at the end of the day.

Prioritise a supportive team culture.

Creating a supportive team culture is a critical part of the remote onboarding process. Every effort should be made to connect the team remotely through weekly virtual meetings. These will provide insights into how co-workers interact with one another and help the remote worker to feel like an integral part of the team. This will help to build relationships and encourage cohesive working.

If possible, you may like to consider scheduling a couple of virtual lunch breaks each month, or bi-monthly. This will enable co-worker relationships to be formed, where they can get to know one another away from the work exchanges.

For some remote employees, these opportunities will help to facilitate a more robust connection to the company and those who work within it.

Training.

Even the most skilled or experienced hire will come to a new role without all the knowledge they need.  They are not going to be familiar with your processes, tools, systems, and technology.

Each remote hire will enter with knowledge gaps and will need to be assessed individually. A tailored training plan according to their needs should be written, and each hire should be assigned a trainer accordingly.

The training given should be evaluated along the way with feedback acquired. This way, you are sure your remote worker is receiving all they need to succeed.

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Coaching & Mentoring.

Coaching is different from training and needs to be ongoing. It is vital that the lines of communication are kept open, and remote workers have opportunities for feedback and support.

A successful coaching relationship requires trust. Managers should take the opportunities to create and build upon this relationship.

The remote coaching program should not stop at onboarding. There should be regular video check-ins to review goals, training needs, and employee concerns.

If an organisation is able, providing a mentor would be an additional layer of support for your remote worker.  There are huge advantages to mentorship for all involved. Your established employees should be encouraged to take part in the scheme for their own development and professional growth.  Aside from professional development, a mentor is a great way to make your new starter feel valued and ensure that they have a true idea of the company culture.

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Strong internal communication systems.

The company values you exhibit throughout the onboarding process should be underlined by a strong and clear internal information package.  For example, is there an internal system that guides remote employees toward those who can help?   Is there an intranet, where employees can find answers to FAQs or online training updates teams can access easily at any time?  Are there links to onboarding documents to help reinforce learning?

All these things will help to empower your remote colleagues and help develop their feelings of connection and belonging.

Remote onboarding; Play the long game.

Onboarding remote employees shouldn’t be a one-week, box-ticking formality.  The company message you have worked so hard to establish shouldn’t grow old.

There needs to be a warm virtual welcome, followed by a tailored and well thought out training plan. You should offer plenty of virtual opportunities for networking and team building, followed by a long-term coaching and mentoring plan.

A continued commitment to demonstrating your company’s values and best practices should also help to successfully embed remote teams. They cannot feel these day-to-day, so extra effort should be made to demonstrate these in the ways you communicate with them and support them in their role.

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Are you a business leader who is new to managing remote teams?  For hints and tips on keeping your remote workforce happy, motivated, and productive, read our recent blog post here.

About the author: I manage the recruitment for a range of digital roles for my clients on both a retained and contingency basis. I specialise in senior and confidential appointments, always giving a first class representation of a client’s employer brand.

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