Six Steps to Successful Remote Onboarding

Joe Griffin
Joe Griffin

It’s safe to say that, when it comes to remote working, the genie is out of the bottle. Like several trends, remote working has been accelerated recently in the wake of Covid-19. It’s also worth noting that many employees prefer to work remotely, with the most popular option being a hybrid of on-site and in-office.

It’s a potential win-win for everyone, with 77% of remote employees saying they’re more productive when working from home and employers saving money on premises and utilities, while also broadening the net geographically  in the search for staff.

However, every new trend brings new challenges, and this is no exception. Onboarding is naturally more difficult when a candidate isn’t on site, and effective onboarding is vital for all parties.

A worrying 30% of staff leave a new job within 3 months. And, unsurprisingly, onboarding is a factor in whether they stay or not. In fact, 69% of employees will stay with a company for three years if they have a great onboarding experience.

Have a Checklist Before They Start Working From Home, for Them and for You

Checklists are handy at any time, but they’re invaluable in the early stages of a colleague’s tenure. Here are a few things to consider for the first days (and even the days leading up to it).

Colleague onboarding checklist:

  • A room to work from
  • Dependable wifi
  • Stationary

Employer onboarding checklist:

  • Equipment such as laptop, keyboard and (if necessary) monitor and headphones
  • Log-ins for everything necessary, including new staff email, shared documents, drives, internal websites and everything else necessary
  • Software installed on the laptop
  • Courier and agreed-upon delivery (ideally before the first day)  
  • If possible, a little gift is a nice way to welcome someone. This could be swag (branded water bottle or hoodie) or a small non-branded present, like a mug with a hand-written welcome note.

Have a Plan for the First Day

Structure and clarity are important for employees regardless of whether they’re working remotely, but it’s even more vital if they don’t have the anchor of a centralized office.

Here’s how to draw up the ideal first day:

  1. Structure the day
    Have a set time for a number of things to happen, including onboarding with IT and onboarding with the new hire’s line manager. Assign tasks to help them hit the ground running. And allow time for the new colleague to familiarize themselves with the company and what it does. Block that time off in the calendar, if necessary.
  1. Clarify expectations
    During your onboarding chat, outline what’s expected of this hire on the first day, week, month and quarter of their tenure. This will give a clear understanding of their new path.
  1. Mix the informal with the formal
    It’s not uncommon for a new hire to feel isolated if they’re remote, so make sure to introduce them to colleagues and their team in a casual way. A virtual coffee or lunch would help break the ice. Work in any context is about trust, and that’s easier when you’ve gotten to know someone as a person as well as a colleague.

Be Available

It’s easy to underestimate the difference between onboarding remotely and on-site. The key difference is that new hires find it harder to ask questions: Instead of turning to a colleague (or leaning over a partition), they have to send an email or instant message.

Questions from new staff can be time-consuming, but they also reflect an interest in the work and an eagerness to learn. Take into account that you’ll be receiving more emails and instant messages than usual on a colleague’s first few days. If your week is filled with meetings, delegate a colleague to be available to help too. Speaking of which…

Establish a “Buddy” System

If possible, it’s a great idea to assign a “buddy” or a mentor to the new hire, someone who’ll be working on the same team and can show them the ropes. They might even be working on a low-key, low-stakes project from the first day to show the processes, demands and company culture.

Check in Frequently

Working remotely can be lonely and some staff benefit from structure and communications. A quick check-in whenever possible is a good idea. This could be as simple as an IM at the start or end of each day, or a call every couple of days.

Not only is remote working occasionally lonely, but it can be tricky sometimes for new hires to know how they’re doing. A short, reassuring call addresses these issues directly.

Prepare for the Long Haul

Several major companies, including Dropbox, Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook and many more, are developing long-term strategies for remote working. This includes baking in flexible hours, remote working resources and more into its culture and framework.

Other companies are pulling out of major office-space commitments because of remote working, with major cities changing shape and purpose as the exodus begins. Perhaps most famously, San Francisco is bracing for a remote working “exodus”.

So what do remote working long-term plans look like? It would include:

  • A robust IT infrastructure for remote working
  • Remote working being incorporated into contracts
  • Decisions on apps and software used by everyone remote working (everyone should be using the same calendar, apps and messaging services, for instance)
  • Decisions made on salary and benefits and whether they differ for remote or onsite workers
  • Plans for get-together and socializing, whether they’re off site or online (depending on whether it’s safe to meet in person)

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