No Office, No Problem: Onboarding New Employees Remote

After the COVID-19 pandemic, the question is no longer “is remote work here to stay?” It seems like remote work might even be the new normal and founders need to learn the best practices for onboarding remote employees. According to a recent Workable survey, 62.6% of companies went fully remote during COVID-19. What’s more, 71.1% say remote work and distributed teams will be a significant paradigm shift moving forward.

However, working remotely comes with its own set of challenges. Around 37% of people said that remote onboarding best practices are one of the biggest challenges to management and 50% said that it will continue to be when the pandemic is over.

Managers have all the reasons to be anxious about establishing a strong onboarding process at their startup. After all, a strong onboarding process can lead to greater employee happiness, engagement, and retention.

No matter where in the world you operate from, San Francisco, London, or Tokyo, if onboarding remote employees in your startup is a concept you wish to learn more of, then this article is for you. 

Besides recruiting new employees, a good onboarding experience is key to get your new hires hooked with your organization. Here are detailed tips and strategies for executing your virtual onboarding best practices flawlessly and stirring excitement before and after the first day of work.

Pre-Onboarding Tips for Onboarding Remote Employees

Get them acquainted with your company culture

A company culture is a set of shared values, goals, attitudes, and practices that make your company unique.

And with the lack of in-person meetings and get-togethers, it can be a challenge to get the new hire acquainted with your culture.

It’s challenging, yes, but not impossible.

To help them understand your company culture, share:

  • Your digital employee handbook (if you have it).
  • Presentation on company values, mission, and vision.
  • Videos from your all-hands meetings.

PRO TIP: When a new employee joins the company, Stack Overflow sets up a call between the new hire and someone from the company’s leadership. It’s an opportunity for the new hire to hear the company story firsthand and ask questions.

Help them complete their paperwork during their onboarding

Since your new hires won’t be arriving at the office to sign mandatory employee paperwork, you’ll have to do it digitally.

Signing employee contracts and other legal documents can quickly be done online using e-signature tools like DocuSign and HelloSign. These tools let people add their signatures digitally and sign documents in a secure environment.

Send them an onboarding welcome package

Make your new hire feel like a part of the team by sending them a welcome package.

If you’re looking for cool ideas, here are a few:

  • A welcome letter from the team or the CEO.
  • Branded merchandise, such as T-shirts, coffee mugs, note pads, hats, etc.
  • Personalized gifts like headphones, gift cards, books, etc.

Get them up to speed with the collaboration tools

Inform the new hire of the tools you and your team use to maintain effective communication and collaboration.

For example, send over guidelines that explain how:

  • Slack is your preferred tool for sharing quick messages and for #random chats.
  • Zoom is your tool of choice for all types of meetings.
  • Asana is the tool you use for project management.
  • Gmail is the principal tool for company emails.

PRO TIP:

Make sure you:

  • Give them the login info for the software they’ll be using.
  • Offer training or manuals for how to use the new tools.
  • Create their own company email.
  • Share any software they need to download on their computers.
  • Add them to your collaboration and communications systems.

Work out work logistics during the onboarding process

Share work logistics and remote work policies with the new employee so that they don’t feel like working in a vacuum.

You can share these details in the offer letter, the welcome email, or during your initial welcome meeting.

Here are some things to include:

  • Is the new hire’s schedule fixed or flexible?
  • What are the vacation and time-off policies?
  • Will the new employee have to attend some mandatory company meetings or events?
  • Will the new hire have to track their hours or track key performance indicators?
  • Will the new hire be required to come onsite?
  • What equipment does the company provide, and what equipment should the employee provide?

Confirm they have received all necessary equipment

If you’ll be sending the new hire computers and other equipment, make sure you plan ahead of time. Order the equipment some time before the employee’s start date.

Check-in with them to see if they received the shipment and have your IT department assist them with setup if it’s necessary.

Onboarding in groups

Crazy Egg, a SaaS startup, uses this approach. The benefits of hiring people in groups through virtual onboarding best practices can be multiple and include a speedier onboarding process, faster integration, and better collaboration between new employees.

The company has “squad hosts” who are in charge of creating an environment where new hires will feel comfortable collaborating, and “functional stewards” who are the go-to people for technical support.

At Spendesk, we do our best to ensure that everyone has the same onboarding experience. Whether you’re an engineer, a salesperson, or a member of the finance team, you feel a part of the same process and flow as everyone else. And absolutely everyone knows what a new hire is going through in week one, two, and beyond. – Raphaël Moutard, Senior Engineering Manager at Spendesk

FIRST DAY:

Send an onboarding new hire announcement

When a newbie joins your team, they may not be confident enough to start introducing themselves to the team.

A good idea is for the new hire’s manager to send a new hire announcement that a new member has joined the team.

A simple message on Slack in a #general channel will do the trick. By doing so, every team member will get the chance to say hello and send a welcome message to the new hire.

This simple yet effective method can make the new employee feel welcome and excited to begin a new chapter in their professional life at your company.

PRO TIP:

The team at Doist starts a welcome thread in Twist for each new member that joins the company. They introduce the new hire with the title ‘Welcome, [Full Name]!’

The announcement is written by the new hire’s manager or the company’s People Operations Specialist and includes:

  • information from the bio the new hire provided
  • what they’ll do at Doist

People respond with their name, where they’re working from, and what team they’re on.

Source: Doist

Have an initial onboarding “welcome” meeting on Zoom

If you can’t greet the new employee in person, do it over video on their first day.

As the new hire would likely feel anxious and concerned, you want to leave room for questions and two-way interaction.

PRO TIP:

The team at Vidyard welcomes new hires to their company by organizing remote employee onboarding sessions. This shows how onboarding of new employees work remotely in an effective manner. The session is run by the company’s Talent Operations Specialist using Zoom. Other people present at the call are the IT employees responsible for training the new hire.

A remote employee onboarding session can be an amazing opportunity to explain to the new hire:

  • Your company culture.
  • Company benefits.
  • Your expectations.
  • Career development options.
  • Their tasks for the first few weeks at work.
  • Normal working hours.
  • The team structure.
Source: Vidyard

Arrange onboarding – training with your IT department

To avoid mishaps and inconveniences on the first day, make sure the new hire is familiar with:

  • your security practices (such as password management policies, VPN connection, two-factor authentication, etc.)
  • your collaboration and communication tools software

Share assignments and goals for the first week

Remote employees shouldn’t start their first day without a work agenda for the first few days. Assigning them tasks for the first week in your project management system like Asana will reduce the new hire’s stress and anxiety. At the same time, they will be introduced to all the tools, processes, people, and projects that will be part of their work from day one.

PRO TIP:

Fellow, a company that has developed a tool for collaborative meetings, sends an onboarding checklist template to each new hire. The remote onboarding employee checklist includes the new hire’s tasks for the first week, broken down into incremental action items that the new hire checks off as they go.

Source: Fellow

Assign a mentor or buddy

Percolate, a tech company that created a very popular content marketing platform, helps new hires adapt to their new working environment by assigning them a buddy.

When a new hire joins the company, they’re assigned a so-called Percolater who has volunteered to be the new hire’s buddy.

A Percolater has a few obligations, including:

  • Introducing the new hire to other employees.
  • Checking in with the new hire regularly.
  • Being available to answer all the new hire’s questions.

Buffer does something similar and assigns three buddies to the new hire. There is a Leader Buddy, a Role Buddy, and a Culture Buddy, all of whom help new employees throughout the onboarding process.

On someone’s first day they get set up on all our tools, sync up with their lead and key points of contact, enjoy a robust welcome GIF party, and read through some key docs about our vision, mission, and values. – Courtney Seiter, Director of People, Buffer

FIRST WEEK:

Set up knowledge sharing

The first week at a new job is always challenging. Just look at this case where a young developer accidentally destroyed the production database on the first day of the job.

To avoid this scenario, it’s critical that you set up knowledge sharing at your startup. Knowledge sharing is a great way to get the new hire up to speed. They will gain access to valuable information and ultimately deliver better results.

PRO TIP:

Boldly, a premium subscription staffing company, has made the onboarding experience easier for new hires by building an intranet called The Digital Vault.

The Digital Vault is the place where the new hire can find onboarding videos, guides, company news, and team insights. Everything is located at one central place so that new hires can learn at their own pace and revisit the content as necessary.

Arrange weekly 1-on-1 meetings

The lack of in-person communication can be a challenge for the new hire and their manager to build interpersonal trust. One-on-one weekly online meetings can do the trick!

One-on-one meetings are among the best ways for managers to build mutual understanding with new hires and create a culture of trust.

Use these meetings to celebrate milestones, discuss setbacks, address a new hire’s growth, give constructive feedback, and more.

Arrange daily meetings with team members

In addition to one-on-one weekly meetings, arrange daily meetings with team members. These daily meetings are the perfect place to strategize, brainstorm, align on shared goals, and come up with new ideas.

On the plus side, the team and the new hire will get to bond with each other, have a quick casual conversation, and build the empathy that’s crucial to team success.

Get together in person

If possible, let the new hire meet your in-office team.

Help Scout, a help desk software provider, flies recent hires to the city where a portion of its staff lives. They believe that face-to-face time is an excellent way to kick-start a successful transition into a remote company. During their first week, the new hire is flown to Boston, where 25% of the company’s team is co-located. If the new hire cannot meet the team in person for any reason, the company schedules video chats in the first 1-2 weeks.

Trust has to exist from day one. When you’re remote you don’t have the opportunity to lean into someone’s cubicle to see how they’re doing. You have to get creative about ways to nurture that relationship. —Chloe Oddliefson, Head of People Operations at Dribbble

FIRST MONTH

Continue regular manager check-in meetings

The main challenge when you’re working remotely is the lack of personal contact. And personal contact is critical for building trust, sharing feedback, and building a relationship with the employee.

One way of doing so is by making sure the new hire meets regularly with their appointed manager. This is a long-term must-do for all new hires.

These meetings can help the manager understand whether the new employee is integrating well in the company, and if they’re facing any difficulties.

Schedule a fun online team-building activity each month

Another major challenge when working remotely is building an emotional connection with the team. When you’re not working from a shared space, don’t share jokes over coffee, or meet for after-work drinks, it can be easy to feel isolated.

That’s why remote teams’ managers should create opportunities for remote employees to connect and interact in meaningful ways outside of regular meetings.

One way of connecting your remote employees is by playing online team-building games. In fact, there are hundreds of exciting team-building activities and games that sprinkle in some fun, and at the same time, improve the way your remote team works together.

PRO TIP:

Developer network Adeva uses the Donut integration for Slack that randomly pairs people across the company for virtual coffees. On a regular basis (weekly, bi-monthly, monthly), Donut will select people from your pairing channel, and will send a DM encouraging them to meet up for lunch, donuts, or a virtual coffee over video chat!

Source: Donut

Ask for feedback

Don’t forget to ask for feedback from your new hires. Ask them about their onboarding experience and whether they have any recommendations for improvement. This will make sure that the next time you onboard a remote employee, their experience will be even better!

TO SUM UP…

The best practices for onboarding remote employees are plenty. The process has its challenges and can take longer than onboarding employees in-person.

The good news is that you have a myriad of tools at your disposal that can help you get the new hire acquainted with your company culture, introduce them to the rest of the team, or set up their first tasks.

Finally, don’t forget to focus on human interaction and the relationship-building aspect of work. Always follow the best practices for onboarding remote employees to get the best talent for your company. Make your new hires feel included, appreciated, and supported to grow and thrive.

Good luck!

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