Let’s face it — most companies don’t have exemplary onboarding programs; even worse when it’s a remote onboarding program.
Onboarding is a critical first step in setting up new employees for success in their role, but most onboarding programs only cover administrative checklists.
The new hires are excited, but also probably nervous and have many questions they may not be comfortable asking. And if the onboarding process is a cold administrative slog, they’ll be unlikely to speak up to their new manager for fear that they’ll be seen as overly negative.
Instead, they’ll vent their frustrations on places like Reddit:
If most onboarding wasn’t bad enough, the shift to remote work made it worse. Remote onboarding is particularly challenging for new hires because communication, team building, and getting a sense of the company culture is more difficult through virtual calls and meetings.
The consequences of having poor onboarding programs is too great to ignore.
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A study by BambooHR found that a third of employees quit their new jobs in their first six months. This is after companies spend the time and resources hiring them in the first place. These costs can add up to a third of an employee’s salary.
This article will reveal how managers and companies can design an onboarding program that sets up remote employees for success.
How is onboarding a remote employee different from an office employee?
Remote onboarding is an entirely different experience than traditional, in-office onboarding:
When new hires come to the office for the first time, their manager can greet them, walk them to their desk after being introduced to colleagues, and answer any questions they may have.
There’s a high level of involvement from the manager. This face-to-face interaction helps new hires alleviate the anxieties they may feel and get settled in.
Onboarding a remote employee requires much more communication than in-office onboarding processes. There are social cues that in-office employees can pick up on that remote employees won’t have the ability to.
In a remote workplace, the new employees will likely get a virtual call from their manager on their first day. It may be a long 1-2 hour call where they’ll talk through everything from getting their computer set up to establishing goals and clarifying priorities.
The new remote employees are expected to quickly get their bearings to understand their new role.
Virtual onboarding challenges
Virtual onboarding carries with it particular challenges that in-office teams wouldn’t have to worry about. Here are three challenges of remote onboarding.
Whether in-office or remote, the manager needs to communicate frequently with their new hires to help them settle into their new role. But the new employees may feel hesitant to ask on-the-spot questions. They don’t want to pester their managers if they’re busy and leave a bad first impression. This can lead the employee to flounder without daily objectives.
Tech support can become even more frustrating
When in the office, there will likely be tech support to make sure email, computer, phone, etc. are all set up for employees on their first day. In a remote environment where that help isn’t available in person, technical setups can take much longer and be even more frustrating.
Integrating new hires into the culture
The biggest challenge to onboarding remote employees is integrating them into the company culture. Having new employees meet and get to know people in different parts of the organization is key to making them feel connected. If they don’t get this opportunity, isolation can quickly creep in and stunt employees’ ability to ramp up into their roles quickly.
For example, in a study by researchers at Portland State University School of Business Administration, they found that “new software engineers in India who did not establish meaningful connections with coworkers sought out less organizational information, a behavior that’s crucial to newcomer success.”
How to build an onboarding program for remote employees
Remotely onboarding employees doesn’t have to be second best to in-person onboarding. There are best practices that companies can employ to adequately prepare remote workers quickly and integrate them with the company.
Step 1: Early onboarding
A great onboarding program starts before day one. New employees will have lots of questions and be curious about the team culture. To leverage their enthusiasm and alleviate some of their nerves, managers can share resources with them that provide context and answer their questions.
Managers should begin sharing resources like:
- Who they’ll be working with.
- Valuable resources on their industry or product.
- Strategy documents related to their role
Some managers may even put together a FAQ for new hires that provides answers to common questions or a slide deck that introduces their future colleagues. A slide deck is a great tool for giving them a sense of who else is on the team and providing context on how their role relates to others within their department or organization overall.
Step 2: Cover the basics of onboarding
Create an administrative checklist to ensure you don’t overlook any important steps in the onboarding process. Include tasks like:
- Getting new employees set up with proper software and equipment.
- Signing the necessary employment documents.
- Sending a first-day schedule with intro meetings
It’s important that other team members know what is on this checklist so they have a better idea of what to prepare for any introductions they may be included in.
Step 3: Start off strong with day one
Managers should make their new hire’s first-day schedule as detailed as possible to ensure the experience is exciting, engaging, and to leave a good first impression.
Because they won’t have other employees to observe or a work environment to take cues from, it’s important to give new employees enough to work on so they don’t have prolonged periods in their first week with little to do. However, do not overwhelm them with too many meetings or assignments, and always be available for questions and check-ins.
Provide a warm welcome
IDEO, an internationally renowned design firm, has implemented a strategy to ease the first-day nerves that many employees may feel: Those who interviewed the new hire will send him or her a welcome letter that starts with “We think you’re kind of a big deal, and here’s why.”
This may seem like a small action, but efforts like this go a long way in showing employees that they are welcomed members of the team. It also helps to kick off relationships that make it easier for them to reach out in the future.
Introduce new employees to their colleagues
After a warm welcome, a new hire should have one-on-one meetings prescheduled with their leaders and colleagues who they’ll be working closely with. One of the biggest challenges to remote working is isolation. Being able to meet face –to face is necessary to integrate new employees into the company.
These one-on-one meetings are primarily to introduce new team members, but they’re also a great opportunity to start building the relationships that are crucial to a new employee’s progress.
Step 4: Pair up remote employees with an “onboarding buddy”
In addition to one-on-one meetings with team members, pairing up remote employees with an “onboarding buddy” can help new hires integrate with the company.
Netapp, a cloud services company in California, onboards 200 interns every summer. Part of their onboarding program is to pair them with a buddy for their internship. This strategy builds up the team culture and encourages cooperation between new interns.
In an HBR article, Microsoft shares their onboarding pilot program that pairs every new hire with a peer who has been with the company for a while. They found that having an onboarding buddy:
- Provided important context for the new hire.
- Boosted their productivity.
- Increased their job satisfaction.
Step 5: Building trust and belonging in their first 30-60-90 days
Within their first 90 days, new employees’ should adequately build relationships with their colleagues, become immersed in their work, start sharing their ideas, and receive constructive feedback.
Management theorist Simon Sinek suggests in his TedTalk in 2014 that great leaders make their employees feel secure. He draws from his experience interviewing marine squads to understand why they so readily ran into danger to rescue their team members. “They would have done the same for me” is the answer they all gave.
The main goal of employee onboarding is not to get new hires to start working as fast as possible, but to build trust with them so they feel a part of a hardworking team.
Step 6: Providing mentorship
Similar to providing new hires with peers to help them adjust to their new role and the company, mentors are crucial to continued employee development. Mentors are different from managers because they are more concerned with their trainees’ holistic improvement and growth rather than specific performance metrics. Mentors are guides and advisors who employees can lean on for a third-party, unbiased perspective.
Mentoring connections that are made early on were positively related to an employee’s productivity and confidence levels five and a half years later. The impact of this kind of support is invaluable.
The keys to successful remote employee onboarding
Remote onboarding programs present more challenges than in-person onboarding because it’s harder to communicate and learn the team culture while working from home. To build a successful employee onboarding program, managers need to focus on building feelings of trust and belonging within their teams.
By following the steps outlined in this article, companies can build a remote employee onboarding program that is more than an HR checklist, but a process that effectively integrates new hires into the organization and sets them up for success.