Even at the best of times, onboarding new employees can be a tricky thing to get right — how do you make someone feel welcome, up-to-speed, and clear on expectations on a relatively short timeline? How do you keep open lines of communication to make sure the employee is set up for success?
Things can get even more challenging when it comes to onboarding new team members remotely because there’s no face-to-face time or a deskmate to quickly ask a question to.
According to a study by CareerBuilder, 93% of employers believe that onboarding has a critical role in the employee’s decision to stay or leave a company. That’s supported by a survey conducted by HiBob, which found that 64% of employees would leave their job within a year if their onboarding experience was bad.
An analysis by the Harvard Business Review, meanwhile, concluded that companies with a structured onboarding process get employee retention rates up to 50%. When you consider that the average employee exit can cost you up to 33% of their annual salary, a clear picture emerges – onboarding is an invaluable tool for any company that wants to boost retention and engagement.
15 tips for onboarding remote employees
Now that telecommuting has increased by 216% between 2005 and 2019, remote onboarding has become as important as conventional onboarding. Perhaps even more so, since telecommuters and remote workers don’t benefit from the same in-person relationships with coworkers that form in a traditional office.
Still, there are ways to make remote workers feel a sense of belonging with their on-site colleagues – read on to discover the 15 best ones.
1. Be proactive
You shouldn’t wait for the first day to start with the onboarding process and you’ll want to avoid creating a situation where the new employee has to reach out to you first. Instead, before the start date, send a welcome email with a detailed overview of the company’s mission, values, and people.
You can add any other information that you think will make Day One easier for the new employee, including:
a copy of the employee handbook
projects they’ll be working on
links to your company’s social media accounts
You can also invite your new hires to the Slack channels that are relevant to their role. 😉
2. Set onboarding goals and objectives
Don’t let the effectiveness of your onboarding process become unmeasurable. Your HR department (or the hiring manager) should create an onboarding “to-do” list, with instructions on how to complete each task. The clearer the list is, the easier it will be to make sure things won’t be overlooked.
The checklist for remote worker onboarding should contain:
onboarding to-dos, including what documents or videos to review, who to meet with (with background on each person), and initial tasks to tackle
a 30-60-90 day plan, with goals broken down by week or month
There’s a benefit in it for both the company and the new hire – employees who feel supported during the onboarding process are 54% more productive.
💡Tip: Onboarding doesn’t need to be done by you alone. Companies like Remote make it easy to automate onboarding tasks for new employees, including remote and international workers and contractors.
3. Run virtual introduction sessions
To bridge the gap between in-office and remote communication, organize virtual introductions with the entire team and some one-on-one introductions with managers.
These introductions serve to communicate the team structure, establish shared goals, and promote engagement.
They’re also a chance for everyone to put faces to names, having likely communicated only by phone or email to this point. Getting to see and hear each other is an important step in building trust and camaraderie.
To run your virtual introduction sessions, you should choose a good video conferencing platform that will allow you to make the most of it. Vowel offers live meeting transcriptions, which a new hire can go through afterward to make sure they haven’t missed anything important. They’ll also get meeting notes and a recap with shared links and action items.
4. Share important information and material
Even after a virtual introduction and the welcome email, you can’t expect your new remote employee to remember every single thing about your company and its policies.
New employees should have easy access to all important information, documents, and any other material that will help them fit into the company faster.
You can share all this info through a central database of essential files for onboarding. The files can include:
The company handbook
Tools they need with login instructions
Organizational structure info
Getting a new employee up to speed with what’s going on in the team can be a time-consuming task. A great idea to streamline this would be to use Vowel to create a folder of the relevant meeting recordings (town halls, all hands, sprint demos, etc).
5. Run group training sessions
If you’ve hired several people for the same or a similar role, consider doing group training instead of having individual sessions.
It saves time and money because you’re not duplicating your efforts and it fosters a sense of community and belonging among your new hires because they’re going through a process together.
Because your virtual training session will most likely have several participants and cover a lot of information, you should always send a meeting agenda along with the invite. This lets everyone know what to expect and gives them time to prepare for the meeting.
And if you want to make your meetings more engaging, you can use Vowel to take collaborative meeting notes and ask for participation through emojis and hand raises.
6. Create reference guides
In most companies that have a remote workforce, the tech stack tends to be large. Team communication tools, video call apps, and project management tools all have their features, use cases, and quirks.
For someone just getting started in a new role, it can get overwhelming quite easily.
To make sure new employees always have the right info on the tools they’ll be using in their work, create reference guides for each tool, including:
A description of each tool
A quick-start guide (perhaps with recorded video)
Info on accessibility features
You can also add a tips-and-tricks section and include anything else that an employee might find useful.
7. Make professional development part of the process
Professional development opportunities feature high on the wish list for 80% of job seekers.
You shouldn’t wait too long to give new employees access to optional online courses and certifications. Highlight this during onboarding by sharing when new employees have access to these benefits. Or provide a stipend they can use right away to start their learning.
8. Pair new hires with an onboarding buddy
According to Harvard Business Review, every new employee needs an onboarding buddy. New hires who were assigned a buddy reported being 23% more satisfied with their onboarding experience.
An onboarding buddy is a “go-to” contact for the new employee that isn’t their manager. They can transfer their knowledge about the job and the company to the new hire in a friendly and informal manner.
All onboarding programs, whether virtual or on-site, benefit from the buddy system. But, for remote workers, buddies help make up for the inherent challenge of socialization.
In an office, informal relationships happen during breaks and just by working together in the same physical space. Remote employees, on the other hand, have much fewer chances for that kind of interaction, so their onboarding buddy becomes more meaningful and important.
9. Create a shared “questions” document
It’s very likely that during the onboarding process your new hire will have some questions or concerns that they might hesitate to put to their orientation buddy or manager.
Those questions still need an answer, though, and setting up a shared doc is a great way to provide one. Share this document with the new employee and a few people whom you trust to give prompt and correct answers.
10. Introduce the new hire to the team
Most companies include introducing the new employee to their team in the onboarding plans. For in-person workers, these intros are a courtesy that takes some of the pressure off of meeting a bunch of new people.
In the context of remote work, where new employees can’t just walk up to their teammates and introduce themselves, formal intros become much more significant.
To help your work-from-home employees integrate faster, there are a few things you can do:
Make an announcement in your #general and team-specific channels
Introduce the new hire at your next all hands meeting
Ask the new employee to record a short introduction video to share with the team, but only if they’re comfortable (your new hire can easily record an intro video in a Vowel personal room 😉)
11. Share communication protocols
“Quick question – when I need our graphic designer to do a graphic for social media, do I create a ticket in Jira or ping them on Slack?” If you’re a remote worker, do you ask that question over Slack, send an email, or wait for a meeting?
If you don’t explain the protocols and expectations about team communication to new hires, they’ll end up feeling lost and adopting poor communication patterns.
Include some information about how to communicate and what tools to use in which instance. When should an employee schedule a video call? And when should they just fire off an email?
At Vowel, we have a Notion board dedicated to "Best practices for our communication tools," including docs, Slack, calendar, email, and meetings.
12. Encourage connections between new hires
Have your new employees work on a project together during the onboarding process. When people have to collaborate on something, they form natural connections and build trust.
Remember: it’s very easy for remote workers to start feeling alienated and forgotten about.
To counter this, you can try to formalize some things that are informal in traditional office settings. For instance, have a few minutes each day blocked out in the team calendar for a virtual coffee break — it will do wonders for team engagement and cohesion.
13. Help remote employees feel a sense of belonging
For most people, work isn’t just a source of money, it’s a part of their social lives.
To make sure that your new employees are engaged and don’t feel isolated, there are things you can do to foster a sense of belonging. (Some of your not-so-new employees might welcome this, too…)
In addition to the virtual coffee break, you can run other virtual company events such as an end-of-workday happy hour. Or encourage them to join or start Slack channels based on their interests or life outside of work (e.g. #randompets, #randommusic, #productreccos, #wordnerds).
For people to trust and feel connected they need to see others not just as coworkers but as real human beings — and opportunities to chat informally help them do just that.
14. Promote well-being
You can use a health and productivity app with social features and have members connect through it. These apps are substitutes for a lunchtime yoga class or wellness seminar.
The goal here isn’t to have anyone reveal sensitive personal health information but to let employees organically connect around the subjects of health, wellness, and work-life balance.
If your company has Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), you should lean on them during remote onboarding. ERGs promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace and there’s no reason not to get your new hire involved as soon as possible.
15. Add fun to the process
Onboarding serves a serious purpose in a company, but there’s no law against having some fun along the way.
As part of all these virtual meetings we’ve mentioned, make sure to set some time away for some fun icebreaker activities. You can have your new hires play a game such as Pictionary or Words With Friends, and have a Slack channel to share Spotify playlists and funny videos…your imagination is the only limit.
3 key remote onboarding challenges to keep in mind
Remote onboarding might have been a foreign concept to many before the COVID-19 pandemic but with more and more companies now hiring remote employees, there are some challenges to keep in mind.
Building a strong culture: Your remote workers can often feel isolated because, at the end of the day, they’re sitting alone in front of a computer screen. It’s harder for them to benefit from the kind of informal learning and socializing that happens in a typical office environment. The solution? Schedule some time for a real connection. You can opt for some pre-boarding activities like meet-and-greets. In the first weeks, you can schedule more one-on-one meetings with managers and assign them an onboarding buddy.
Communication: A remote worker has to navigate a whole tech stack of communication tools and project management software. They’ll need time to know which tool to use when, and what are the acceptable response times to instant messages and emails. To combat this challenge, share clear communication guidelines with remote team members. Which communication tool to use for quick questions and which for actionable requests, when to schedule a Vowel meeting, and when they rely on asynchronous communication tools like Slack, and so on.
Sharing “know-how”: When you work in a classic office setting and there’s something you don’t quite get, you just turn to the nearest coworker and ask. Not so when you’re a remote worker. To share the useful know-how that didn’t make it into the main on-the-job training, consider creating how-to guides and step-by-step instructions. There are a lot of options to power these knowledge bases, from a shared cloud folder of documents, sharing your meetings in Vowel, or using dedicated apps like Slite and Zendesk.
A quick remote employee onboarding checklist
Getting your remote onboarding process to go off without a hitch is no easy feat; there’s a lot to take into consideration and plan out.
If you start feeling stuck, you can consult this quick remote onboarding checklist:
✅ Send new hires a welcome email: When the candidate has accepted the job offer and officially becomes a new hire, send them a welcome email. It should have a warm tone, welcome them into the fold, and clarify how the onboarding process will proceed.
✅ Share pre-boarding resources: Pre-boarding isn’t just a hot new HR trend, it’s an opportunity to make a good first impression before the new employee’s debut. Send out some company swag along with helpful videos, documents, and any necessary equipment.
✅ Schedule an orientation call: During the call, which can be individual or group, review your company’s mission and values with the new hires. This is also the time to share the employee handbook and any other onboarding documentation. Don’t forget to share a meeting agenda too!
✅ Schedule a meeting with HR: This is usually the most time-consuming and admin-heavy step because it has to do with things like company policies, compliance issues, compensation, paid time-off rules. It’s a good idea to have an account with a service like DocuSign or HelloSign to let new employees quickly sign documents virtually.
✅ Schedule a meeting with the IT department: Your new hire should meet with the IT team ahead of their first day to get all the accounts and log-ins for the tools they’ll be using.
✅ Schedule a team orientation call: Now it’s time for a new remote employee to start feeling at home. Share annual and long-term goals during the team orientation call and tell them what KPIs you use to measure performance.
✅ Create a 30/60/90-day onboarding plan: Don’t end the onboarding process after the first week. It’s best practice to create a plan that covers the first 90 days with regular check-ins and two-way feedback.
✅ Begin role-specific training: Give your new employee the contact info for everyone they’ll be working with and organize a video meeting. Then, provide the necessary training that your new hire needs to start in their role.
Create powerful onboarding experiences with the right tool
In-office workers can rely on quick in-person communication with their coworkers to pave over any gaps left by a company’s onboarding process. Remote workers don’t always have that luxury. That’s why it’s even more important to get it right the first time.
Having a good virtual meeting tool at your side can help! Vowel doesn’t just power your video calls, it lets you do a lot more for an awesome onboarding experience. You can share folders of past recorded meetings to get a new hire acquainted with company culture. And your new hires can create short intro videos or questions right from their personal meeting room.