•Published: Oct 17, 2022
Remote onboarding has its challenges. It's hard to convey your company values and culture through virtual communications and an inconsistent remote onboarding experience.
Consider a first day in person: When a new hire walks into an office on their first day, they're usually greeted by someone in HR or management and shown around. They're surrounded by other people, and they can use all their senses to get a grasp on the culture and company values. They can look around, listen to the happenings, and generally get a good feel for how the company operates.
It's important to emulate that experience as much as possible in a remote setting. Throughout the remote onboarding process, keep communication with new hires consistent, initiate contact with them ahead of their first day, connect them with their coworkers, and help them understand the values of your company.
With a solid process in place, you can create a remote onboarding experience that engages and excites your employees before they even start. Onboarding typically happens in four phases. Breaking it down helps you plan better for each phase and gives your employees a clear structure to follow.
Let's dive right into phase one. And don't forget to print or download our onboarding checklist at the bottom of the article.
Remote Employee Onboarding Phase 1: Pre-onboarding
Pre-onboarding is the time between when your employee accepts the job and when they start.
In one survey, 80% of workers said they're nervous before they start a new job. And remote work is a whole different ball game where new employees don't know what to expect on their first day. They're likely anticipating minimal face-to-face interaction and a lack of human connection.
These barriers to remote work can feel anxiety inducing to some people. But effective pre-onboarding --- where you welcome new employees to the company and get them prepared to start --- can help ease that nervousness and get them engaged and enthusiastic about the job.
Pre-onboarding involves getting your company internally ready to start the new employee. During pre-onboarding, you'll also send the first outreach to the new employee, which is likely the first outreach they'll receive after they accept the position. Both HR and the team lead will be involved in this phase.
Step 1: Decide on the Onboarding Delivery Approach
Together, HR and team leads should come to a decision about the best way to deliver onboarding. There are many different ways to do it.
When employees work in an office, onboarding is usually a mix of in-person interactions or training and online work. In a remote setting, it's all online. Since remote workers have to go through a virtual onboarding program, you'll need a tool or software to deliver it effectively. The method you choose is dependent on the tools you already have or plan to acquire.
An established approach will streamline the virtual onboarding process for your new employees and allow all new employees to go through the same process for consistency.
There are a few common ways to deliver onboarding materials, tasks, and information to your employees. HR and the management team should work together to determine which methods work best for your company based on tools you already have and your budget for acquiring new ones. Some companies use a mix of these different tools and processes for onboarding new employees.
Email is useful if you don't have a designated tool to use for onboarding new hires. You can easily send links, resources, forms, and other information through your secure company email. To use email as your primary onboarding tool, you should plan ahead of time which emails to send and when.
For example, on their first day, new hires should be met with a first-day email. In it, give them a tentative schedule for their first day, any tasks they should complete during their downtime, and general information about what they should expect during orientation.
Human Resources Software
HR software, like ADP or BambooHR, often has the capability to guide new employees through onboarding. Within your HR software, you can create a list of tasks that all new hires need to complete during their first day, week, or month.
Most companies already have some type of payroll or HR platform in place and may be able to use it during onboarding. Check your existing platform to see if you can assign tasks or disseminate information with it.
Learning Management System
A learning management system (LMS) is useful in administering educational courses and training programs to new hires. An LMS is especially beneficial if your company already uses a lot of training courses in your onboarding process.
You can even use an LMS, like 360Learning or Eduflow, for the entire onboarding process. Not only can you create task and skill development--related courses, but you can also create modules for company overviews, culture training, and other related topics.
If your company has a company wiki or knowledge base, this is a good place to create a hub of onboarding information, with a section dedicated to information and resources for new hires. Tools like Tettra, Notion, or Google Workspace can act as your company wiki.
Step 2: Set Up Their Logins and Accounts
Your new employees are most likely not going to dive into work on the first day. They need time to get familiar with the systems they'll use and look through resources about the company and their role. When they start on day one, they should have access to these systems so they can start to get acclimated.
Remote work relies on a lot of software, tools, and platforms to help your employees do their work. First, set them up with a company email address so you can securely send them their logins for other platforms and tools. Then, ahead of day one, set up all the logins for everything that new employees will need to access.
Setting up accounts for new hires is usually something an HR representative needs to do. New hires will need logins for a company messaging tool, payroll software, video conferencing software, your company wiki or knowledge base, and any other systems they need to access on day one.
Step 3: Welcome Them to the Team
Send your new remote employees a letter or email to welcome them to the company and to the team. The welcome letter usually comes from either the team lead or HR. A welcome letter is likely the only communication a new hire gets between accepting the job and starting it, so use the letter to engage them, get them excited about their first day, and give them any need-to-know information.
Start by confirming their agreed-upon salary, their start date and time, and what they can expect on the first day. Include all the meetings they're expected to attend, either with HR, their manager, their team, or all of the above. Let them know what they'll learn about on their first day --- like the company culture and how their role fits in with larger goals.
Be sure to tell them if they need to do anything, like log into their company email to confirm it was set up correctly. Don't give them anything too time intensive to do before they start, but it's good to keep a conversation open.
In your welcome, use a friendly, conversational tone. Using a tone that's too formal may amplify the employee's nervousness. To ease their nerves, friendly terminology or an exclamation point can go a long way. Show them you're excited to have them join the company. Let them know you're available to answer any questions they may have.
Remote Employee Onboarding Phase 2: Orientation
Orientation is when your new employee actually starts the job. During orientation, they get used to company culture and how the company operates and begin to understand what their role within the company looks like.
If this is the employee's first remote job, they may feel a little lost. They don't have a physical place to go. Their computer is their only connection to your company. You can help them get used to remote work by giving them some structure during orientation and easing them into the ways of working from home.
Orientation starts on day one and usually lasts anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on how much there is to learn. For these steps, the responsibility falls on both HR and the team lead.
Step 1: Send Them an Orientation Checklist
Use an orientation checklist to set all your new hires up for success and set expectations during their first week. You may even send this to them a day or two before their start date. Sending them the checklist in advance can help ease their nerves since they'll know exactly what is expected of them.
An orientation checklist is also an actionable way for them to get started, with tangible items they can complete and cross off.
An orientation checklist should include all the steps a new hire needs to complete during the orientation phase. This usually includes tasks like:
Logging into their email
Filling out payroll and tax forms
Logging into all the necessary tools and systems (make each login a separate checklist item)
Meeting with a team lead
Meeting with an onboarding buddy
Reviewing employee handbook or guide
Completing their first task
A checklist can help your new employee feel more organized and prepared for their new role. It gives them structure as they get used to working with your company.
Step 2: Share an Overview of the Company
To help get new employees acclimated to your company, share an overview of the culture and core values. This helps to make an easier transition for your employees, especially if they're used to working in an office. A company overview gives new hires an initial feel and understanding of the goals of the company and where they fit in.
Be specific about what the company goals are, why it was started, and what growth or success has looked like so far. You could also share the company history and mission statement, important statistics, the organizational structure and company policies, the diversity of employees, and general company-related first-week expectations.
You can share a company overview with your new hires through an employee handbook, a welcome video, or a slideshow. For example, you could create a video of employees talking about the values your company upholds and how they try to embody them.
Make sure the overview of your company has been adjusted and tailored to remote employees and is not an old overview from when you were in office.
Step 3: Introduce Their New Manager and Team
Remote team managers should introduce themselves and their team to new team members so that all new folks know who to contact with questions relevant to their job.
First-day introductions also invoke the personal connections that in-office work provides and remote work often doesn't. In fact, the first week should be a mix of social interactions and work tasks. Social interactions let new employees get a better understanding of the culture and feel more comfortable collaborating and communicating with others.
If it's possible, set up a one-off team meeting with your team to introduce everyone to the new hire. Or, if you already have a team meeting planned during their start week, set aside time in the meeting to introduce the new team member. Be conscious that not everyone enjoys being put on the spot and asked to talk about themselves. Team leads should be prepared to make the introduction.
The employee's manager should set up a one-to-one meeting for their first or second day. Send them an invitation so when they log into their email for the first time, they know when they'll get to meet with you.
On the call, let them know how and when to reach you, how often you'll have one-to-one meetings (both during onboarding and after), team communication expectations, and where to find resources.
Step 4: Set Up an Onboarding Buddy
Onboarding buddy programs allow employees to establish a connection with another fellow remote employee right away. Onboarding buddies can help your new hires with their transition and ease their nerves. It gives them a peer to reach out to with questions if they don't feel comfortable asking a manager.
You might even have your new hires shadow their onboarding buddies for a few hours to help them learn the ropes and understand the scope of work they'll be doing. It also encourages collaboration.
Implement an onboarding buddy program where you ask willing existing employees to sign up to help onboard new employees. Ahead of a new hire starting, assign the new hire to their onboarding buddy. Try to spread out the new hires among your volunteers so they don't get overwhelmed or have too little time to do their own work.
To make your onboarding buddy program as effective as possible, give your volunteers talking points or ideas on how they can help new employees get comfortable. For example, your volunteers could talk about their own first-day experience or what it's been like for them to work remotely.
Step 5: Communicate Frequently and Consistently
Strong communication in a remote environment is key, especially during the first few months of the new hire's experience. Consistent communication will keep new employees in the loop and help them get further oriented with the company and their job.
Try to use one primary method of communication, like email or chat. Keep each conversation in a single email or chat thread so they can easily refer back to it when they need to. When you use multiple communication methods, it can get confusing for a new hire who is still trying to familiarize themselves with various systems. Sticking to one method means they can easily keep up with --- and keep track of --- all communication and conversations.
For example, in Slack, you can create a channel for your team and use that as the primary method of communication.
Remote Employee Onboarding Phase 3: First Assignments
During phase three, you'll assign new employees their first assignments to get them working. It helps them get acclimated to their work without the pressure of taking on a full workload right away. You'll also review their initial assignments with them in a one-to-one meeting to make sure they are on track to take on the full workload after the first few tasks.
The third phase of onboarding usually starts during their second week, but it could be later, depending on how long your orientation period is. From this point, it is the team manager's responsibility to guide new hires through the rest of the process.
Step 1: Assign Their First Task
When it comes time to assign your new hire their first assignment, it should have a reasonable deadline and realistic expectations. To set a reasonable deadline, you have to take their skills, readiness, and the complexity of the assignment into consideration. Two new hires who start on the same day could very well need different deadlines for their first assignment if they have different experience levels and skill sets.
Assigning them their first task, rather than their full workload right away, helps ease them into their role. It can alleviate pressure or stress if they're still learning how to do the job.
Your new employees' first task should be straightforward and related to the work they'll be doing on a daily basis. Start off as simply as possible so they can get acclimated to working at your company. It's best to leave the really complicated tasks for later in their onboarding process.
Step 2: Review Their First Tasks With Them in a 1:1
After your employee finishes their first assignment (or first few assignments), their team lead should review it with them in a one-to-one meeting.
Check in with your new employees to remove any blockers they're having, get their feedback, ask how comfortable they were with the assignment, and give them your feedback. If employees are feeling unprepared, like a task is over their heads, or they don't know what's expected of them, this meeting is meant to bring those issues to the surface early on.
The team lead should review the assignment in advance, so they will have feedback to share during the meeting.
Set up a video meeting with your employee. Enable screen sharing so you can easily review the assignments together. Use this to ask for their feedback as well so you can understand what they need from you. Ask them what questions they had as they worked through the task(s), if the workload feels attainable, and other questions that you can use to gauge how comfortable they are with doing the job.
Step 3: Gauge Their Readiness for a Full Workload
Once your employee has a strong grasp and understanding of the work and expectations, their team lead can assign their full workload. Waiting until they're prepared sets them up for more success than pushing them into their full workload before they're ready.
This might not be the exact same timeline for every employee; gauge their readiness individually, typically between the end of month one and the end of month two.
To gauge an employee's readiness, review their performance since they first started. Employees who are ready for a full workload:
Produce high-quality work
Demonstrate a strong understanding of their role and responsibilities
Consistently meet deadlines
Work independently and proactively
If your new hire is struggling in any of these areas, it would be beneficial to wait until they are more prepared before you give them a full workload. Identify the specific areas where they need to improve and help them get there, either with resources, training, or a coaching session.
Remote Employee Onboarding Phase 4: Ongoing Support
Even after a few months at a remote company, your employees will still need support --- just not as much as they did during orientation and the first assignments. Managers can support new employees with bi-weekly or monthly meetings and by encouraging them to take up learning opportunities.
Step 1: Use Recurring 1:1 Meetings to Assess Progress
Set up recurring video meetings with your employee to establish consistency and accountability and to foster ongoing human connection. Recurring one-to-one meetings give team leads and their team members some uninterrupted time to talk about bigger-picture issues, review performance, give and get feedback, and help employees develop their skills.
Remote working can make employees feel isolated. These recurring meetings give them a designated time to talk to you about what they're struggling with or how they're progressing.
Designate a day, time, and frequency (i.e., every other Tuesday) for the meetings. Then send them an invite so they can add the recurring meeting to their calendar.
Step 2: Encourage Ongoing Learning and Professional Development
Make it easy for your employees to find or identify learning opportunities --- whether that's through your LMS, company wiki, email announcements, or a designated Slack channel.
Ongoing learning helps new employees sharpen their existing skills and develop new ones, and it can also keep them engaged with the company. In one Udemy study, 80% of respondents said that learning new skills at work would make them feel more engaged.
There are many ways to encourage ongoing learning. You can set up collaborative peer-to-peer learning, skill share sessions, internal courses using an LMS, and more.
If you don't have a formal learning or professional development process, encourage your employees to find other job or industry-related learning opportunities through articles, research, or white papers. You can share these through your company chat system or via an email newsletter.
Regularly Assess Your Remote Employee Onboarding To Improve the Process
Your onboarding process should be an evolving one. When your onboarding program is still new, it's a learning process, and you'll likely need to make little adjustments as you go along.
Once your onboarding process is in place, set aside specific times to meet with other stakeholders and review the process. Ideally, you'll review the onboarding program quarterly after you initially implement it, then bi-annually or annually after that. Include leadership, managers, and HR folks, as well as employees who have been through the process and can offer helpful feedback.