At my last company, at least 50% of the staff we hired were onboarded remotely. You CAN onboard a new hire successfully and have them fully engaged in your organization, whether you are a “butts in seat” company or totally remote-friendly.
Onboarding a remote employee is similar to onboarding an in-office employee, so a lot of this advice is common sense. It’s just all matters more.
You can stumble when onboarding a new employee in the office and still recover. It’s more difficult to recover from a botched onboarding when the employee is working remotely.
Here’s are a few things to keep in mind when designing your remote employee onboarding experience.
After the new hire has accepted the offer, set up a time to chat with them before their start date. Just a brief 15-minute conversation (more if you wish) to hit these topics:
- Inquire about their remote experience so you understand their frame of reference. Provide tips & tricks if needed.
- Give a high-level overview of what day one and week one will be like (see below), so they know what to expect.
- Confirm where work equipment (computer, monitor, keyboard, etc) will be shipped, when it is expected to arrive, and what they should do with it when it is received. Don’t assume people know.
- Confirm where and how you will be communicating until they have their work email provisioned and set up. The handling of the IT set up experience is very important for a remote employee. Think about how to create a very guided experience.
- Ask if they have any questions in advance of their start.
- Confirm what they should expect at 9 am on their first day (or whenever their start time is). Should they wait for an email? Is there a call scheduled? Tell them where to “be” at the start of their first day. More on this below.
Coordinate between IT, the hiring manager and recruiter to ensure there has been good pre-start communication that covers the above items and starts to build a relationship with your new employee early. The worst thing you can do is not communicate between offer acceptance and start date and leave the candidate guessing about what’s to come. More pre-start communication is needed for a remote employee to coordinate logistics of getting set up and to send the signal that you are a company that cares about the employee experience.
Provision equipment and accounts on time
The worst thing that can happen is an employee’s first day comes around and you are totally unprepared. Make sure the employee has received their equipment and you’ve provisioned their accounts (email, Slack, etc), and that they know how to get their accounts set up.
Codify culture & working norms
At some point in every company’s growth culture and norms need to be codified so that new people understand what’s expected of them and how to succeed in your organization. In the early days of a company you can get by without this codified because new people join at a reasonable pace, get familiar with the working norms on their own, and settle in (or don’t). As you scale, you need a way for people to get up to speed faster and to document unspoken rules. And if you are remote, you really need to do this from day one.
I like to create a “How We Work” document that explains norms and expectations. This avoids leaving the employee guessing, even about simple things like whether or not they need to put in a time off request for a doctor’s appointment.
In a remote environment, you’ll need an internal wiki where staff can see culture, values, OKRs, “how we work” and other related content. This should be emphasized frequently for all staff, especially new employees who should be taken through it in an engaging way during their onboarding.
Schedule week one
A new remote employee can feel adrift without a prescriptive schedule in the early days. It takes any new employee a few weeks to settle in, and a couple of months to feel like they have their feet under them. During the first week don’t leave someone to flounder and expect that they will be able to figure stuff out.
Don’t leave the first day to chance. I like to schedule every part of the 1st day of a remote team member because that’s what would happen in an in-person setting. The day can be a mix of onboarding, attending team meetings and some one-on-ones with team members. Just make sure the 1st day is scheduled so they know what to do, when.
An employee’s first week should include onboarding sessions, meetings with key company leaders, attending regular team members and downtime for ‘self-study’ of assigned reading or videos related to their role.
Provide a 30/60/90 day plan
Every new hire should have a 30/60/90 day plan to help guide their onboarding so they are aware of what’s expected at them at key milestones. It gives everyone a clear vision of what to target in terms of outcomes or contributions to the organization, and helps them know how they are doing.
Set clear goals
Goal setting is important no matter what type of work environment you have, but in a remote environment where people are working more autonomously than they might be otherwise, goals are very important. They also provide a very clear measure of outcomes and employee success. People need to know what’s expected of them.
I really love OKRs for goal setting because they work across the entire organization—cascading from company objectives to departmental, to team to individual in a transparent way that can create true alignment and focus.
Face-time is more important in a remote work environment, so follow good meeting hygiene. Videos turned on for all meetings, don’t skip scheduled one-on-one’s (which should be held weekly), and make time for meaningful conversation which helps build your relationship and foster a feeling of engagement. Make sure you are also taking a monthly pulse check of your entire team to understand employee sentiment and take action where needed.
You can stay connected, even at a distance. I’ve built strong relationships with colleagues I’ve not yet had the chance to meet in person, or who I only get to see on occasion.
Create a remote environment conducive to connection. Connection with coworkers, company values, leadership and the work itself. This comes from your company culture and how you ‘live’ and demonstrate that culture every day.
A connected remote culture uses tools, meetings, communication, innovative programs and puts an emphasis on employee engagement. Transparency helps tremendously, as does your availability and personal engagement with your team. Be present. Be authentic. And stay connected.
I like to gather feedback on the onboarding experience about 3 weeks after the employee’s start date. This is early enough that it’s still fresh on their mind, but also ensures they have had a few weeks to settled in, process and reflect.
Ask for honest feedback about what they liked, what could have better and how you can improve the remote onboarding experience. Make sure to ask questions that get to what their interactions and experience was like with their manager, their peers, and any training done to date. Incorporate that feedback into your onboarding process to make adjustments and improvements as needed.
Create a checklist
Out of sight out of mind? I hope not, but it’s easy to forget a step if you don’t have a checklist. Create a remote employee onboarding checklist and follow it, every time. A checklist is meant to be adapted as you learn and refine. So for each new remote employee cohort you onboard, gather feedback from all stakeholders to see what worked and what needed to be better, review the checklist and make improvements.
Bottom line: design a smooth experience
The key to onboarding an engaged, successful employee is how quickly they feel like they belong, know what’s going on, and can contribute value to the organization. A well-organized, thoughtful remote onboarding experience can make or break employee success.