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How to create a great onboarding process for remote employees

Written by Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce | 01 Sep 2020

Now is a strange time to be starting a new job. Any new hire about to start in your company will most likely have never stepped foot in your office. Nor will they have had the opportunity to meet their manager or co-workers in person.

Having a robust onboarding process for new hires has always been important. But the onboarding process for new hires who will be working remotely is even more critical to get right.

The benefits of an onboarding process

“Great employee onboarding can improve employee retention by 82%” Glassdoor

Good talent is hard to find and hard to retain. The recruitment process can be lengthy, time-consuming, and expensive. So it’s important to get it right. But equally important is ensuring you provide new employees with a positive experience at the start of their journey with your company so that they are encouraged to stick around. As research consistently shows that a good onboarding process can significantly improve retention rates.

Many companies also find that the onboarding process (or lack of) has a direct impact on productivity. It can take many months for a new employee to get up to speed. A solid onboarding process can cut this time dramatically.

The bottom line is, if you want your new hire to be successful, you need to invest in getting your onboarding process right.

Onboarding in the virtual world

You may already have a great onboarding process in place. But chances are this will have been designed for workers due to be joining you in the physical workspace. Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily translate easily to virtual onboarding.

So what should an onboarding process for remote workers look like?

1. Start engaging new hires before their first day

Making new employees feel like part of the team should start as soon as they accept the job offer. For people who will be joining the team remotely, at least in the short term, this is more important than ever. They are likely to be feeling more uncertain of the team, environment and culture they will be coming into - not to mention the processes and ways of working.

Are there any materials or documents they could be getting stuck into before they join? You may want to talk to them about upcoming projects they’ll be getting involved in so they know what they can expect in their first few weeks and months.

You may also want to ask them to share some fun or interesting facts about themselves that you can share with the rest of your workforce. That way, your team will already know a bit about them. And there may be some common interests that can serve as a good conversation starter when first getting to know them.

2. Introduce the team

During the new employee’s first few days and weeks, managers should be proactive in helping them to make connections with the rest of the team.

If you’re a small business, it may be beneficial to schedule virtual meet and greets with each member of the team. This way the new hire is formally introduced to everybody in person and has the chance to learn about what their particular role is within the company. It will also mean that if they have any questions, they will know who best to turn to depending on what the query is regarding.

Getting them involved on projects and collaborating right away will also help the new employee to feel part of the community. So avoid making the first few days and weeks about pouring over company documents and handbooks. Getting them involved with the team from the get go will help them to feel more connected.

And make sure that when you are having virtual team meetings or one-to-ones, that everyone has their video turned on. This is now accepted as good practice for any virtual meeting. But for new hires, it’s particularly important that they can see the people they’re working with - and that you can see them too.

3. Introduce your company culture

Company culture is key to employee happiness and engagement. But it can be difficult for new employees to get a real feel of your company’s culture when they are working remotely.

Virtual lunches or happy hours, as well as competitions and games are a way to get new employees feeling involved and part of the team.

4. Schedule online training sessions

As an employer or manager, it’s your job to help get the new hire up to speed on your products or services, the type of work you do and the tools you use to do them. This is much simpler when you have them working at your offices. It’s harder to tell how they are finding their way when working remotely.

Scheduling online training sessions with members of the team who can show them the ropes is essential. This way they will get a clear understanding of your products or services and your processes.

Where possible, training should be conducted over a video call, where the team member and new hire can see each other face-to-face. The ability to screen share will also help with walking through tools and software.

5. Check-in daily and weekly

Checking in with new employees on a daily basis might sound like overkill. But there’s no such thing as over-communicating in the first few days and weeks. If you were in the office, you’d have plenty of opportunities for an informal chat about how things are going. Even if just a quick ‘how’s your day been?’ when they’re packing up to go home.

To begin with, every new employee expects to have the opportunity to ask questions and share what’s going well and not so well. They may be unsure of some of the training they’ve been doing or might want to understand the policies or processes a bit better. The nerves that often come with the excitement of a new job also need to be considered.

By scheduling regular one-to-one meetings with their manager, the new employee can share any challenges they are facing or anything that needs attention. Even if there’s little to discuss, just having those sessions in the diary will help to make them feel supported and valued.

Final takeaways

Onboarding remote employees comes with all the same challenges as when onboarding new hires on-site - plus a few more. Key is to think of everything you would normally do when onboarding someone and find a way to do it remotely. It’s also important to try and re-create as much face-to-face interaction as possible.

The first few days, weeks and months in a new role are crucial. Set your new hires up for a positive experience, and you’re more likely to engage and retain them for the long-term.

QES Q2 2020

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