Top Tips for Successfully Onboarding Remote Employees

by Karen McCandless | Published on May 18, 2022

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Learn how to create a smooth process for onboarding remote employees that saves you time and keeps your new hires happy. Read on to learn more.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has made remote working mainstream, the work style has been around for decades. The difference is that now, many companies have shut their offices, or haven’t reopened them yet, and so they can’t invite new hires into their physical locations to meet coworkers or have a look around. All onboarding has to be done remotely.

It may be tempting to use the same methods that you used in the past, but virtual onboarding requires a different approach. Let's take a look at the specifics.

4 steps to onboard remote employees virtually

Let’s look at how you can onboard new hires in a virtual work environment while ensuring that they are set up for success and feel like part of the team.

1. Start onboarding as soon as they accept the job offer (preboarding)

Onboarding doesn’t start on the first day of the job; it should start as soon as the candidate accepts a job offer. This trend now even has a name: preboarding.

Preboarding is crucial when onboarding a new employee virtually as it’s a helpful way to integrate them into the team.

Make sure the process of gathering any paperwork or relevant documents is smooth and easy to understand. Ideally, you should use a self-service portal within your HR software so the candidate can submit documents securely and use e-sign capabilities to sign paperwork remotely.

Introduce the new hire to the team and company before they start so everyone knows who they are and what they will be doing. You want to welcome the new employee to the team just as if you were in a shared office.

Also, until an employee turns up (virtually) on their first day, there is always the possibility that they could get cold feet and back out of the offer. By providing a great preboarding experience, you can make them feel excited about starting the new job rather than anxious.

2. Send a welcome pack

While working remotely in itself can be seen as a perk, you don’t want to treat your new hire any differently from your other employees. Ensure they get the same welcome pack as any employee who starts work in a physical location.

This is also a good way to demonstrate your company’s brand and show the employees how much you care about them. Items to send to your employees as part of your welcome pack can include:

  • A personalized welcome message from the CEO
  • Information about your remote working policies
  • The company handbook
  • Pens
  • Pencils
  • Sticky notes
  • Notebooks
  • T-shirts or other branded clothes
  • A coffee mug
  • Business cards

Education technology company Brainly welcomes its employees with some branded swag along with useful materials, such as a notebook and stationary.

Brainly’s welcome pack for new employees laid out on a desk, including a T-shirt, notebook, and pens.

Brainly provides a welcome pack for all new employees. Image source: Author

3. Test IT systems before the first day

Virtual employees consider different criteria when deciding if they like working at a company and can envisage themselves staying for the long term. One of these factors is technology. When employees are working virtually, having IT systems that support them rather than hinder their progress is crucial.

You also want your new hires to have an enjoyable first few days and weeks at work, rather than battling to set up their laptops or log in to their emails and messaging systems.

Make sure you test that everything works properly and ensure you have logins for all systems set up before a new hire begins.

Also, ensure that there is IT support on hand if the new employee encounters any problems.

4. Check in regularly

It can be harder to garner company loyalty when an employee is working remotely, as they don’t always connect with your values and mission in the same way. You want to show them that you care about them so that they feel the same way about your company.

Don’t just check in after the first day or week. Set regular meetings for months after a virtual employee starts at your company. Make sure they feel comfortable bringing up issues they encounter. You could send them a quick survey before each remote meeting to gauge how satisfied they are feeling with the company and their role.

4 best practices for onboarding remote employees

It's important to think about the best remote onboarding practices to ensure a smooth start for your new hires. These best practices apply to both remote-first companies as well as businesses that are hiring virtually temporarily.

1. Get feedback from your new hires

It’s important to understand whether your remote onboarding process meets the needs of your new hires. Here are some questions you can ask in a post-onboarding survey:

  • Did they get all the information they needed?
  • Did they feel welcomed?
  • Did they get enough time and interactions with their manager, their coworkers, and any other relevant departments?
  • Did they feel supported in their role?
  • Do they need any additional help or information?

2. Train managers in remote onboarding skills

Not all managers are used to working with and onboarding remote employees. If this is the first time they’ve gone through the process, consider providing training to help support them. Managers will want to ensure they have the necessary skills and experience to fully support the new hire and get the best out of them.

This can include areas such as:

  • Tools to use to communicate, whether that is email, Slack, or another platform
  • How often to communicate with your remote employees -- you want them to feel supported but not like you are checking up on them because you don’t trust them
  • How to make sure they feel part of the team -- this is especially important if there is only one member of the team who works remotely
  • How to run performance management reviews remotely and check on the progress of their goals

3. Use HR software to automate the onboarding process

Instead of trying to run the whole process manually, use your HR software to create an employee onboarding checklist and template that you can customize for different departments and roles. That way, you won’t have to start from scratch every time you virtually onboard a new employee, and you can ensure you’ve covered all the bases.

Zoho People allows you to create checklists for both preboarding and onboarding. First, you'll create a Candidate View, which you use to complete all tasks during the talent acquisition process and prior to a candidate’s first day with your company.

Then when a candidate’s start date approaches, you can convert this into the Employee View. This portal, which is accessible both by you and the new hire, provides post-hire information, such as training, work schedule, and links to important documents such as the employee handbook.

Zoho People’s onboarding functionality showing the screen where you create a welcome message.

Zoho People provides both preboarding and onboarding functionality. Image source: Author

4. Personalize the process

Automating the process doesn’t mean that you use the same documentation, process, and approach for all employees. Make sure every step of your online onboarding process is tailored to your new hire.

To do this, you need to get to know your employee before they start working at your company. While you should have gained important information during the recruitment process, you can also send out a short survey to help you form a personalized virtual onboarding process.

Here are some steps to consider:

  • Personalize the documentation to their specific role
  • Match them with a mentor who best suits their personality and skills
  • Customize the steps within the process to match their needs

Remote onboarding is here to stay

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way many companies work, with remote working becoming the norm for those who can work from home. Now that employees know that they can work remotely and still be as productive and contribute as much as when they are in an office, virtual working is here to stay.

If you want to compete for the top talent, then your company needs to offer remote working options. Not everyone will want to work remotely forever and full time, but offering the option is key to attracting and retaining employees. This means that you can’t view a remote onboarding process as a temporary option, something that you can cobble together while you wait to return to normal.

You need to invest in creating a smooth process that makes employees feel supported and loyal to your company, or you will lose out in the hiring battles with your competitors.

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