Remote employees have gone from being the exception to becoming a major part of the workforce. In fact, a Gallup survey in June of 2022 found that 8 in 10 people are working hybrid or remote - making them the majority of most companies’ cultures. With a larger population working remotely, there's been a change in how companies onboard new employees. Since effective onboarding improves retention and many employees feel like companies don't do a a great job with onboarding or focus too much on paperwork, it's time to turn onboarding - especially remote onboarding - around and make it people-focused.

Who are remote employees, and what is onboarding?

Let’s start with the basics. Remote employees are those workers who don’t come into the office on a regular basis - sometimes ever. Their work is primarily completed outside of the office. This means they can either live down the street from HQ or on the other side of the globe. One important thing to note is just because an employee is working remotely doesn’t mean they are any less productive. In fact, two-thirds of workers feel more productive when working remotely

Onboarding is the process by which new hires are integrated into a company. It typically includes activities that allow new employees to complete an initial orientation process, as well as meet other employees (both new and tenured) and learn about the mission of the company and its structure, culture, and values. Prior to the pandemic, most employee onboarding happened in the office (even when the employee was remote), but with the rise of remote work came the rise of remote onboarding.

Smart companies have changed the way they orient new employees by working together with remote employees to find out what they need. Dell hosts all onboarding materials on a dedicated website, including documentation, videos, and a success team available via chat and email. Stack Overflow sets up calls between new hires and the company's executives to hear the company story firsthand and open the door for questions. These remote onboarding processes can ease the transition of joining a new team for remote new hires. It can also help encourage the feeling of support and camaraderie - something that we consistently see proximity bias tear down

If you’re looking to implement some back practices for onboarding remote employees, look no further. Here are some strategies you can implement before, during, and after orientation, and a remote onboarding checklist that will encourage a sense of community among your individual remote workers, improve new employee happiness, and reduce turnover.

1. Start early

Ever heard of ‘the early bird gets the worm’? Well, it’s the same case for remote onboarding. The first few days of a new remote employee's time at a company can be stressful. Between meeting new colleagues and company acronyms - there’s a lot to learn. One way to combat this is to start them early. At Owl Labs, where we work in a hybrid format (with about 60% of employees based remotely), we add new employees to team Slack groups and send them information about company culture and projects they'll be working on - ahead of time. Other ways to involve new hires before their start date include: sending training videos or a link to get some swag, setting them up with a mentor, or directing them to your social media channels to get them jazzed to get started.

2. Get employees online ASAP

For remote workers, all connections to their team and company culture are built through a screen. Without access to the right tools in the virtual workplace, i.e., messaging apps (Slack and Microsoft Teams), video conferencing software (Zoom and Google Meet), and other apps and tools, new hires will feel like they are cut off from asking questions and getting familiar with the flow of the team. Start orientation with IT set up early on to get your new team members their passwords and access right off the bat.

And remember, you need to be sure your office has the right setup in both the virtual and physical workplace. Just because remote employees don’t come into the office doesn’t mean you don’t need to outfit it with the right video conferencing hardware.

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3. Provide a central spot for company culture tips + employee documentation

Be sure all existing employee documentation is digitized and hosted on a company intranet for easy access. Many companies use an intranet or internal wiki to maintain digital documentation of projects, successes, failures, and culture outside of day-to-day operations  (at Owl Labs, we use Notion).

Intranets are also a great place to store information about company culture. Understanding how a company operates is critical to any employee’s success. Having this information in an easy-to-access location can be helpful for both in-office and remote employees alike.

4. Create a sense of belonging

In the latest State of Hybrid Work: US Report, we found that 58% of workers find it hard to fit into my company's workplace culture when working remotely. Many remote workers feel isolated and like they don’t know where to turn for feedback, questions, and checking in.  

To combat this loneliness, some employers add all new employees to a Slack channel where they provide new hire instructional materials and then encourage collaboration amongst new hires to complete the tasks. This helps remote employees meet coworkers right away. Others assign either a mentor or a peer "orientation buddy" who they can go to with any questions and grow and learn together. In fact, buddy programs boost new hire proficiency.

5. Provide an individualized remote onboarding plan with video check-ins + goals

Remote employees look forward to concrete goals and an opportunity for one-on-one face time with their manager. Employees with proper support during onboarding are 54% more productive as new hires

Don't let support end after the first week. Try creating a 30/60/90-day plan with action items and goals for each milestone. This can be a living document and grow and change with the employee. Then, set up weekly video conferencing calls with remote hires to ensure they have a space to talk through their goals, how things are progressing, and if there are any roadblocks in their way.

6. Initiate professional development + personal growth from the start

Training and development are essential factors in any job. In 2023, 63% of workers said their company trained employees on how to hold effective and inclusive hybrid meetings, which is a huge win for remote workers. But training isn’t only for in-office employees.

For remote workers, provide opportunities for new hires to access online courses during or after orientation and a stipend for the personal and professional development of their choosing. These opportunities will extend well beyond remote onboarding.

7. Encourage collaborative learning

When new employees have to work as a group to complete a case study or group project during onboarding, it forges bonds and introduces team members, but it can also be an opportunity to cross-train teams. Have a new sales rep work with a marketer and a support team member throughout orientation so they later have contacts in other departments. This can go a long way toward fostering a stronger company culture as well.

Remote employee onboarding checklist

  1. Send new employees links to company culture articles, videos, and links to order swag. If you are providing any hardware, make sure you are prepared for it to arrive early so your employee can be ready for orientation.
  2. Schedule an individual or group orientation via video conferencing call and review your company mission and values. Provide a meeting agenda ahead of time and send a digital copy of your employee handbook and any onboarding documentation they may need. 
  3. Assign your new employee both a mentor and an orientation buddy and have them set up a time for a video call.
  4. Give new employees time to review videos, documents, internal wiki, etc.
  5. Schedule a human resources orientation. This is where your new employees can digitally sign any HR documents, learn about benefits, and set up any accounts they may need access to.
  6. Host a communication orientation with IT where new hires are given tools and passwords, are added to relevant Slack or messaging groups, email access, and open time to help get acquainted with any new software they'll be using.
  7. Hold a team orientation and provide new teammates with links to all team documents, an organization chart, relevant contact information, team calendars, and anything else your team uses on a daily basis.
  8. Have a product, sales, or service rep (or all three!) review what exactly it is that your company does or sells in a product/service orientation. Make sure to leave time for new employees to ask questions about the inner workings of your service, pricing, and the history of your product.
  9. Encourage feedback throughout the onboarding process. Your remote employees can tell you exactly where you can improve for your next group of new hires.
  10. Create an individual 30/60/90-day onboarding plan with video check-ins and goals.
  11. Introduce your new hires to everyone on the team. Set up video coffee chats or use Donut, a Slack app.
  12. Conduct role-specific training. Make sure your new hire has the contact information and a video meeting with anyone they'll be working with or interacting with regularly during the onboarding process. Provide training and any necessary certifications for anyone new to the field or position.


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