Workplace training

13 minute read

How to Onboard Remote Employees (and Keep Them Around for the Long Haul)

Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

With the COVID-19 outbreak in full effect, employees around the world are being encouraged to work from home (WFH) to prevent further spread of the virus. 

So how can you make onboarding remote employees more manageable amidst the chaos?

Whether your company is transitioning to remote work temporarily due to the coronavirus, or you're planning on regularly onboarding virtual team members, here are eight essential tips to help you get your team up to speed with minimal disruptions.

Seriously...effective onboarding matters 

You’re bringing on a new hire. Their skills were a perfect match for the job description, they’re enthusiastic about your company’s mission, and you’re confident that they’ll become a positive and productive part of your team.

But, before they get there, you need to tackle this daunting hurdle: onboarding. 

Onboarding is the process that you go through to equip brand new employees with the knowledge and resources they need to thrive within your organization and succeed in their jobs. From enrolling them in benefits to training them on your software, the onboarding process exists to get them established and up to speed. 

Needless to say, it’s a big task—which means it can be pretty daunting for employers. And, that’s especially true when you’re bringing a remote employee onto your team. That lack of regular in-person contact can leave employers feeling clueless. But even worse? It can leave your new employees feeling lost and forgotten.

Benefits of effective onboarding

As challenging as it can be, onboarding remote employees successfully offers a lot of benefits for your organization—from boosted employee satisfaction to a stronger culture.

However, the core benefit of an effective onboarding process can be boiled down to this one word: retention.

As surprising as it might seem, up to 20% of employee turnover happens within the first 45 days of employment. The last thing you want when you’re excited about a new hire is to send them running for the hills right away, right? Here’s the good news: 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experience great onboarding.

Put simply, a great onboarding process sets the right tone with your remote employees, makes them feel empowered in their new roles (despite the fact they aren’t sitting side-by-side with your team), and encourages them to stick around beyond those challenging first few days. 

But unfortunately, a lot of companies still drop the ball when it comes to getting new team members up to speed. According to research by Gallup, only 12% of employees strongly agreed that their employers did a solid job of onboarding new hires.

woman-working-from-home-onboarding-remote-employees

8 key tips for onboarding remote employees

If the statistics are any indication, nailing the onboarding process seems to be more the exception than the rule. So, how do you become one of those companies who makes the most of that fragile period and shows new employees exactly why you’re a great place to work? 

GoSkills is a 100% remote online training company, and we like to think we know a thing or two about onboarding. We’re dishing out eight tips for onboarding virtual team members effectively.

Because here’s the truth: They don’t need to be in the office in order to have a great experience. 

1. Start the process early

When a new employee is getting started in a traditional office environment, they have the added benefit of reassurance all around them. They’re surrounded by coworkers who can quickly answer their questions. Their boss or the HR department is usually only a few steps away. There are people within arm’s reach who can provide instant guidance. 

That’s not the case with remote employees. Their first day is going to involve being totally alone in front of their computer—and you don’t want them feeling left in the dark about what they need or how they should get started.

For that reason, it’s smart to start the onboarding process early so that you can make sure they have everything they require on their very first day. Get their logins, email address, and other necessary accounts set up ahead of time so that they can jump right in without wondering who they should get in touch with (and how!). 

Additionally, if you’re able to get any paperwork—from emergency contact information to benefit enrollment forms—to them ahead of time, that’s helpful too. 

By getting that done early, they can dedicate more time on their first day to actual team-centric and on-the-job tasks, as opposed to those administrative responsibilities. You can use a platform like DocuSign or HelloSign to easily send them the paperwork and collect any signatures you need. 

2. Stage a warm welcome

You aren’t all colocated, which means digging into some first day donuts or heading out for a team lunch probably isn’t a realistic possibility. But, that doesn’t mean that you still can’t make your new hire feel welcome

Get creative here. Maybe you’ll send some company swag or have everybody on your team mail their favorite candy to your newest hire as a sweet surprise. Or, perhaps you can create some sort of funny welcome video that features your whole team.

Think of this as not only a chance to bring new hires into the fold with open arms, but also for your whole team to institute a fun tradition together! 

69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experience great onboarding

3. Make the employee’s points of contact clear

Anybody who’s started a new job before will tell you that they quickly identify their go-to person. It’s typically someone who is super friendly and accommodating, and you end up approaching that colleague first with all of your questions—from where the coffee filters are to how you should fill out your expense report.

When you have a remote team or even just a few remote employees, it’s far more challenging to know who to approach with questions or points of confusion. In those cases, way too many remote employees keep their mouths shut and miss out on important information or direction they need.

You can help solve this problem by making points of contact painfully clear for your new remote hires. Is there one person they should approach with every question? Let them know. Are different people better choices for certain subjects? Make that obvious to them with something like this:

  • Questions about your role or responsibilities should be directed to: Jenny
  • Questions about company processes and procedures should be directed to: Matthew
  • Questions about technical glitches and software should be directed to: Claire
  • Questions about everything else should be directed to: Desmond (when in doubt, he can point you in the right direction!)

Being this explicit means you’ll empower your new hires to actually seek out the information they need, without feeling like pests. Plus, it’ll save a lot of hassle and confusion among your other team members as well—because everybody knows where in the process they fit. 

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4. Go beyond the keyboard

As technology has continued to advance, a large portion of our workplace communication now happens via the written word—think things like emails, instant messages, reports, memos, meeting summaries, and more.

This type of communication is convenient, but it doesn’t give your new remote employees a chance to interact face-to-face with your team and understand who’s who.

So, make sure that you set up some video chats as part of your onboarding process too. Whether it’s a meeting with your entire team or some personal video conversations with each team member, provide ample opportunity for them to actually see and speak with the people they’ll be collaborating with.

Oh, and if you have the chance to get your whole team together in-person? That can greatly contribute to your culture and team bonds. It’s why so many thriving remote companies (like Buffer, as just one example) make sure to meet up at least once per year.

5. Familiarize them with your culture 

In a typical office environment, new hires learn a lot about your company’s cultural norms by simply observing. 

If they see everybody working until 6PM each night, they assume that’s the expectation and they do the same. If they notice that people raise their hands to speak in team meetings, they’ll adopt a similar approach themselves.

Unfortunately, observation isn’t quite so easy in a remote environment, which can make it challenging to understand the norms of your company culture. 

One of the best ways to get them familiarized with these not-so-tangible elements is to use a buddy system, where you match them with a more established employee who can serve as an informal guide. This person will be their resource for any questions they have—big or small—about why things are done a certain way at your company.

These types of relationships really do pay off. According to a report from Human Capital Institute, 52% of respondents said that they use an ambassador or buddy program—and 45% of those said that the program was either moderately (27%) or extremely effective (18%) for speeding up proficiency of new hires.

6. Provide role-specific training

From tackling the benefit enrollment process to acknowledging receipt of the employee handbook, a lot of the employee onboarding process covers some pretty high-level stuff. And, ultimately, most of that is knowledge that’s not going to be super useful to your employees on a daily basis. 

You don’t want to get so caught up in those bigger picture things that you leave your new employees wondering the most important question of all: how the heck do they do their jobs?

Make sure that your onboarding process includes plenty of on-the-job, role-specific training.

Make sure that your onboarding process includes plenty of on-the-job, role-specific training that helps them understand the intricacies of their normal tasks and responsibilities. If you have a large enough team, allowing them to job shadow someone in a similar position can help give them a better grasp of what a typical day will look like for them. 

Not only does this ultimately lead to better informed employees, but it can also help reduce turnover by making sure they’re clear on what their role entails. A survey by Jobvite looked at professionals who have left a job within 90 days. 43% stated that it’s because their day-to-day role wasn’t what they expected. 

Want an easy way to get new team members up to speed on the skills they’ll need to do their jobs? Check out the GoSkills LMS to offer tailored online courses that are educational and engaging.

7. Get yourself organized

One of the most important things you can remember is that successful onboarding is your responsibility—it’s not the responsibility of your employees. You’re the one leading the process, and you need to have your ducks in a row in order to do it well.

There’s a lot involved here (in fact, the average new hire experience includes a whopping 54 activities), so it’s imperative that you put systems and tools in place to stay organized.

Using onboarding software (for example, BambooHR is a popular one) can help you streamline the process. 

Additionally, create a simple checklist to help you make sure you cross your t’s and dot your i’s whenever you bring a new employee onto your team. It doesn’t need to be anything complicated—just something that will help you remember the tasks that can otherwise fall through the cracks. 

woman-taking-a-break-onboarding-remote-employees

8. Remember that onboarding extends past the first week 

How long does the onboarding period last? A day? A few days? A week? 

The majority of organizations stop their onboarding processes after just one week. But here’s the thing: That isn’t nearly long enough. 

Starting a new job is intimidating, especially when you’re doing it remotely. To ease some of this pressure and anxiety, you need to be prepared to engage with and support that employee for at least the first 90 days (remember, that’s when the majority of turnover happens) as they get more comfortable with your team and get adjusted to their new role. 

Do this by scheduling regular check-ins when you can connect about questions, confusion, progress, and more. Keeping those lines of communication open will help your employee feel like a supported member of your team for the long haul—rather than somebody you got through the door and then threw to the wolves. 

Employee onboarding isn’t easy, but it’s important

Tackling the onboarding process for your new employees (especially your remote employees!) is intimidating at best. But, figuring out how to refine your process is crucial for ensuring that you provide the right information and set the right tone.

Use the tips we’ve outlined here, and you’re that much closer to an onboarding process that shows your remote employees why your company is a great place to work and gives them everything they need to be productive and happy members of your team for the long haul.  

After all, when they succeed, you succeed. Talk about a win-win! 

Simplify your onboarding process with the GoSkills LMS. Quickly get your new hires up to speed and give them the effective skills training they need to succeed, with easy to understand reporting and analytics. 

Check out the GoSkills LMS today for free.

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Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

Kat is a writer specializing in career, self-development, and productivity topics. When she escapes her computer, she enjoys reading, hiking, golfing, and dishing out tips for prospective freelancers on her website.

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