Onboarding employees plays a major part in employee retention, satisfaction, and engagement. New hires who understand their tasks, have the tools to get them done, and communicate openly with team members tend to make happier, more productive workers.
And that’s not limited to in-office staff, either. Just because a new employee works remotely doesn’t mean that you can’t make their first few weeks at your company welcoming and inclusive. However, you may need to make some adjustments to your existing onboarding process to make it relevant to employees who work from home or farther afield.
How to Onboard Remote Employees
There are many different ways to make remote employees feel like part of your team, even from across the country or halfway around the world. Here are some of the ways you can make sure your new remote hires feel confident, included, and prepared.
1. Make an Onboarding Checklist
Before you do anything else, make an onboarding checklist. This should cover everything from the material you need to send to your new hire to each meeting that needs to be arranged.
Have a solid idea of what your new hire’s first day, week, and month will look like, and provide them with everything they will need to be successful from day one. Although this will involve a lot of planning, it’s part of a larger retention strategy that will help your employees to feel more satisfied and supported in their roles.
Using a checklist will ensure that you don’t miss any important onboarding steps and that you make a good impression on your new employee.
2. Get Input From Other Remote Hires
If you manage other remote workers, ask for input about their onboarding experience with your company. They may have useful suggestions about how to better communicate with remote workers, organize workflow, or provide training.
Your onboarding strategy should continuously evolve with each new hire, so make sure you keep it flexible and stay open to any advice or tips that your employees have to offer. This is especially useful to startups that are just beginning to develop a hiring process or onboarding strategy.
3. Handle Hardware in Advance
If you provide hardware to your employees, such as a laptop, keyboard, mouse, or headset, make sure you send it to your new employee before their first day. After all, if they don’t have it in advance, how are they supposed to do any work?
Whenever possible, ask whether your new hire prefers Mac or PC. Becoming familiar with a new operating system can be time-consuming and frustrating, and may cause your new employee to make mistakes or take longer to complete a task.
If the position requires specific hardware — like a laptop with a high-resolution screen for a design position or extra processing power for someone working with videos — take that into consideration.
If you can, let your new hire be part of the conversation about which hardware they’ll be using, especially if the quality of the laptop or equipment will affect their role. If you’re bringing on someone like a programmer, designer, or video specialist, ask them what brand and model of computer they would prefer to use.
You also have the option of giving new employees a hardware budget and allowing them to choose and purchase their own laptop or computer. Just make sure you make it clear that the equipment they buy with your budget has to be returned to the company or paid for when their employment ends.
If you offer other home office furniture or supplies like a desk and chair, or even a home office spending budget, make sure that your new hire is aware of it. Be clear about any limitations or rules so that they know what’s OK and what isn’t.
4. Set Up Software
Every remote employee needs some kind of software to do their job. While some will only need the basics, others will need more specific programs. You can divide software and applications into two categories: company-based and role-based. Company-based software is made up of programs and applications your entire team uses to communicate and plan projects. Role-based software consists of applications and programs specific to your new employee’s position.
Company-based software can include programs like:
- Communications and messaging tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams
- Project management applications like Asana and Trello
- Video meeting applications like Zoom and Google Meet
- Time tracking software like Harvest
- Microsoft Office
- Google Drive
- Antivirus/security subscriptions
Role-specific software depends on the role your new remote worker is in but can include apps and programs like:
Don’t forget to include login usernames and passwords when onboarding remote employees. It can help to create a company email address for your new hire and have all account-related emails, documentation, and instructions sent there to keep them all in one place.
Make sure to set up subscriptions and create new accounts before your remote employee’s start date. No one wants to be held up by waiting for account confirmation emails and going back and forth with a manager about accessing onboarding documents or basic software. Set yourself and your employee up for success by having everything prepared in advance.
5. Update Remote Onboarding Documentation
Onboarding documents help new employees to learn about your company’s unique processes and preferences. They also act as a resource that new hires can refer to when they are unsure of how to do something or want to confirm a standard procedure.
Remote employees don’t have the benefit of learning from their coworkers in the same way that in-office employees do. While it’s easy to ask a peer to explain how to enter your hours when they’re in the cubicle next to you, it’s harder for a remote employee because they don’t have the same initial face-to-face connections with team members. That’s why detailed, extensive documentation can be so helpful in a remote team.
Create clear, easy-to-read instructions for everyday tasks and processes, and update them every time you hire a new employee. Cover everything from setting up communications applications and work-related accounts to taking time off and calling in sick. New jobs often come with a lot of uncertainty, especially when you can’t ask team members questions face to face, so providing detailed instructions can help to reassure remote workers and give them clarity about processes and procedures unique to your team.
6. Personalize and Prepare HR Documents
Human resources documents have to be filled out by every employee you add to your company, whether it’s a virtual office or physical location. Make sure to prepare the following documents, if relevant, before your new remote hire’s first day:
- Employee handbook
- Employment contract
- Payment and direct deposit information
- Nondisclosure or confidentiality agreement
- Health insurance and other benefit details
- Retirement contribution setup forms and employer match details
- Stock and share plan details
Review HR documents together in a video meeting to make sure that your new employee understands which ones are optional to complete, which are required, and when you’d like them to be completed by.
7. Assign a Work Buddy to Onboard Remote Employees
Work buddies are great for in-office and remote employees alike. Ideally, you want to choose someone who is in a similar role to your new hire and who has been or will be working on similar projects. This enables them to walk your remote employee through specific processes and procedures and to train them on new projects.
The new hire’s work buddy should be someone who has been with your company long enough to know the ropes and who has a friendly and welcoming personality. Choose someone who represents your company well and who you feel confident will be able to teach and onboard your new hire remotely while making them feel like they’re a part of the team.
Make sure to introduce the new employee to their work buddy early in the first week and facilitate a video meeting between them so that your new hire knows who to go to for questions and assistance.
8. Create an Onboarding Communication Channel
Another way to encourage your new employee to ask questions and clarify information about remote work is to create a communication channel specifically for onboarding them. This could be through Slack or whichever communication platform you prefer that allows for threads or channels.
Add relevant team members, like your new hire’s manager, work buddy, and HR representative, and invite your new remote employee to use the channel whenever they need assistance or clarification.
You can also use this channel to send and store onboarding documents and instructional videos if you have them.
9. Set Up Team Meetings for New Team Members
Even if you can’t meet in person to onboard remote employees, having team members meet each other is still important. A lot of hiring managers make the mistake of letting team members schedule their own meetings with new employees, but in the first week, it’s better to set them up yourself.
For example, schedule meetings with your new employee and:
- Their direct supervisor or manager to discuss expectations, goals, and projects
- An HR representative to review your employee handbook and employment documents
- The IT department to help with hardware and software setups
- Their work buddy to meet the person who will handle hands-on training
- Members of their team or department so they can put faces to names
- Anyone else they’ll be working with closely or regularly so that they feel comfortable messaging them
Tips for Remote Onboarding Meetings
Follow these steps to ensure new employees get the most out of their remote onboarding meeting.
- Plan out specific training sessions for proprietary software, project overviews, and walkthroughs for any communication tools relevant to your new employee’s work.
- Encourage activities for team meetings, like icebreakers and games. Although they can feel a bit awkward at first, they can help to make everyone feel like they’re part of a larger team.
- Schedule multiple check-ins. These can be through messaging, over the phone, or using a video call. Remote employees may find it harder to know who to talk to about issues or questions about company policies or systems. Encouraging an open line of communication and offering opportunities for new hires to ask questions can make a big difference in how welcome and accepted they feel.
- Use calendars to schedule meetings so that new remote hires can plan their days without having to worry about impromptu meetings and figuring out time zones.
- Spread meetings out over the course of a few days or even weeks. Don’t plan entire days of video conferences with multiple people from different departments. This can be exhausting for new hires and may keep them from absorbing important information.
- Make sure to tell your new hire how you plan to meet and what is appropriate. Some workplaces prefer video chats while others prefer phone calls. Make sure to let your new hire know whether video is optional, even when using video conferencing software, since some employers aren’t picky about whether cameras are on.
10. Use Company Culture as Part of the Onboarding Experience
Even remote workplaces have company culture — they just showcase it differently. The work environment that you create speaks to your core values and mission as a company, and how you communicate and collaborate can influence how you are perceived by remote employees.
Some online workplaces use fun Slack channels to give employees a way to interact with coworkers outside of work conversations. For example, a water cooler channel can encourage casual conversations and camaraderie between employees who otherwise don’t communicate beyond project details.
Try creating some Interest-based or casual communication channels and encourage employees to participate. This could be random conversations about which coffee beans are the best to buy or a weekly haiku writing challenge.
Remote Work Hours and Flexibility
The expectations that you have about flexible hours, work-life balance, and time off should all be included in your onboarding program as well. With remote work, how rigid you are about working within different time zones can speak to your company culture.
For example, if you have an employee who is in a time zone ahead of your own, do you expect them to adjust their hours to reflect when the majority of your employees are available? Or, can they choose their own hours regardless of their time zone?
Different employers handle remote work in a variety of ways, so it’s important to communicate your expectations and provide guidelines early on so that your new hire isn’t left feeling out of the loop.
Employees who work from home sometimes have a harder time separating their work and personal lives, so be clear about breaks, expected availability, and how they should handle after-hours messages and emails.
Be Creative About Team Building
Just because your team isn’t all in the same physical location doesn’t mean that you can’t encourage team building.
You can help to foster relationships and fun by hosting optional activities and events, scheduling simple team check-in meetings, and prompting casual conversations about interests and hobbies.
For example, even though an employee works remotely, they can still participate in holiday activities or contests through video chats and contribute to digital games and conversations. Mix in group and individual activities so that employees can get to know one another.
Try to be creative about how you motivate and engage remote employees so that they feel involved and accepted.
Welcome Packages and Company Swag
The first day at a new job for a remote worker can feel a little strange. They aren’t setting up a new office or having lunch with their team members, so it can take them longer to feel like part of the team. To help speed this process along and help your new hire to feel welcome and appreciated, send them a company gift box with some basics.
A lot of companies who send out welcome packages include items like:
- A welcome letter or card from a manager, CEO, or founder
- A company T-shirt or hat
- A branded coffee mug, thermos, or water bottle
- Basic office supplies like pens, notepads, and USB drives
- Reusable bags
- A PopSocket
- A book
- Snacks or candies
- Coffee or tea
Some companies even send new remote hires a personalized gift based on their interests or profession, like a magazine subscription or gift card.
The most important thing to do when onboarding remote employees is to be prepared. From determining hardware and software requirements to scheduling meetings and team-building activities, how much effort you put into planning for your new hire will directly affect how welcome, engaged, and included they feel at your company.
Spend time putting together a well-rounded and comprehensive remote onboarding plan to boost employee retention, get a reputation as a competitive employer, and help remote employees feel like they’re an important part of your team.