How to Onboard Employees While Remote

Feb 26, 2021
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The onboarding process is vital to bringing new employees into a business. It helps to set expectations for standards of work, introduces new remote workers to the protocols of the company, and highlights the overall culture which influences the business and its employees. Over decades, the human resources (HR) industry has carefully worked to enhance onboarding procedures, optimizing it as changes occur. 

Yet, over the last year, many more businesses have been faced with new challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies to switch to work from home (WFH) operations to maintain safe distances. Though there have been some inevitable issues, businesses are finding these new onboarding processes so beneficial that the percentage of staff working from home permanently will double this year. This means that HR professionals are having to reassess how they can adjust onboarding procedures to better suit this new way of working.   

Whether your company is adopting remote work permanently or using them as a temporary measure, it’s useful to review how to adjust the onboarding process



An off-the-cuff approach to onboarding remote employees just isn’t going to fly for very long. New hires can tell when there’s an improvised approach to the process. It sends a clear message that their needs haven’t been well considered, which doesn’t give them any reason to be confident about the future relationship. Both the business and employees deserve onboarding processes that are designed to fit the unique challenges and needs of remote work.  

Start by reviewing how the processes, tools, and environment of remote operations are different from those of in-person practices. You may need to redesign operational manuals, add sections that outline the procedures for remote workers, and also set clear expectations for the level of productivity for tasks during onboarding processes. Ascertain what software platforms will need to be utilized for sharing documents, signing paperwork, and initial training. Make sure that these are in place and functioning well in advance of onboarding. 

Create a schedule for the first day. Don’t just try to repurpose the schedule for in-person employees, and inform the new hire on the day that certain aspects — such as being shown around the office — aren’t relevant. This just highlights a lack of care. Show them that you’ve considered issues such as guiding them through software, and video call introductions with key members of the team. Ensure that there are a couple of check-ins to make sure everything is running smoothly for them. Providing this timeline a few days ahead of day one gives new remote workers the confidence that the process is well planned and they are being taken care of. 

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Remote operations live or die by the quality of the communications practices. It’s not just about having the right tools in place — although that is important — it’s also about the protocols and culture that put internal communication at the forefront. As such, it needs to feature in your remote onboarding process.  

Start by setting the expectations for how contacts of communication are undertaken. Before the start date, provide new remote workers with links or downloads to the communications tool that is used throughout the company, and begin the first day with a video call via that platform. This does more than ensure that they are technologically well prepared to start working. It also allows HR professionals to guide remote employees through how these tools are used for specific tasks, how to interact with other software and address any concerns or questions. Introduce them to the more casual chat rooms that allow for socialization and forging bonds with colleagues. These are more tangible demonstrations of how communications fit into the business.     

There should also be formal outlines of remote communications’ role in the company that the new employee can refer to regularly. Make it clear in onboarding documents how contacts should be undertaken — what types of circumstances require what type of communication — and how frequently they should occur. Be sure not to just issue this documentation, but also talk them through it and reiterate its importance. If you are utilizing text chat platforms, it can also be wise to pin a line explaining the purpose of a channel to the top of the relevant space.   

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It’s important to recognize that onboarding is as much about providing sufficient support, as it is about getting all the relevant paperwork taken care of. In-person workplaces have the advantage of physically present HR personnel, and colleagues in the same room that can help new hires when they have questions. Remote operations on the other hand can feel slightly isolating to new employees, so you need to make additional efforts to ensure that they have access to the support they need.  

Try to predict the practical needs that your remote employees may have — talk to them about how they can obtain office equipment and additional tech tools that can help them to perform their tasks from home. Use this discussion to invite requests or negotiations in this regard, and even when there are limitations on what the company is willing to provide, highlight what is available to them as alternative support. Introduce them to the various training programs that are available to them; don’t just provide options strictly for required modules Also, allow them to access courses on topics such as communication and other soft skills. This shows that the business encourages them to develop the skills they need the most in this remote environment.    

Provide them with a full list of who the different departmental members of staff are, and how they can be contacted should there be any queries. Whenever possible, make video introductions to all the relevant figures the new hire will need for assistance. This way, they can put a friendly and supportive face to the list of names they were given.

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Remote operations are still new for many businesses and employees. HR professionals can help build a positive remote culture by creating a robust and relevant onboarding system. With preparation, a focus on communication, and prioritizing support, there are incredible opportunities to build effective workplaces in the digital space.   

About Author: This article is written by a marketing team member at HR Cloud. HR Cloud is a leading provider of proven HR solutions, including recruiting, onboarding, employee communications & engagement, and rewards & recognition. Our user-friendly software  increases employee productivity, delivers time and cost savings, and minimizes compliance risk.

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