How to Succeed in Remote Onboarding

Starting at a new organization comes with a lot of emotions—excitement, nervousness, joy, angst, and doubt (to name a few). It’s a bundle of emotions that unravels as the onboarding process starts – a face hiring managers need to remember. The onboarding process – especially remote onboarding – heavily dictates whether dread or excitement dominates the feelings as a new employee settles. 

Onboarding new hires remotely comes with special considerations, cautions, and best practices. It’s also critically important to the retention, satisfaction, and overall health of a well-functioning organization. 

Turnover can cost up to 200% of an employee’s annual salary, depending on the role, according to an article by Harvard Business Review. A number of factors contribute to high turnover rates, but it all begins with that first impression provided during the onboarding experience. According to a study by SHRM, “69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding.”

How an employee is onboarded—the support and training they go through—sets the tone for their experience at the company. Will they want to work hard, earn the respect of their team members, and be promoted to a managerial role someday? Or, will they grit their teeth, count the hours, and collect the paycheck until they move on to the next job? 

Remote Onboarding, Not Overwhelming

Good onboarding is not about coming up with the trendiest new virtual scavenger hunt. It shouldn’t hinge on a paintball battle with the hiring manager in an abandoned warehouse. It’s not about a futuristic swag bag or a goofy Slack intro. Sure those things can be fun. But it’s sprinkling glitter on a cowpie if you neglect the prerequisites of onboarding. If the focus is on big splashy events, if it’s organized around enhancing the companies’ reputation for being “cool and hip,” it will certainly miss the mark. 

Far too often, organizations place too much focus on the “wow” factor and too little effort in getting folks’ feet squarely beneath them. A solid and comfortable onboarding experience should feel more like a well-planned and outfitted fishing trip with experienced and welcoming anglers than being thrown into a deepsea fishing excursion… during a storm… with strangers. If your onboarding experience has room for improvement, let’s right the ship. 

5 Remote Onboarding Best Practices: 

1. Share Values 

The best place to start the onboarding process is from a birds-eye view. As early as you can, include a welcome session focused on the organization’s mission, vision, and values. Don’t take it as a given that your newest hires know what the heartbeat of the company is. They’ll not only appreciate being informed, but they’ll also feel more motivated when their work is immediately connected to a greater purpose. 

2. Be Intentional With Employee Policies and Handbook

It would certainly be easier to send over as an email attachment and say “go over this.” However, a thoughtful and complete onboarding process should thoroughly cover these pieces. Whether the hiring managers or a team of peers, someone should walk new employees through these aspects of their employment. Not only are there going to be questions that inevitably come up, taking the time to walk a new employee through this demonstrates a desire to keep them around. If you don’t want your employees to see a position as a mere stepping-stone (or worse, paycheck), lead by example. Show them your commitment to their full understanding and to their future. 

3. Use the Right Communication and Workflow Platforms 

Every organization communicates differently. After a few months of using a new tool, it’s easy to forget how foreign the landscape seemed when you first joined the fray. Make sure you take the time to explain exactly when to use each platform or tool and where to find important information. 

The way teams and organizations communicate and track progress on projects is largely unique to them. So, make the point to explain the intricacies in detail to new hires. Lastly, create a safe space for getting things wrong in the first few months. Set the expectation that they will get things wrong, and that it’s no big deal. Allow them to ask questions, learn from mistakes, and grow into full understanding.

4. Name Expectations and What Success Looks Like:

It’s human nature to want to be good at your job. However, what a “good job” looks like for a particular role is often a crucial missing piece of the remote onboarding process. Hiring managers often get so wrapped up in explaining how things work that they forget to clearly express the ultimate goal of a particular role. That can lead to new hires showing up at meetings, engaging on slack, contributing to brainstorms, and being active for months—without really ever knowing if they’re doing a good job. Set clear expectations with measurable outcomes. As a result, every new hire will have the autonomy to measure their own work against an objective standard. 

5. Utilize Team Building 

Last but not least, have a paintball war in an abandoned warehouse! Only joking, but some (hopefully less intense) form of early team building is incredibly important. You want your newest employees to know that you see them as three-dimensional people. Provide opportunities for them (and their new colleagues) to share interests, sense of identity, and true self at work. But, especially early on—employees need an invitation to do this. Set this standard as a hiring manager early in an employee’s experience. This will vastly improve their first impression of their new employer.

The Most Common Onboarding Mistake

It’s simple: don’t overwhelm new hires. 

According to an article by SHRM, “Instead of using the experience as an opportunity to connect emotionally with new hires, HR professionals often overwhelm them with boatloads of materials and information at the new employee orientation.” 

Despite your best efforts to go slow and pace the process, it’s almost inevitable that your most common feedback from new employees will be that they feel overwhelmed. Hiring managers: you don’t want to cram all onboarding activities into the first week, wish them luck, and then watch them drown. It’s easy to fall off the boat in a storm! 

There are new people, new platforms, new passwords, new policies—new everything, so it’s natural that the experience will feel like A LOT. Knowing that feeling “overwhelmed” will likely be a response to getting onboarded, what are some things a thoughtful manager can do? 

  1. Firstly, call it out up top. In the first meeting, layout the process and the pace of onboarding. Remind everyone that pauses will be necessary and create space for the new hire to take breaks whenever they need.
  1. Secondly, use as much async communication as possible. For remote work especially: less Zoom. Please. Async work, like a short async video platform, allows for more individualized workflows with greater time to process, reflect, and learn at your own speed.

Don’t Forget, it Should be Fun: 

We’ll say it again: onboarding should be fun. and stabilizing process, even at a fully remote organization. Use fun and engaging async work platforms to accomplish as many of the pieces of onboarding as possible and save people time. Async short video communication is bound to reduce any pressure or “overwhelmed” feelings. It creates space for the new team member to engage at their own speed throughout remote onboarding. It will also naturally lead that new employee to really feel like they’re “getting to know the team” through the magic of video. If you don’t want them to get “zoomed out” or easily overwhelmed, don’t schedule too many video calls.

Hiring managers must make a plan, organize the pieces of your onboarding, pick out the right tools (async when possible) and bring your newest hires into a friendly comfortable space—a fishing boat with buddies if you will. As the SHRM article goes on to say, [onboarding] offers an imprinting window when you can make an impression that stays with new employees for the duration of their careers. Make the impression one that inspires and connects your entire remote team, from wherever they might be around the world.

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