February 23, 2021 by Andrea Rajic

A Guide to Onboarding Remote Employees

In today’s work environment, it is highly likely that any new knowledge workers you hire are going to be working remotely some, if not all, of the time. You need to make sure they feel welcome and part of the company on day one, so here are a few things to keep in mind to get them up and running quickly.

Why is onboarding remote employees difficult?

First, let’s start by clearing up the misconception that remote onboarding is difficult. It’s not difficult; it’s just different. Remote onboarding differs from traditional onboarding merely because colleagues are not sitting together in an office. Consequently, integrating a new employee into a remote team has to be done a little more proactively and intentionally. It means the company has to be a little more rigorous in its systems and processes and managers and team members have to be a little more mindful and deliberate in their efforts to bring the new employee into the fold.

Because the onboarding experience largely shapes the first impression of a new team member’s feelings about the company and their perception of its inner workings, make sure to design this process carefully. Ensure the employee is supported throughout the experience, so the first impression is a good one. When done well, a smooth remote onboarding can facilitate a long, productive working relationship that keeps everyone satisfied.


What is remote onboarding?

As teams become even more distributed across the globe, ensuring new employees are connected and empowered to do their best work wherever they are located is essential. They can’t be dependent on their colleagues' goodwill to help them get acclimated or reliant on the haphazard, piecemeal dissemination of information; hence, organizations need to put in place formal remote onboarding processes that welcome and integrate new team members into the company and its workflows.

These processes should ensure everyone has the tools and information they need to do their job, regardless of their location. They often contain steps that range from the most mundane to the most innovative aspects of work, from setting up a working email address to initiating a team-building exercise.

It is important to note that onboarding actually starts before the new team member’s first day at work. Ensuring HR has all the necessary paperwork and IT/facilities have all the necessary workspace requirements (e.g., connectivity, devices, software licenses, permissions, etc.) are important steps to ensuring a smooth, seamless start to a good working environment. Onboarding ends when the worker is no longer considered “new” and can manage their workload by themselves entirely. Since it’s a process (or series of processes), the whole experience can last from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the company’s size and the complexity of the procedures.

Remote onboarding vs orientation

Employees and managers alike often confuse onboarding with orientation, so let’s make this distinction clear: orientation is part of the onboarding process. It usually covers the basics of getting around the office. In the case of a remote workforce, orientation covers everything happening in the first few days within a new hire’s arrival. The whole onboarding process lasts longer and covers several phases, including orientation.

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What are the four remote onboarding stages?

There are several stages to onboarding a remote employee.

  1. Pre-onboarding: This stage happens before the new hire actually starts their first day. It typically involves coordination between the employee and HR and IT/facilities to ensure everything that needs to happen before the employee can start happens.

  2. Orientation: This stage encompasses the first couple of days of the new employee’s arrival. It typically involves HR, the employee’s manager, and the team members the employee will need to work with. It focuses on getting the employee familiar with what’s expected of them and all the people, systems, processes, and tools they will need to work with to be productive.

  3. Oversight: This stage can span weeks, even months, as the employee’s manager and colleagues see how the new employee handles their first tasks and assignments. This phase tends to be less formal, consisting more of check-ins and milestones, peppered with some training and tutorials (as needed).

  4. Completion: The final stage of onboarding is acknowledging that the employee no longer needs to be introduced to how the company functions. Once they are fully onboarded, the employee is expected to be mainly self-sufficient in their daily activities. Note, this doesn’t mean they don’t need ongoing support (they do; everyone does), but they should be familiar enough with the people, systems, processes, and tools of the company to navigate general organizational issues on their own (e.g., filing an expense report, initiating travel arrangements, reserving and setting up meetings, booking revenue, etc.).

Onboarding remote employees: A checklist of six steps for success

1. Cover the basic information

Assess all the information employees are going to need to know to be successful in their job, both on a professional and personal level, and ensure this information is provided, in one way or another, to the employee through the onboarding process. In addition to typical benefits and company expectations, remote workers need to know if there are any specific requirements around work hours, expected availability for meetings, and remote office setup. If you offer remote working benefits, such as reimbursements for their home office setup, workspace memberships, gym memberships, etc., make sure to inform them before their start date so that they can be prepared and make all appropriate arrangements.

2. Send some company swag

A creative way to make a new colleague feel instantly welcome is to send them some company swag before they start work (or in the first couple of days). Companies like SwagUp make great packs that are guaranteed to put a smile on every recipient’s face. Providing excitement and building a sense of belonging from day one is an excellent way to start an employee’s journey.

3. Organize an all-hands meeting

Give a warm welcome to your new team members by organizing a short call where they can introduce themselves and meet their coworkers. It’s a quick and effective way to encourage everyone to communicate and collaborate proactively.

4. Organize meet-up sessions with teams

After meeting everyone, a new employee will surely want to get a closer look into the team they are part of and their usual workload. Make sure to organize several meetings with all relevant groups and verticals and go over the integration procedures. Infuse these meetings with some personality to help the new employee learn more about the people they are working with and form a deeper, more meaningful connection.

5. Provide a list of resources

For every employee joining the company, the HR manager should have a list of necessary access and resources to give them. Write down the logins, Slack channels, and documentation, and make sure you have the full list for each department or position. This way, you can check it off every time without forgetting something important.

6. Monitor progress and encourage communication

People need time to adapt to new environments, assignments, and colleagues, so it’s crucial to give them that time. Set up a period for the onboarding process and provide ongoing support throughout its duration. Weekly and monthly check-ins can mean all the difference to a remote worker just starting in a new company, so make time for these in your calendar.

Give your remote workers a chance to work from an inspiring workspace

An essential part of onboarding remote workers is providing them with a workspace they will be happy to use. For those who don’t want to work from home every day, neighborhood workspaces can be a brilliant solution. Try out Gable and let your workers choose the space that works for them and watch their satisfaction and productivity soar.

Written By

Andrea Rajic

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