January 15, 2023 by Andrea Rajic

A Guide to Onboarding Remote Employees

A Guide to Onboarding Remote Employees

Table of contents


    Why is remote employee onboarding different?


    11 best practices for onboarding remote employees:


    Remote onboarding checklist: what to include


    FAQ: Onboarding remote employees

Workplace Resources

As a people manager, you know that having an effective onboarding process can make all the difference in getting new employees up to speed quickly and efficiently. But when it comes to remote employees—either those who work offsite by choice or those snowed in due to recent events—it may feel like your hands are tied.

Not so! With just a few helpful tips, you can create an onboarding experience that not only sets your remote team up for success but also builds positive connections right from the start. In this guide, we'll explore how to establish yourself as an engaging leader with clear expectations while helping new hires adjust quickly and comfortably to their virtual workspace.

Why is remote employee onboarding different?

Remote onboarding is a different experience than onboarding new, in-person workers. Instead of convenient water cooler chats and onboarding lunches, onboarding remote workers requires virtual strategies to ensure strong onboarding outcomes.

No need to worry, though - there’s still plenty of fun (if not some additional paperwork) to be had when it comes to onboarding your team remotely! After all, technology gives us plenty of ways to reach our remote employees. From video conferencing for onboarding introductions to online forms for onboarding documents - it can be as creative or as efficient as real-life onboarding – just from the comfort and convenience of one’s own home!

Because the remote 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.

Get our remote onboarding checklist and download the template >>>

11 best practices for onboarding remote employees:

1. Define your goals

The remote onboarding process is a great opportunity to kick off a productive, long-term relationship between you and your new remote hire. Not only does it provide a framework for your remote employee to settle in quickly, but it also serves as the foundation for expectations, protocols, and procedures that will ensure success in the future.

Whether they come aboard with pre-existing skills or fresh out of school, you'll have clear goals and objectives that you can use to track their progress. Remote onboarding may be virtual, but it doesn't mean corporate culture isn't still alive and kicking at your remote workforce!

2. Assign responsibilities

Remote onboarding can be a breeze if you know the responsibilities of each step. From training to setting up remote work tools - each person is responsible for keenly fulfilling their respective duties, as remote onboarding requires a well-coordinated effort from all involved parties.

With everyone playing their part, remote onboarding won't feel like such a handful, and it’s sure to be nothing but smooth sailing!

3. Create a timeline

Creating a timeline for onboarding remote employees can feel like herding cats. When you think the process is moving in one direction, something unexpected will suddenly make it take an unexpected turn.

That's why it's important to have an onboarding strategy with clearly defined goals and milestones from the very start. Setting up timelines gives you a progress map that helps everyone stay on the same page and feel confident about the process.

With a checklist of tasks and milestones, onboarding your remote staff will go off without a hitch (or as few hitches as possible!)

4. Develop a tracking system

For People teams, onboarding remote workers can seem daunting: tracking progress, timeline adherence, and ensuring successful onboarding. But with an efficient system that considers both the expectations of the employer and the needs of the employee, onboarding remote workers can be just a breeze.

By incorporating deadlines, monitoring progress, communication best practices and measurable goals into our onboarding system, we can guarantee a smooth onboarding experience for everyone involved.

5. Create a welcome package

Creating a welcome package for onboarding new employees is essential for welcoming them and ensuring they get settled smoothly. It should include all the important information and resources employees need to get started in their job, but throwing in some personality never hurts.

Crafting a personalized welcome package that stays true to your company's style and brand can make a new remote hire feel at ease and connected with their remote team from the start.

6. Schedule regular check-ins

From the perspective of employees, starting a new job can be stressful. They want to do their best to meet everyone, become part of the team, do their best work, and get a grip on the workload in the first week. That's why scheduling regular check-ins and one-on-one meetings with a new remote hire is so important.

These periodical touchpoints give the opportunity to review goals, provide extra guidance, answer any questions that may arise, and bridge the gap between onboarding somebody virtually and onboarding them when they start in person. Plus, having a dedicated period of time for each employee allows them to get comfortable and more familiar with their job before diving right in.

7. Encourage employees to reach out to colleagues

Fostering connections and immersing new employees into the company’s culture is best experienced by meeting teammates, even if it’s not always face-to-face.

When onboarding new remote employees, encourage them to seek advice from their colleagues when necessary. By showing that you are invested in providing them with indispensable support when needed, teams can foster an environment of camaraderie and collaboration while being miles apart.

8. Provide new hires with all needed resources

It can be challenging for onboarding managers to ensure that employees have everything they need without being able to meet them face-to-face. But with a bit of creativity and proper planning, you should be able to design a virtual onboarding plan that ensures that each employee can get off on the right foot.

9. Celebrate milestones

To make onboarding more enjoyable for new employees, why not celebrate their milestones and achievements? Celebrating successes such as finalizing all the onboarding tasks or going through the employee handbook will create a sense of accomplishment and brighten their experience.

10. Be available for questions

If you’re part of the team onboarding remote hires, be available to answer questions and assuage any concerns they may have. Having open lines of communication means new hires know where to go for help and can get clarity around expectations. This shows employees that they are valued and builds trust.

11. Evaluate the onboarding program regularly

Keeping an eye on onboarding plans and frequently tweaking things can save you from running into onboarding hiccups down the line. Smart businesses understand that onboarding should never be static—it needs to evolve with employees’ needs and adjust based on their feedback.

Remote onboarding checklist: what to include

Having employee onboarding checklists is a great way to ensure your workers feel included and connected from day one. Plus, it's just about the most efficient way to ensure all the details for getting them up and running are taken care of.

From defining employee roles and expectations to automatically generating login credentials and setting up communication tools, a thorough remote onboarding checklist means you can say goodbye to paperwork headaches and tedious tasks. Think of it as your very own personal assistant, running through tasks so you'll have more time to help your employee get situated. With something this helpful, why wouldn't you want one?

Cover the basic information

Assess all the information employees need to know to be successful in their job, both on a professional and personal level, and ensure this information is provided in the onboarding process, most often in an employee handbook.

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.

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

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.

Additionally, make sure to send invites to the new hire for all team happy hours and team-building activities. You can kick off a happy hour call with a quick icebreaker session to make the new employee feel welcome.

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 team meetings with all relevant stakeholders and verticals and review 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.

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 or other messaging and video calls tools, the company’s mission statement, and documentation.

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.

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.

FAQ: Onboarding remote employees

What is remote onboarding?

As teams become even more distributed globally, ensuring new employees are connected and empowered to do their best work wherever they are located is essential. They can’t depend on their colleagues' goodwill to help them get acclimated or reliant on the haphazard, piecemeal dissemination of information; hence, organizations need to implement 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.

If needed, companies can provide virtual training sessions on completing the onboarding process smoothly, even if they work from home.

How to ensure a smooth onboarding process?

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 work 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 hiring 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 of a new hire’s arrival. The whole onboarding process lasts longer and covers several phases, including orientation.

Why employee onboarding is important

The onboarding process is the first impression your business makes on every new employee and can impact your retention rate. Taking onboarding seriously is essential to let new employees know that they are valued and ensure they feel like an integral part of the workplace.

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.).

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Written By

Andrea Rajic


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