Onboarding a remote employee for the first time

As an Executive Search and Interim Staffing Firm, we know firsthand the challenges that many companies face as they onboard remote employees or consultants for the first time. Creating a process that effectively and successfully accomplishes virtual onboarding is essential.

Since there are unique challenges, needs, and requirements for remote employees, simply replicating the traditional steps of in-office onboarding with ‘adjustments’ for that lack of physical contact may not always be your best approach. Although often it’s a good start.

Given the unique challenges facing remote employees, it’s best to approach the process as a ‘re-design’ rather than a ‘re-purposing’.  As you look to face the challenges of onboarding remote employees, we have listed a few ideas we have seen benefit our clients:

  • Send a welcome package and include a detailed agenda for the first day:  Beyond the company-branded goodies such as pens, notebooks or company mugs, consider sending a care package including a voucher for a free coffee or a one-off lunch delivery for their first day.  The agenda, which could include a virtual lunch or coffee break, gives the employee some mental preparation for what to expect and gets them ready to engage in a work environment.
  • Ensure you have an onboarding checklist specifically for remote employees:  Edit your current onboarding checklist to accommodate remote onboarding. While doing so, mark down all the tasks that do not have an obvious remote workaround and save those for later (i.e. tour the office or picking up security and parking badges).
  • Use electronic signature services such as Docusign:  In a remote environment consider the use of virtual signing systems, such as DocuSign, which is legally binding, to sign appropriate HR documents.
  • Set out clear expectations:   Even before your new employee joins you will want to ensure that expectations of the role and work practices be made clear. In a remote environment, it can be even more important to define goals and expectations, while providing clear guidance on how these will be assessed.
  • Arrange a virtual team meeting specifically as an introduction of the new employee: Instead of the tour of the office, provide a virtual tour through introductions to their new team. Consider inviting others including those from IT and HR.  Maybe include a virtual ‘lunch with the team’.
  • Assign a peer as a “buddy”: No matter how comprehensive your company intranet or onboarding process is, they’re still likely to have questions; they may also simply need an informal sounding board to check in with during the early days or weeks.
  • Recognize the importance of the company message, culture, and values:  Look to set up virtual meetings with key department representatives to give your new employee an introduction to the business, its mission and values, its major offering and key differentiators, alongside administrative inductions to cover need-to-know business information.
  • Plan check-in meetings:  The more communication in the early days the better. Obtain feedback from your employee.  Ask if they need any additional support with processes or tools specific to your organization. Remember that these individuals will find it more difficult to learn ‘on the job’, without the face-to-face interactions we benefit from in the office.

Effective onboarding can reduce the time it takes for a new employee to be truly productive, boost employee engagement and commitment, increase employee retention, and deliver associated cost savings.  It can also significantly increase employee happiness and reduce work-based stress and as such, improve job performance and the overall employee experience.