Best Practices for Remote Onboarding

Linda Francis
September 8, 2022

Remote work is here to stay, but onboarding these employees often requires a different approach than when everyone’s at the same office or job site. Explore our best practices for remote onboarding so you can improve the employee experience no matter where your workforce is located.

Why Is Remote Onboarding Important?

Onboarding employees is a crucial opportunity for employers to make a good impression. How employees are welcomed will influence their engagement, enthusiasm, productivity and, ultimately, whether they choose to stay or look for another job.

Remote onboarding may be online instead of in person, but it serves the same purpose — introducing new hires to their job duties, co-workers, available resources and the organizational culture.

Gallup research reveals that employees who work exclusively remote or hybrid tend to have higher levels of engagement (37% engaged in both groups) than those who work solely on-site (29% engaged). 

However, engagement among remote-only workers has declined sharply during the pandemic, especially on measures such as “clarity of expectations, materials and equipment, recognition, development, and connection to the organization's mission or purpose,” according to Gallup. These findings suggest that remote onboarding offers tremendous potential for employee engagement — and clear downsides if done poorly or not at all.

Thankfully, remote onboarding allows employers to shape that experience from beginning to end. You decide how new employees are introduced to people, systems and resources, how they gain essential company knowledge and how they begin their job duties. This process starts before the first official day and continues well into the employee’s tenure.

Create a Comprehensive Onboarding Experience

Onboarding can be a complicated process, especially when you want to integrate remote teams. There are many questions to consider between HR and management, and you’ll need to have answers ready on your new hire’s Day 1. For example, you should ask and answer

These questions apply to all employees but take on additional importance for remote employees. Managers could once rely on on-site interactions and co-workers to casually guide new employees. Those interactions are more difficult to create when employees are a distributed team working from different locations.

Human capital management (HCM) systems can help companies create an onboarding experience that’s consistent, accessible and largely automated, especially when they are designed for onboarding. Solutions such as Criterion’s enable HR teams to customize onboarding hubs, capture data that informs further action and automate administrative responsibilities, among other features. 

HR teams can spend more time on high-level activities like strategy when they have an HCM system for remote onboarding that handles new-hire paperwork like tax forms benefits, 401(K) enrollment and direct deposit. This approach also helps workers, as they can complete this vital paperwork before their first day and jump right into learning about their job and co-workers. 

The right employee onboarding software frees up employees and managers for tasks that require a human touch and starts off the employee’s tenure on a positive note.

Troubleshoot Technology Ahead of Day 1

Not only can technology help employees onboard faster, it should also be accessible to them before their first official day. Employees have enough information to absorb on day one without having to worry about missing hardware or finding logins.

HR should create processes that ensure that remote employees receive all necessary equipment ahead of their first day, along with other resources related to software, permissions and logins. Ideally, your onboarding process also includes scheduled time with the IT department to walk through their tech setup and answer pressing questions. 

Walk employees through an onboarding checklist that ensures employees have everything they need for virtual working, including access to the right systems. Any problems can be addressed immediately, whether that’s IT fixing a tech problem or consulting with a manager for additional information. 

Besides having the right equipment and access, onboarding should also impart the importance of security to remote workers. HR managers and IT should team up to ensure that protocols are followed and policies communicated. Follow your company’s existing guidelines regarding information sharing, device usage, cybersecurity and other key information. 

Designate an Onboarding Mentor

Everyone starting a journey needs a guide. Managers are vital to a successful remote onboarding plan. Gallup research suggests that onboarding is viewed more favorably by employees whose managers actively participate.

A manager’s role in onboarding includes setting job expectations, explaining big-picture business goals and introducing new hires to co-workers. Managers can also model the company culture and help the new hire feel welcome within the team and the organizational community.

Because managers have many responsibilities, they shouldn’t be the only touch point for new hires. Assign each new hire an onboarding mentor — a staff member responsible for introducing the new hire to other employees and filling them in on the company’s culture. 

This onboarding mentor should not be the direct manager. While the roles have some overlap, a mentor is a more casual relationship while still being supportive. New employees should feel comfortable asking any work-related question, large or small, to their mentors.

This mentorship doesn’t have to wait until the first official day. Create a process for introducing the mentor to the new hire as the go-to person for any questions or issues.

Set Clear Expectations

An important part of the onboarding process for employees is learning what is expected of them on a day-to-day basis. For remote workers, in particular, expectation-setting requires clear communication and documentation. These employees can’t just pop over to their manager’s desk to ask for clarity on expectations or goals, and they might not even be working the same hours as their manager

Clear expectations start with HR teams when they are designing the onboarding process means setting. They should spell out precisely what the job role entails, including the job’s responsibilities team or company’s timelines, deadlines and processes. 

Some employers also list specific, time-based goals that they expect the new employee to complete as part of the onboarding process. For example, a new hire might be expected to complete job-specific training within the first two weeks on the job or schedule a certain number of sales meetings in the first 90 days,

Whatever your company’s specific onboarding expectations for each job role, ensure they are stated clearly and available on demand. Employees should not only understand what is required of them, but they should also have and understand the resources available that will help them do the job. Throughout the onboarding process, the manager and other relevant leaders should be available to answer employee questions about expectations, goals and learning.

The first days of a new job can be overwhelming, and having resource materials online for reference is helpful for all employees — not just new hires.

Request Employee Feedback

Onboarding is an evolving process that can always be improved, so make sure you’re asking for feedback from new employees. Like so many other parts of onboarding, this feedback can start before the first official day.

According to Talent Board data, only 26% of job candidates were asked for feedback before their first day. However, when those candidates are asked, almost all of them (91%) report a willingness to increase their relationship with the organization. That’s an excellent indicator of employee retention and loyalty. And these feedback processes are easy to implement because incoming employees will appreciate the chance to be heard.

Negative feedback about your remote onboarding process is inevitable, but look at it as an opportunity. Such feedback can reveal problems and allow your company to address them immediately and for future hires. 

This feedback can be collected in numerous ways, including surveys, and such feedback can often be anonymized. Technology can make this process easier for remote team members who cannot offer in-person feedback. Whatever you do, make it clear to employees how their responses will be used and who will see them.

Keep Remote Employees Engaged

Remote onboarding is an ongoing process that extends far beyond the first day. While the immediate questions might be answered quickly, new employees working remotely still require check-ins on an ongoing basis. 

Apply these best practices for remote onboarding to ensure that employees have the resources they need, feel a part of the culture and are productive from day one. Want to learn more? Explore Criterion HCM’s talent engagement solution

Linda Francis
VP of Professional Services with over 20 years of management consulting, project management, and professional services experiences for software delivery and implementation projects across industries.

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