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The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that many people have found themselves working from home. This has become the new norm for many people and it may continue that way long after the pandemic is over. Many people do not want to return to the office and employers are finding that employees working from home are more productive and cost less.
This has meant that companies have needed to recruit and bring new employees into their company whilst working remotely, which can prove challenging but also opens up the opportunity to employ people who are best suited to the job regardless of their location.
Many companies are finding that while remote onboarding can be challenging in some areas, it can also be very successful and a positive experience for both the company and the new employee.
What is remote onboarding?
Employee onboarding, in general terms, is a series of activities which ensures that new employees can learn about the company in terms of their attitudes and processes and procedures and get to know their manager and team.
The onboarding process can include:
- Training sessions.
- Video calls.
- Shadowing team members.
- Observing various meetings.
- Getting to know stakeholders.
- Understanding the company’s approach to problem solving.
The same process is followed for remote employee onboarding but the new employee will work remotely rather than in the office. The onboarding process can last from as little as a couple of weeks to several months, or even a year, and the period of time will depend on the complexity of the new hire’s role and the company itself.
Why is onboarding important?
The onboarding process is the first step in building a relationship with the new employee.
A company which invests in an employee’s wellbeing from the very beginning is likely to increase:
- Long-term employee engagement.
- Job satisfaction.
The World Health Organisation found that companies that invest in treatment for anxiety and depression are more likely to see a better work ethic and increased productivity long term. If employee wellbeing is not taken seriously, this often leads to increased stress, people leaving without being replaced, increased sick days and increased workloads as a result. This highlights the importance of a positive experience for the employee from the very beginning.
MIND offer some useful tips about how best to support employee wellbeing while working from home.
An effective onboarding process for new employees is vital for good productivity and performance. Onboarding is a thorough and strategic process which starts as soon as a job offer is made. A positive onboarding experience reassures the new employee that they have made the right decision accepting the job offer and makes it more likely that they will remain committed to the company and achieve future success.
A thorough and well organised onboarding process helps to:
- Make new employees feel comfortable and appreciated from the start.
- Ensure newcomers will become productive more quickly.
- Let colleagues and supervisors know exactly what to do with the new recruit.
For further reading about productivity in the workplace, please visit our knowledge base.
Implementing an effective remote onboarding programme is key to achieving:
- Engagement from the very beginning.
- Loyalty to the company.
What is the process of remote onboarding?
It is important to ensure that new employees are properly onboarded, helping them to feel welcome and ensuring that they become productive quickly.
This can be achieved by ensuring that you:
- Start with pre-boarding.
- Share important documents and information.
- Get their set-up ready.
- Have a training plan ready.
- Give them a personalised onboarding plan.
- Set onboarding expectations and goals.
- Familiarise them with the team.
- Schedule frequent check-ins.
Is pre-boarding important?
The pre-boarding period is used to reinforce the new hire’s decision to join the company and reduce any anxieties about starting their new job. Pre-boarding is everything that happens from signing the contract to the first day of work for the new employee.
The new employee will need access to systems including emails or chat, access to learning modules and anything else they will need to access on a day-to-day basis. As access issues are one of the most common problems on a new hire’s first day, to already have this in place is a huge bonus for any company and new employee.
For remote onboarding, this is even more important as the new employee won’t be in the office, and therefore having access to these things may be their only way to connect with their new team and environment. Pre-boarding also includes good communication with employees about what to expect on their first day.
Overlooking the important step of pre-boarding and not having things in place ready for their first day could jeopardise a smooth first day for your new employee.
In order to achieve a good first impression with your new employee, even before their first day, as part of the pre-boarding process you should:
- Send your new employee a pre-onboarding package. This will give them an idea of what to expect on their first day and in the onboarding process in general. This should include details of who their team are, who will be welcoming them on their first day and who they will be reporting in to.
- Excite your new employee by giving them a feel for your company and culture.
- Showcase your company culture.
- Personalise communications with fonts and formatting.
- Share custom images and videos.
- Allow new employees to complete information online and upload documents so this is already in place in time for their first day.
- Distribute policies and handbooks for reading in advance.
- Try to introduce your new employee to the team before their first day in order to calm first day nerves.
How to ensure a smooth remote onboarding process for a new employee
A good first impression and a positive onboarding experience is vital for new employee success. Remote onboarding must be creative and efficient in order to engage and impress new recruits.
The new employee will not have the benefit of being in the office with other members of staff, or having the opportunity to settle in with informal conversations that would naturally take place in an office environment. Therefore, remote onboarding must work even harder to connect them with company culture and team members.
New employees will need you to ensure that:
- Equipment is shipped to their home before their start date ensuring that nothing is missed which may delay their start date.
- Digital versions of common employee documents are shared with them. This includes employee handbooks, policies, a guide to any systems they will be expected to use and mission or vision statements.
- They are added to any email chains, mailing lists and any other communication channel to ensure that they never miss an important update.
- They have a guided session of how to access the company systems.
- A meet and greet session is arranged with the team and any other members of the company they will need to be familiar with.
- They are given an overview of who is in the company and what their role is.
- They are provided with a schedule and overview of any training they will need to attend.
- You help them learn the company culture, policies and processes.
- Regular, virtual team building activities are scheduled in.
Here you can find a useful remote worker starter guide and advice for employees.
Why onboarding remote employees can be challenging
Working remotely in general can easily become an isolating and lonely experience. This can be particularly true when starting a new job remotely. It can be much easier to disappoint or frustrate a new employee who is working remotely as their frustrations can escalate if not acknowledged and dealt with promptly.
If a new employee is in the office, it is easier for them to ask for help or for a manager or team member to notice that there is something they need help or support with.
For a new employee working remotely, they can feel isolated and unsupported much more easily and this can create a bad first impression. This means that it is even more important for remote onboarding to be thorough and of high quality.
Remote onboarding can take longer than a usual onboarding process can take due to the challenges that can be faced by working remotely.
It can be challenging to build an emotional connection with a new team when you have never physically met them. Encouraging informal moments should be a priority in the hope of building a strong team culture. This means building trust and a common ground between team members.
Is onboarding the same as training?
Any training provided can be part of the onboarding process as a whole but training alone is not enough for successful onboarding of new employees. Training and onboarding are two separate things but they need to coexist.
Training is more likely to cover specific tasks of the job including technicalities, whereas onboarding is about integrating with the team, managers and corporate culture. The two things need to complement each other in order to be successful.
How is remote onboarding different from orientation?
Orientation is usually to welcome a group of new employees into an organisation, helping them to learn about the company vision, mission, history and culture. It can also include filling in paperwork and learning about codes of conduct and safety policies.
Onboarding is a series of events happening over an extended period of time and is usually for a specific role within the organisation. The process of onboarding can include orientation but is not limited to it.
This may mean that as a new employee, you could be part of the orientation process with other new starters but then you will branch off in order to begin your onboarding, which is likely to last for several months, and will be tailored to your specific role.
How to ensure remote onboarding is successful
Successful remote onboarding should include any preparations that allow the new employee to begin work on their first day. The onboarding process should not be rushed and ideally should continue throughout the new employee’s first year at the company.
Ideally the onboarding process should be tailored to that individual employee depending on their experience, knowledge and what they said in their job application and interview. It is important for the onboarding process to remain flexible and give the new employee time to absorb information.
This means tailoring any learning or training to each new employee and giving them some freedom to progress at their own pace.
It can be separated into phases which should reflect the employee’s changing needs as they learn and progress in their new role. Each phase should have its own goals, supporting the continued development of the employee.
Successful remote onboarding should include:
- Detailed preparation for the new employee and good communication with them as soon as a job offer has been accepted. This will instil confidence in the new employee that they are an important part of the company’s plans, even though they are not physically sat in the office.
- Regular contact will help the new employee feel valued and connected. This should be daily at first and can become less regular as they begin to settle into the role and become more familiar with the company as a whole. You can also task existing team members with keeping in contact with the new employee to ensure they are connected with the team.
- Having access to the team member’s calendars will also help in them being able to reach out to the new employees.
- It can be a nice touch to ask your new employee to write a little bit about themselves in order for this to be shared with the wider company, as a way of introducing them briefly to the existing company employees.
- Ask for regular feedback from new employees, whether this be in the form of surveys or during check-in sessions. This gives the new starter the opportunity to say if something is not meeting their expectations or if they have any issues whatsoever. Try to understand how the process is helping them, what is working well for them and what needs changing. Using a mix of specific and open questions will give the opportunity for them to provide feedback that is both detailed and useful in continuing the onboarding process.
- It is also vital that the new employee knows where to access any help or support they may need. How do they get simple questions answered? Do they have access to the IT team? Are they clear about who their line manager is and how to contact them?
- If new employees are being onboarded with other new recruits, this can make the process feel less isolating. This will mean that they can complete their training together and can create a sense of community amongst new employees.