5 Tips for Onboarding a New Remote Team Member

Research shows that immersing a new hire in your company’s culture improves retention by 82 percent and productivity by more than 70 percent.

Alas, onboarding wasn’t a strong suit for most companies before the pandemic, and it has become even more challenging now that everyone is working remotely from home. 

Remote employee onboarding contains many of the same elements as in-person onboarding, explained Pete Olson, chief product officer for Click Boarding. But it also needs to address the worker’s psychological need for safety and wellness, as well as a sense of belonging and resilience. 

Here’s how to create an effective onboarding experience that addresses the informational and emotional needs of remote tech employees.

Create Onboarding Structure

Think of remote onboarding as an enterprise-level project. To make it a success, each new employee needs a personalized plan that spells out goals and milestones, progress updates, and a schedule of assimilation and online training activities carried out by various team members throughout the first year. In other words, to create a sense of support and belonging, the plan should remove ambiguity by spelling out what should happen and when.

“You definitely want to avoid asking new employees to drink from the fire hose,” warned Jessica Stephenson, VP of Marketing and Talent for ExactHire. Give new hires time to develop synergies and settle into the role.

Her theory is supported by research that shows employees who participate in longer onboarding programs gain full proficiency 34 percent faster than those in shorter programs. 

‘Preboard’ New Hires ASAP

Don’t take new hires for granted after they accept an offer. Keep them engaged and feeling like a valuable part of the team before they start work with a remote-first, automated preboarding process. Otherwise, they may accept a near-term offer from a more admiring competitor.

For instance, if you get the new hire “paperwork” and policy review process out of the way ASAP, you can ship company-issued laptops, monitors, smartphones and other equipment to new hires before their first day.

Being the new kid on the block at work can be daunting. Let new remote hires become familiar with your procedures, methodologies, designs and security practices by conducting orientation, sharing rosters and org charts, and providing access to internal communications tools, VPNs and project updates in advance.

Roll Out the Virtual Welcome Mat

Working remotely can feel awkward for those accustomed to shadowing or socializing with new team members over lunch. Managers need to go out of their way to make sure new virtual hires feel comfortable enough to speak up during stand-ups and retrospective meetings.

How? Stephenson said that, at ExactHire, profiles of all team members (including the new hire) are shared in advance: “We also task relevant co-workers with creating video welcome messages to be shared with the new employee in the days leading up to the first day and we schedule an online meet and greet with their supervisor.”

Conveying your organization’s mission and vision can also help new hires see the alignment between their work and the big picture.

Communicate Expectations and Cultural Norms

Once the employee starts, host a virtual happy hour to introduce them to the team. Consider assigning a virtual buddy to serve as a go-to resource. Organize a series of “agendaless” online gatherings aimed at introducing new hires to stakeholders and product owners in each business unit.

Create a “cheat sheet” of common scenarios to help your new tech employees assimilate into the culture and understand how work gets done. For instance, explain the required work hours, or when tech workers can use “offline time” to focus on their work and avoid interruptions and Zoom fatigue, Olson suggested. 

Outline the protocols for out-of-office messages, signature lines in emails, Slack posts or turning on cameras during Zoom calls. Communicating cultural practices, as well as the little things that long-timers take for granted, can help newcomers understand their role and feel like insiders rather than outsiders.

Finally, the hiring manager should provide a baseline of expectations, whether that is part of a formal 90-day review program or a more informal discussion. Remember, onboarding should not be all about the company’s needs and expectations. Work with your new hire to create a professional development plan; provide plenty of opportunities to learn from their teammates, build confidence with small wins, and share their passions.

Keep Your Finger on the Pulse

“You’ve got to over-communicate with remote employees,” Olson noted.

Ask new employees for their feedback about their job satisfaction and onboarding experience at regular intervals over the first 180 days. That makes employees feel valuable and helps managers spot potential problems before they escalate.