Onboarding new hires into an existing team can be difficult.
Onboarding remote employees is even harder – how can they learn the company culture or get to know their coworkers if they aren’t in the office? Remote work is clearly here to stay, so companies have to adapt quickly if they want to make the onboarding experience a good one.
What is Onboarding?
Onboarding is the process of welcoming and preparing new hires to make a smooth transition into a new work environment. It gives new employees a chance to really get to know their coworkers and how the company operates.
While they often go hand-in-hand, onboarding is different from orientation and training. Orientation is a one-time event, meant to introduce new hires to the company quickly and get all their paperwork done and all their accounts set up. It might be done in groups or cohorts, and it isn’t necessarily specific to a particular position.
Training is a longer-term process. It is meant to teach an employee the skills and tools they need to do their job specifically. It doesn’t help integrate them socially or teach them about the company as a whole.
Onboarding fills the gaps between orientation and training. It helps an employee get to know both their team and the organization – what the company culture is like, what the formal hierarchy is, and how people communicate informally.
That often makes the difference between an employee who stays and an employee who leaves within the year. If an employee is onboarded and integrated into company culture socially, they are more likely to stick around, even if they’re unsure about the job itself. They feel like they belong so they’re more willing to stick out rough patches in their work.
What Makes Virtual Onboarding Difficult?
Onboarding new employees well is already difficult, but onboarding remote employees is even harder. Remote employees don’t have the benefit of casual conversation to help them integrate socially. Plus, any time they aren’t in a meeting they are by themselves. That makes it difficult to really get to know the company.
Add to that the fact that they are already overwhelmed with all the new names and tools and responsibilities they have to remember and they’re clearly off to a rough start. Onboarding remote employees has to be more hands-on and interactive than in-person onboarding to help combat that lonely and overwhelming feeling.
Tips for Digital Onboarding
If onboarding is so important but so difficult, what can be done to improve the onboarding process?
1. Onboarding Guidebook
Having a general onboarding guide that can be tailored to each new hire is key to keeping the onboarding process consistent. It also means you aren’t starting from scratch for each new hire, which makes things easier for whoever is in charge of onboarding.
2. Keep Things Interactive
The first few weeks of a new job are always overwhelming because the new hire has a lot of information being thrown at them. Onboarding remote employees in an interactive way helps them retain what they’re learning and makes them feel more comfortable asking questions about things they don’t understand or remember.
Try giving them time during video calls to fill out paperwork and make business accounts. They can probably do it themselves, but having someone to ask questions to or chat with during these tasks can make them less tedious. You can even write an email together introducing them to the rest of the company.
3. Don’t Neglect Them
Remote employees often feel isolated working by themselves at home. Newly hired remote workers are even more susceptible to this, so you must make an effort to integrate them socially as soon as possible.
Scheduling a lot of meetings during their first week especially is a good way to combat that. Make sure they meet both their coworkers and their superiors and try to balance one-on-ones with formal group meetings and video calls with phone calls.
4. Buddy Up
Giving new remote employees an “onboarding buddy” – either another new hire or a more established employee – can help them integrate socially, as well. Their buddy is like an automatic friend that can help them learn the ins and outs of the organization and can introduce them to other people.
5. Check In Regularly
If you really want to make sure a remote employee feels connected to the company, you’re going to have to check in with them even after their official onboarding is over.
Schedule an informal meeting with them as often as you feel necessary – maybe once a month for the first two months, then quarterly or yearly after that. Enough to keep them engaged without being overbearing.
Ask them specific questions about how they’re integrating with the organization. Don’t ask if they like their job, ask what is going well and what isn’t. Ask about what helps them feel connected and what makes them feel isolated. Then take those answers and try to make their experience better, especially if many new hires have said similar things.
Ultimately, any attempt at onboarding is better than not onboarding remote employees, but if you’re going to make any effort it should be a good one. Taking the time to create a good onboarding plan can help your organization hold onto good remote employees.