Remote Work

Building an effective onboarding program for remote workers

Improve retention and productivity with great onboarding.
July 28, 2022
Oyster Team
Person sitting at laptop writing in notebook

For many new employees joining a fully remote company, remote onboarding is the only option available. But training and onboarding remote employees looks different than in-person onboarding, and a remote onboarding process can take some time to build out. 

Luckily, the time and effort put into onboarding remote employees is an investment that pays off. Companies with an effective and organized remote onboarding program can improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%

Companies with strong onboarding programs increase retentiont

The onboarding period provides an opportunity for new employees to connect with their colleagues, learn about the company they’ll be working for, and gain a deeper understanding of their role. Since this is the first engagement that a new hire will have with the company, it’s important to be intentional about designing this experience. 

This article will explain the importance of getting the remote onboarding experience right and outline strategies for creating a positive first impression. 

Why is remote onboarding important?

Starting a new job is intimidating. New employees have to learn to successfully navigate new processes, vocabulary, clients, and internal relations in order to get their job done. It is important to consider how onboarding in a remote environment is different and can present unique communication and relationship-building challenges. 

The ideal remote onboarding experience is seamless and informative. Remote employees should feel empowered to proactively communicate their needs and to connect with their colleagues, setting a foundation for effective collaboration going forward. 

A strong remote employee onboarding program will effectively communicate expectations and responsibilities, develop a relationship between teammates and supervisors, and integrate new team members into the company culture. Because remote employees are unable to build relationships organically in an office, the remote onboarding program will help catalyze the important introductions. 

High employee turnover can cost companies a lot of money in terms of lost time and resources as well as a dip in productivity. Luckily, an effective remote onboarding program can significantly reduce the new hire turnover rate. 

The benefits of remote onboarding

Remote onboarding processes benefit both employees and companies. 

For employers, the documentation and employee authorization tasks that take place during onboarding ensure compliance and avoid potential issues going forward. 

Companies with strong remote onboarding processes also benefit from increased productivity and job satisfaction. When employees are set up for success, they will have a deeper sense of ownership in their role and quickly take on tasks independently.

Remote onboarding programs are also easily scalable and materials can be updated quickly. 

On the employee side, successful onboarding processes efficiently transfer the necessary information so that employees can get to work quickly. New hires can work through training materials asynchronously, setting their own pace. These training materials can also be made available beyond the initial training period to serve as a reference. 

Top tips for onboarding remote workers

How to build an effective remote onboarding program

Have a remote onboarding plan

Having a plan will bring some structure to the chaos that new employees can feel when starting a new job. It will also ensure that, as a company, you put your best foot forward—first impressions really do matter. 

Set a friendly tone from the start when welcoming the new employee onto the team. Employees that feel welcomed and wanted will be more likely to open up and build important connections with others on the team. Some ways you can create a warm welcome include: having teammates leave welcome notes in Slack, setting up a virtual coffee chat, and sending a welcome gift (such as a card, company swag, or anything else to make the first day memorable). 

The first few days and weeks at a new job can feel like drinking from a fire hose. Between video trainings, guides and documents, and meetings, it can be a lot to absorb. Split up the onboarding process into different stages and spread it out over the first few weeks. 

As the employer, you should help the new hire prioritize which tasks need to get done in the first few days and which ones can be worked on over the first month. Have patience with the onboarding process and give the new employee space and time to learn. 

Invest in the right tools and offer support as needed

New employees may or may not be familiar with the tools that your team uses. During the remote onboarding process, provide information about what tools they will need to sign up for or download. Make sure they understand what each tool is used for and how different tools are used for communication purposes. 

Training on digital tools can include video tutorials, help articles, and internal guides. To avoid overwhelming the new hire, prioritize the tools that will be most important in the first few days and weeks. 

If the budget allows, set up a time with the new hire to go over their at-home technology set up. Do they need a dedicated workspace, additional monitor, or specific type of computer? Taking care of the tech needs creates a level playing field and ensures that all employees have what they need to get their job done. 

Provide training to prepare new employees for remote work

Effective remote onboarding programs should leverage both synchronous and asynchronous forms of training and mentorship. While it can be helpful to have written materials to review independently, new hires will also benefit from live learning opportunities with their manager and/or team. 

Videos are much more dynamic and engaging than pages upon pages of process documentation. Employers can record instructional or informational videos on a variety of topics. 

Video meetings also help new employees build relationships with other members of the team. They can help humanize the company and make a new hire feel connected early on. 

Managers should check in with new hires throughout the onboarding process to answer questions, provide guidance, and ensure that they are completing onboarding tasks at an appropriate pace. 

Onboarding programs should be goal oriented

During these check-ins, employers should set clear onboarding goals and expectations. For example, by the end of the onboarding process, it is fair to expect employees to:

  • Have a clear understanding of their responsibilities
  • Complete work in a timely manner
  • Demonstrate initiative to improve existing projects and tasks 
  • Communicate clearly with colleagues and managers

Check-ins can take place over video calls, instant messages, or some combination of the two. 

Integrate company culture

During the onboarding process, new hires should gain an understanding of the company culture, including: company vision and values, hierarchy, level of formality, and management style. 

New employees should also feel included. In the first few weeks, intentionally invite them to join and participate in meetings and important projects. If your company has a more casual environment, you could invite the new hire to a virtual lunch or happy hour to help them meet some colleagues in an informal setting. 

Encourage relationship building

Consider assigning new employees an onboarding buddy. Remote employees may struggle to know who to ask questions. Offering a peer to help answer questions related to procedure and company culture can alleviate some of the pressure of asking simple questions to a manager. Providing a designated onboarding buddy will also help new employees feel connected and make workplace friends faster. 

For larger teams with multiple new hires starting at the same time, provide an opportunity for new hires to connect with each other too. Starting fresh can be less intimidating if you know that you’re not the only one learning and asking questions. 

Gather feedback and iterate

New employees are an excellent resource for feedback because they can evaluate processes from a fresh perspective. During the remote onboarding process, collect feedback on how effective the trainings are, what worked and what didn’t, and how the pacing felt. 

Integrating feedback into the remote onboarding process—via surveys, meetings, and performance-tracking software—can help employers customize the onboarding experience and make improvements for the next new hire. 

This will probably be one of the first experiences that the new hire has delivering feedback in their new role. How you listen to and respond to this feedback will set the tone for delivering feedback moving forward. 

Conclusion

Providing some structure for new employees during the remote onboarding process can do a lot to make the first few weeks a smooth transition and enjoyable experience. However, it’s important to remember that the best practices for remote onboarding are constantly evolving as new technologies emerge and the culture of remote work evolves. Creating a seamless remote onboarding experience takes time and a willingness to adapt to your company’s needs, but it can pay off in employee retention and productivity in the long run. 

Hiring new teammates across borders? Onboarding your global talent is easy and integrated with Oyster.

About Oyster

Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop, and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. Oyster lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches and expense.

About the Author

Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop, and take care of a thriving distributed workforce.

About the Author

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