Few companies pay enough attention to employee onboarding — according to a recent Gallup survey, only 12% of employees think their company does it well. And it’s clear that effective onboarding is crucial for both company productivity and employee retention: Successful onboarding can improve employee performance by up to 15% and means an employee is nine times more likely to stay with the company.
Our organization supports companies all over the world with remote onboarding. Here, I want to highlight some onboarding practices that we have found useful both within our own team and when supporting other teams.
Related: 4 Building Blocks for a Successful Remote Employee Onboarding Process
What does remote onboarding cover?
Standard employee onboarding covers all the steps that must be taken to set up a new employee to be successful within the company. This includes introducing new hires to the team, ensuring that they have the right equipment and providing training on key company policies.
In remote onboarding, the process must be applied virtually, losing the in-person element which may make it easier to make employees feel at ease and welcomed. To succeed with remote onboarding, we recommend the following:
1. Master “preboarding”
“Preboarding” covers all those steps for setting up a new team member before the formal employment period begins. This includes:
checking that all contracts and additional documents (such as non-disclosure agreements) are signed
providing essential company documents and policies, such as the code of conduct and health & safety policies
ensuring the remote workstation is set up with everything the new hire needs to hit the ground running (e.g., the company laptop has been dispatched and accounts with all the necessary remote work software have been created).
Nailing the preboarding process ensures that the employee can begin building momentum in their new role from the very first day of employment.
2. Apply a culture of documentation
In a traditional office environment, it is relatively easy for new hires to approach other staff and ask how things are done. This more casual approach doesn’t work in a remote-first work environment. Many prefer to work asynchronously (so may have limited availability), and Zoom fatigue means that many want to keep meetings to a minimum.
This means, more than ever, the collective knowledge of the company needs to be documented and accessible for new staff. This should extend from process (e.g., how to use the employee HR portal or how to change passwords) to substantive knowledge for specific roles (e.g., sales scripts or answers to common customer queries).
A documentation culture means:
a secure repository (we have found Confluence a useful tool for retaining information in a familiar ‘wiki’ structure)
regular updates, so that documents are a source of trust
access privileges, which means that employees can view and edit all documents that they need to, but access to sensitive information is restricted.
Related: 4 Strategies to Successfully Onboard New Remote Employees
3. Take cybersecurity seriously
Remote work enlarges the potential “attack surface” of an organization — employees are likely to be working from non-secure connections and locations. This means they may be putting company IP or employee/customer personal data at risk or opening up the organization to phishing and other cyberattacks.
Onboarding remote employees for cybersecurity means not just reciting the company’s security policies, but implementing online training and putting controls in place to ensure that those processes are being followed. Important steps here usually include applying two-factor (2FA) identification, requiring password resets at regular intervals and only allowing employee access through a VPN.
4. Ensure new employees are welcomed and feel included
Without the benefit of in-person introductions and social events, onboarding managers need to be intentional in helping new employees feel part of the team. This might include team members creating introduction videos for the onboardee (Loom is a good tool for this) and establishing virtual coffee breaks with key team members.
As part of this, ensure new employees are included in all existing community-building initiatives: Make sure they have access to socially-oriented Slack or Teams channels and are invited to upcoming company events.
Welcoming new employees with company “swag” is also a nice touch (stationery, coffee mugs and company hoodies are all popular).
Related: 3 Onboarding Tips That Close the Gap for Remote Employees
5. Implement “buddies” for all onboardees
All remote onboardees should be assigned a “buddy” to whom they can feel comfortable asking any questions in relation to the company and their new role within it. Different than a mentor or supervisor, it can be advantageous for the buddy to be peer of the onboardee. Buddies should volunteer for the role, have a thorough understanding of the company and its processes and have a good reputation within the company.
When you implement a buddy system, it is important to regularly check in on the system and make sure it is refined based on onboardee and buddy feedback.
Onboarding new employees is a challenge for the remote-first work environment. Lack of physical proximity, use of remote work tools and a tendency towards asynchronous work can all make it more challenging for an employee to thrive in their new role. To get ahead of this challenge, companies need to be strategic about employee onboarding and ensure all new hires have the company support and tools to thrive in their new role.
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