The global health crisis in 2020 forced many companies to transition to remote work. And it also created the necessity for a completely virtual onboarding process for new hires.
But, for many employers, onboarding new employees virtually was a new concept. Moreover, they’re still struggling to get right.
This article is for both – remote-first companies and those operating remotely temporarily due to the pandemic. It contains 10 remote onboarding best practices to ensure happy, engaged, and thriving remote workers.
The onboarding process is rapidly changing
A good virtual onboarding experience is crucial in helping you attract and retain skilled personnel for your company.
New hires in organizations that have and follow onboarding best practices have 50% greater productivity and higher employee engagement.
But, recent changes due to COVID-19 have rapidly altered the workplace for many companies. This poses new challenges for onboarding.
Companies must find innovative ways to create a strong foundation for new hires. The process should help them develop relationships in the workplace and have a voice – all without having met them physically during the hiring.
That’s why companies need to structure an effective and informative virtual onboarding experience for all new employees.
Why developing a remote strategy is important
The first day at a new job is always challenging. But with remote work, the unfamiliar environment, new faces, and new technology can be even more overwhelming for employees.
Failing to create an efficient onboarding process can actually hurt the productivity levels of new hires. But, for many companies seeing remote work as a viable strategy going forward – even post-COVID, developing a remote onboarding process will pay off in the long run too.
How to effectively onboard remote workers
The main goal of employee onboarding is to arm them with the information, tools, and resources they need to perform effectively and comfortably in their new roles.
The process needs to give them a clear understanding of what’s expected from them both socially and professionally.
Onboarding best practices for remote workers
Listed below are 10 onboarding best practices for remote workers that will help you achieve these goals.
If you are completely new at hiring and onboarding virtually, follow these steps.
Create a seamless and dynamic onboarding process to help new hires acclimate to their work environment.
1. Don’t skip introductions
Although remote employee onboarding processes are different from on-site onboarding, the two still have some similarities.
For instance, it’s still important to do normal introductions with new employees just as you would in an office. This helps to create a warm, welcoming environment that helps new hires feel like they’re part of the team.
It also aids in better team communication going forward. This is particularly important for workers who have been accustomed to traditional shared workspaces.
Companies have to go out of their way to make new hires feel comfortable sharing their thoughts.
When introducing a new virtual hire
- Send a welcome email with a short introduction
- Make it as easy for them to become a functional part of your team.
- Show them where to turn to if they need help.
- Connect them with veteran team members.
A welcome email helps new employees a lot in the first days of the onboarding process.
Proper introductions, provide them a solid foundation for building relationships that are crucial to their job performance and satisfaction.
Veteran team members can mentor new employees and help them better understand the goals and values of your business.
2. Make face-to-face connections
In a remote setup, it’s important to create an environment where new hires can make face-to-face connections.
Both the employer and employee should be able to interact, see facial expressions and body language. This is something that is easy to overlook, yet it is of extreme importance.
Video conferencing is a great way to make face-to-face connections with new virtual employees. It also helps maintain continual connections with all your remote team.
You can also use internal messaging software for introducing new hires to coworkers.
The goal should be to make new remote workers more comfortable starting or joining conversations. And, eventually, help them create more personal bonds.
Video conferencing, in particular, works effectively in this regard. It allows employees to make eye contact, as well as observe facial expressions. Both of these are essential to interpersonal communication.
Face-to-face connections also help virtual workers to gain a stronger sense of your organization and its operations.
For instance, you can share videos or images of company events or meet-ups with your new employees. A virtual walk-through will help give remote workers some sense of the environment in your business.
Walkthroughs like this allow virtual workers to see other employees in action. What’s more, they lessen feelings of isolation, even if the videos or images aren’t current.
3. Provide a welcome guide
As previously noted, onboarding in person is challenging enough for new employees. But, when they have to figure out everything they need remotely, the challenge can be even more pronounced.
A great way to overcome this onboarding issue is to provide a digital welcome kit or guide. This guide should contain all the basic information and contacts that new hires need to know.
Here are some guidelines on what you should and shouldn’t include in your welcome guide:
- Contact Information: Include phone numbers, emails, and contact information of colleagues that new hires will be collaborating with.
- General Information: Information they may find useful as they start work at the company.
A welcome video would work also well in this regard. Just don’t make it too formal. It should serve to make the new employees feel more at ease in their work environment.
Confidential Information: Leave out confidential or sensitive information, such as passwords
Send the welcome guide to your new remote employees before the first onboarding session.
To take this a step further, you can also incorporate live webinar training sessions as a way to make your new employees feel welcome and allow them to get answers to their questions in real-time.
This is yet another powerful way to build a sense of camaraderie between them and their new team.
4. Determine how to give secure access to tools
A major challenge of remote working is keeping passwords and other sensitive information secure.
Employees have to access them to do their jobs, and it’s up to you to determine the best way to give secure access to tools so your new workers can hit the ground running and offer their best performance possible.
Here are some ways that can be accomplished:
1. Create a cyber security policy
One way to maintain security when working with a remote team is by developing a security policy for remote workers. This will help to ensure that each employee’s access to company data is secure.
Your cybersecurity policy can stipulate guidelines to comply with security protocols both at home or during travel. For instance, your policy may include things such as the mandatory use of messaging programs like WhatsApp or Signal that have encryption, as well as protocols to remotely wipe devices if lost.
2. Use encryption
Most businesses use Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) for securing data as part of their security protocol. This software uses symmetric key encryption, which means the receiver decodes the sender’s data using a key.
AES is compatible with a large variety of applications and is faster to use. You can use end-to-end encryption for things like email, software for general communication, and so on, as it uses strong encryption that can’t be hacked – as long as the endpoints are secure.
3. Exercise the principle of least privilege
Limiting the privileges of your virtual employees is yet another effective method for mitigating security risk. Your network security privileges can be categorized as:
- Standard users
- Guest users
You can employ diminishing privileges in the same order, with super users having full access to your system privileges, and standard users having restricted accounts that they use most of the time for routine tasks.
Superusers can issue changes across networks. They can install and modify software, user data, and settings, so it goes without saying that you should only give these types of privileges to trusted people in your IT team.
As a precaution, you might have them only use their super-user accounts for performing administrative duties only when absolutely necessary, and use restricted or standard accounts most of the time.
Limiting access in this way will help to dramatically reduce the risk of your company experiencing a severe data breach.
Remote work has become a major part of the workforce, and in today’s globally decentralized business landscape, hackers present a continual risk to every business’s network security.
With this danger in mind, there’s no better time than now for your business to make strides in securing its virtual work, and the steps outlined above can help you achieve a more secure virtual workplace and thwart cyber threats.
5. Forge connections through collaboration
As part of the virtual onboarding process, you must ensure that you provide employees with plenty of opportunities for them to learn from one another.
Collaborative learning is important for forming employee bonds. It also helps to build a strong team-oriented work culture, especially if the employees work in different sites.
A great way to achieve collaborative learning is by planning video mentoring sessions so that managers or more experienced team members can mentor new employees and show them the ropes.
This will help new hires to quickly gain an understanding of the social and professional expectations of their new job.
If you already conduct webinars for your customers, you can also create learning sessions for your virtual workers using your webinar software.
In addition to helping new virtual employees forge lasting bonds, encouraging collaboration in this way is also a great opportunity for cross-training teams.
6. Conduct frequent check-ins
Being remote makes it important to purposefully check in with your new employees on a frequent basis. This will allow you to assess how effective the onboarding process is, as well as ensure that your employee is making progress as expected.
You can create milestones for your onboarding plan to help you assess their performance and address any problems as soon as possible.
By conducting frequent check-ins with your employees, you also provide yourself with a platform to get valuable feedback on your onboarding process. This feedback can then be used to refine your plan to the benefit of your company and its future employees.
Checking in with your virtual employee can be as simple as arranging a video call or sending an email. Often, the former is recommended as it’s far more personable.
And keep in mind that it isn’t just managers who need to touch base with virtual employees.
Someone from HR should also take the time to check-in. If the company isn’t too large, the Department Director or CEO can also check in on new hires.
7. Train managers for remote employee management
Remote working creates a set of new challenges for managers who are used to traditional methods of managing team members.
But, remote workers face their own unique challenges, and not having managers trained to manage remote workers effectively will harm new employees.
You can prevent such a situation by providing managers with the appropriate training they need to optimize onboarding, give them access to tools to do a technical skills assessment for new hires, and provide the support new remote hires need.
Here are a few considerations for training managers of virtual employees:
- Emphasize communication: Managers and remote staff must communicate so workers can be kept apprised of available resources, deadlines, work-related challenges, work schedules, and other managers’ expectations.
- Set expectations early: Provide guidelines, set boundaries, and review the basics for each project you set out on. If employees have questions, managers should be accessible to provide clarity on every aspect of the project, including priorities, milestones, and performance goals.
- Be flexible: When working with remote employees, it’s important to remain organized and prioritize, but flexibility is key to maintaining consistency. You should have a concrete plan, but always be open to adjusting your strategies as needed.
For instance, allow flexible hours, and whether your employees decide to put in the hours early in the morning or later in the evening should not matter, just as long as they complete the work in a timely and professional way.
8. Develop your remote work culture
Work culture is a mix of an organization’s traditions, values, leadership, beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes that make up the atmosphere of a workplace environment.
It determines how well individuals fit into the environment at the new job and impacts their performance and ability to develop professional relationships with coworkers.
Remote-friendly work culture is an essential aspect of successful virtual onboarding. It’s important for keeping both on-site and off-site employees productive and feeling like they are part of the team. Strong work culture can also help you retain workers in the long term.
Here are a few other reasons why developing a positive work culture is so important for companies:
- Helps to raise morale
- Improves teamwork and collaboration
- Increases productivity and efficiency
- Boosts job satisfaction
- Reduces stress in employees
- Enhances workforce retention
To ensure the long-term success of your remote onboarding process, it is critical to invest in creating a remote-friendly workplace where everyone feels included – regardless of where they work.
9. Have clear communication channels
Constant communication is crucial for successful onboarding. It’s important to select specific communication channels so your employees can collaborate and ask questions.
There are tons of remote team communication tools you can choose from. You can select the best option for your business depending on your needs.
For instance, if you need to get regular project updates or conduct meetings, you can use multiple communication tools that will help you collaborate efficiently.
Some of the best remote team communication tools contain features such as:
- Instant messaging: The majority of instant messaging tools like Slack come with features such as software integrations, dedicated channels, and video calls.
- File sharing and collaboration: Tools like ClickUp, G-Suite, and Asana help give your remote team the online space they need to function efficiently. The software includes file sharing, project management, and other features for seamless coordination between projects.
- Video conferencing and calls: Video conferencing software is great for interacting face-to-face with team members. You can use a tool like Zoom or Microsoft Teams to host team discussions and webinars.
There are other remote platforms that assist virtual employees to communicate and collaborate. But these tools don’t fit into a traditional communication category.
These include tools like:
- Loom for screencasting;
- Zapier to create automated workflows and integrate multiple tools together; and
- Krisp, an AI-powered noise-canceling app that shuts out background noise, allowing you to take calls wherever you are.
10. Encourage feedback
When developing a remote onboarding process for the first time, there are likely to be challenges or things that are missed. Your new remote workers are the ones who are most likely to find problems with the process.
The majority of employees report experiencing mishaps during the onboarding process. This includes things such as not having a company overview, lacking the required technology, missing coworker introductions so that they had to do it themselves, and more.
And stats say that employees are twice as likely to look for another job if they experience a bad onboarding. This makes it crucial for companies to get feedback from new virtual hires that allows them to improve their onboarding process.
You need to encourage regular feedback on issues the new hires are facing and continually adjust the onboarding process to make it better.
To refine your onboarding process, you must review the impact and results of each new process that you implement.
Another way to encourage feedback is by asking employees who’ve been at their jobs for a while what value they caught from the onboarding strategy.
The constant evaluation will help you tweak and improve your process over time.
Onboarding is challenging enough in the physical environment, but when working with virtual hires, the problems (and opportunities) are more pronounced.
The 10 remote onboarding best practices outlined in this article will help you create an environment for your new virtual staff that helps them avoid feelings of isolation, connects them with the rest of the team, provides support, and sets them up for success.
Do you have any other remote onboarding best practices to add to this list? Share your opinion in the comments section below!
About the Author:
Ron Stefanski is an internet business expert and marketing professor who has a passion for helping people create and market online businesses.