Being thoughtful about onboarding remote employees is crucial for fairness and employee loyalty.
Across the globe, companies have shifted to remote and hybrid workplaces. Whether the Covid-19 pandemic created this shift or merely sped it up, the reality is that for many organizations, there’s no going back—remote work is here to stay, and company processes must consider and support the remote employee experience.
Nowhere is this more true than in onboarding remote employees. It’s hard to create an onboarding experience that makes people feel like they belong somewhere, when that “somewhere” isn’t a physical space. But it’s a critical part of both reinforcing employees’ decision to join your company and strengthening your company culture.
Here are a few ways you can ensure that your remote onboarding program immerses remote employees in your workplace culture.
1. Get the organization excited about new remote employees
Encourage your leaders to anticipate greatness from fresh talent. No one should feel like they have to prove themselves to anyone else – ever.
You hire remote workers for a reason, right? They’ve done the work to earn an offer. Just like onsite team members, remote employees have the qualities and skills needed to add value to the team and help your organization achieve its mission.
Here are a few ways to prepare the company to give remote employees a warm welcome:
- Ensure leaders articulate how the company’s success and shared purpose is accelerated by new hires
- Make an announcement that celebrates new hires’ unique gifts and who they are as human beings to help your employees get to know them
- Invite new hires to write a few words about themselves so that team members can identify any shared interests or interests that excite curiosity
Connections happen quickly when there is more than just work to share.
2. Assign a “new hire buddy” that embodies your company culture
New remote workers need a friendly face to go to for clarity and guidance about the business. Having someone that each new hire “knows” can also foster the kind of social support that strengthens remote teams.
A buddy system should include regularly scheduled check-ins. This creates a dedicated safe space for new remote employees to ask questions they don’t feel comfortable asking in a group Zoom or Slack channel.
Connections happen quickly when there is more than just work to share.
Think carefully when choosing who to tap as a new hire buddy. An ideal buddy is someone who:
- Embodies the organization’s core values
- Acts as an ambassador of the business
- Thrives as a go-to guide for others
It’s important to be sure that the buddy genuinely wants to be and enjoys being a part of the journey others are on. (Bonus points if coaching is a part of your buddy’s development.)
3. Encourage virtual “coffee meetings” with varying roles in the business
It’s important to set time aside each day for your new hires to establish relationships as soon as possible. This is especially true if your onboarding process is very information-heavy. This deliberate approach to virtual office connections in a remote environment will accelerate team camaraderie.
Most of these casual meetings should be with employees outside of the new hire’s own role so they can learn about different aspects of the business and connect with the people that can provide context for the big picture.
Since every organization is unique, these informal meetings will enable your new hires to more efficiently connect the dots of your business and associate the information they are getting from the training with the roles that perform these important duties.
In an office setting, these connections may have happened organically. In a remote setting, these dedicated meetings create a more intentional way of connecting to your workplaces’ social ecosystem than ever before.
4. Create an ERG made up of first-year remote employees & empower them meet periodically
It’s already hard to be the new employee in an office setting. In the remote world, it’s even harder. Creating a remote Employee Resource Group (ERG) for new hires to share learnings will foster a sense of camaraderie early because everyone in the group can relate to one another.
This ERG is especially useful when the remote employees are in different roles, because learning in one role could benefit everyone in the group. You can provide prompts for the group meetings to have more intention or allow for free-form discovery and natural conversation.
There’s no wrong way to let a group like this connect – it’s more about common ground than having a set agenda. Bonus points for creating a chat channel just for first year employees.
5. Be vulnerable and share where the business has opportunities to improve
No business has perfect processes in place and there’s always room to evolve and grow with the world around us. It’s essential for leaders and individual contributors to voice what’s not working, especially if your company is new to operating remotely.
Your new hires, having started in a completely remote environment, will have firsthand knowledge and ideas for improving the remote experience. (In fact, the inspiration for this post came from a new remote employee!)
6. Meet remote employees where they are at, not the other way around
Remote workers do not have the luxury of being shoulder-to-shoulder with a veteran employee to ask quick questions or get in-the-moment guidance.
In a remote work environment, that kind of invaluable support happens asynchronously—a question asked on your company’s messaging platform gets answered when someone is available, and in some cases that might not be for hours.
This is especially true when employees are spread across time zones, as well as when companies wisely give remote employees flexibility to incorporate work-life balance into their schedules.
While onboarding remote employees, it’s important to give them as much time as they need to learn about the core business and its products/services/offerings, as well as the psychological safety to ask as many questions as possible.
Have 30-, 60- and 90-day development checklists for new hires to assess their needs and confidence in different areas. Avoid the expectation that remote workers know everything by a certain date; instead, embrace the way they learn and the journey to help them get there.
7. Double up the one-on-ones with people managers
Having one-on-ones with direct reports should be on every manager’s schedule, but new hires in a remote environment should have twice as many one-on-ones for at least 90 days into the onboarding process.
This extra “face time” is essential for establishing a remote mentor-mentee relationship. It takes time to develop and understand each other’s communication styles, so managers must spend extra time with new hires to cultivate a bond early on that facilitates great communication.
8. Celebrate each milestone with a proper shout out on your communication tool
We’ve all heard the idea of celebrating small wins. Remote workplaces in particular can benefit from this culture-strengthening practice.
For example, managers can recap what the 90-day onboarding journey of a remote employee has brought to the team. Share what the team has learned from them and how they’ve already contributed.
Collect anecdotes from those who have spent time with this new hire to share words of encouragement and make your pride in this employee known. Celebrate remote employees’ work milestones and encourage colleagues to give recognition and praise freely.
Our research shows that when people are made to feel welcome, the organization not only survives during a recession, it thrives. First impressions last much longer than the initial moment, so focus your time spent onboarding remote employees on connecting.
Your new remote employees will have an unforgettable onboarding experience in a space they look forward to logging into every day.
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Shaun Aguilera is a Customer Success Manager at Great Place to Work. Shaun helps organizations analyze employee experience data unique to their business. His love of connection and passion for people has seen him through his five-year career in customer success. Always looking to learn and challenge himself, Shaun can be found climbing rock faces, biking long distances, dancing, DJing, or sharing his homemade kombucha with loved ones.