Best practices for onboarding remote employees

One of the primary goals of employee onboarding is to help new hires acclimate to the social and professional expectations of their new work environment so that they can proceed comfortably and effectively in their roles. As more companies choose to hire remote workers, they face the challenge of creating an onboarding process that accomplishes this goal for  virtual employees.

Welcoming your new employees in person makes it easy to answer questions, meet team members, and get a sense of how they’ll all interact with each other. But leaders and the new faces they bring in have a new normal, as the COVID-19 coronavirus has forced many employees to work at home. Remote hires who live in different locations and even time zones haven’t often had the advantage of in-person meetings, and now most new hires face the same disadvantages. It can be hard for remote workers to adjust to the company’s culture and gain both the official and non-official knowledge about how things get done at the company. Especially if your new remote workers aren’t used to a remote environment.

Having no opportunities to bond through in-person meetings isn’t the most ideal situation for a new hire. But there are ways to prepare an onboarding program for remote employees to minimize disadvantages. Here are some best practices for onboarding remote employees and integrating them into your company culture:

Face-to-Face Connections

The coronavirus pandemic means it’s not likely you can’t bring your remote employee to headquarters for the first week of orientation. But it’s easy to use video conferencing and internal messaging software to introduce your new hire to coworkers. This allows new hires to be more comfortable in conversations that create personal bonds. Video conferencing allows employees to make eye contact and observe facial expressions that are important to interpersonal communication.

It’s also important that virtual workers get a sense of how your organization looks and operates–because even if everyone is operating remotely now, that will eventually change. If you already have images or videos from inside your offices, you can prepare virtual tours that give remote workers a sense of the company environment. A virtual walk-through that allows remote workers to see co-workers in action, even if it’s not a current video, may still help to reduce feelings of isolation.

Set Expectations

Clearly communicate your expectations to new employees before they start work. Onboarding employees with a clear picture of their duties is the basis for successful hires. Both you and the remote worker should be clear on company values, team objectives, and individual goals. You should also establish time frames for training, reviews, and milestones.

You should verify that new employees understand their tasks and the systems they’ll use in their work. Discuss upcoming projects, organization leaders, and access to shared employee resources.

Work out a schedule for availability to attend team meetings. Provide the new hire with documentation of your onboarding process so that they can reference it for answers and guidance.

Make New Workers Feel Welcome

Working remotely can be a challenge for those accustomed to a traditional shared workspace, so you have to go out of your way to make sure new virtual hires feel comfortable enough to share their thoughts. Remote employees who feel a connection with your company will be more motivated to make a positive impression.

It’s important that new employees become a functional part of the team. Introducing them to other team members, and where to turn for help, builds relationships that are important to job satisfaction and performance.

Ensure the rest of the team is accepting of the new hire. Connect the new employee with veteran team members in a mentored relationship to better understand business goals and values.

Refine the Onboarding Process

For each new process you implement, you should review its impact and results. Document and evaluate how both existing and new employees react to the onboarding process. Find out what works best for onboarding remote workers by consulting those who’ve had similar experiences.

After new remote workers have been at their jobs for a while, ask them the value they got from your onboarding strategy. By constantly evaluating and improving the onboarding process, you can help remote workers adjust to their new roles easily and refine for future remote hires.

Onboarding any new hire is important, but remote hires provide special challenges (and opportunities) in building your team. You should bring new team members to headquarters if possible, but otherwise utilize video conferencing to make them familiar to coworkers and start building relationships. The first step should be making them aware of and comfortable with social and professional expectations. Make them feel welcome, and follow up by gathering feedback to evaluate and refine your onboarding process. Often you’ll have to look beyond local job candidates to find the best talent.

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