How to Onboard Your Remote Workforce

November 27, 2018 | Shannon Shoemaker

The workplace is changing rapidly. Now, more than ever, we are managing teams who are not just working in different offices and locations, but increasingly more are working from home as well as remotely. This remote work trend can take some getting used to for managers and employees alike, however the challenges of engagement, communication, leading, and productivity remain the same.

An employee’s most productive time in the job is during their first six months of employment, which means that employers are presented with an opportunity to train, engage, and build relationships with their most recent hires during this honeymoon period. With the increase in remote working, onboarding becomes critical.

Forty percent of employees who left their jobs voluntarily did so within six months of starting in the position, according to data from the workforce insights arm of credit-reporting agency Equifax. Another 16 percent of all employees who left on their own choosing did so within 12 months, meaning more than half of voluntary turnover happens within a year of new hires’ start dates.

Particularly during their first six months of work, it’s critical for all workers to become comfortable and acclimate at their new employer. However, with remote workers it’s even more critical because their interactions and relationships are harder to establish, build, grow, and evolve.

Best Practices for Onboarding a Remote Workforce 

These practices apply to onboarding in general, but here we’re including some innovative examples that you can use when developing an onboarding process for your remote employees. Ideally, with technology, your remote employees can have an experience as close to your on-site employees as possible.

Make them feel welcome from the moment you offer the job.
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 ask questions and share ideas. Remote employees who feel a connection with your company will be more motivated to make a positive impression. It’s also 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.

Organize and schedule common onboarding activities just like in the traditional office.
As part of the remote onboarding process, develop a training manual that includes dates, topics, task descriptions and expectations, and an indication of how progress is evaluated. These activities can be collected and made available to access online in the form of video or group chats, along with a learning library that makes it easy for your new remote employees to find the information they need. Regularly scheduled face-to-face (video) meetings with key team members and leaders mimic the same type of interaction on-site employees have access to.

Leverage technology like video, instant messaging, and other tools to make the new employee feel at home.
While the cost savings of remote work arrangements can be appealing, there are other considerations that come with price tags—like combating isolation and the need for advanced technology to keep teams connected. Teams that succeed with remote work weave these costs into specialized support systems. At Formstack, for example, all remote employees receive a monthly allowance to use for co-working space rentals, home office equipment or other tools and technologies they need to be effective from afar.According to the Society for Human Resource Management, video conferencing technology is an extremely valuable tool for onboarding remote hires. Incorporating video conferencing into your onboarding process lets you bring the office to your remote employees. Start by setting up a video meeting that permits you to introduce the new hires to your current employees.

Over communicate using different mediums.
A highly effective way of reducing “first day” stress before your new hires even begin orientation is to get them fully engaged with the company. This is where technology support comes in.Giving access to your internal employee site as soon as the offer is accepted is a great way to get new hires acclimated quickly. This should be a destination for incoming remote employees to find everything they need to know about working for your company, including standard operating procedures, what technology the company uses (such as performance tracking apps and communication tools), company values and expectations from remote employees.At Fog Creek Software, where 60% of team members work remotely, a monthly online meeting called a Town Hall is used as an outlet to discuss feelings and problems as well as upcoming events and company-wide changes.

Consider a remote mentor program.
Giving your new hires access to influential employees at your company as mentors can not only give your new hires an additional layer of comfort at their new job, but it also creates a mentor/mentee relationship that continues past new employee orientation, giving them an opportunity for ongoing learning on the job and a point of contact when in need of advice.Providing new hires with a mentor or peer buddy can have a positive impact on both productivity and retention. Under Google’s “Buddy Hire Program,” most Nooglers (Google’s affectionate term for its new hires) are assigned a mentor to help speed progress towards becoming a productive employee.IBM’s Royal Blue Ambassador Program provides every new hire with an experienced employee mentor for 30 days in order to help them adapt quickly to working at the firm. Beyond 30 days, IBM has a volunteer collaborative group known as its “grassroots community” which continues to help new hires transition into IBM both virtually and on-site.Consider forming a “new hire” affinity group, so that your new employees can share problems, opportunities and experiences with each other. This is particularly helpful if you onboard larger groups remotely. It’s important that your new hires bond with others, and their fellow new employees are the best people to understand this period of adaptation and learning.

Ask for feedback from your new hires.
This is ultimately for your benefit, HR. Without the data from feedback, you have no way of measuring the success of your onboarding program, the increased investment you’ve asked for from your executive team, or departmental success.

One of the most obvious (and beneficial) ways to improve your onboarding program is to survey your new hires that went through your remote employee new hire training after 1, 6 and 12 months have gone by. Use that survey data to identify the program components that worked, those that need improvement and those that need to be added.

Continuous Onboarding Extends Beyond an Employee Start Date 

Finally, until recently, onboarding has been treated as a single event rather than a process: New hires are passive participants in a one- or two-day orientation. They receive information about policies and procedures, sign lots of paperwork, and connect with their supervisor. Today’s talent economy requires forward-thinking companies to assess how they can bring remote employees into their company culture and get them up to speed so they can be productive as quickly as possible.

As hiring heats up and, at the same time, turnover rates dramatically increase, the time has come for executives, hiring managers and HR leaders to realize the tremendous impact that modern onboarding can have on new hire productivity and retention. The traditional goal of simply having people signed up and oriented on the basics must shift towards one of delighting new hires and providing them with the information and the support that they need to be productive as soon as possible, no matter where they’re physically located.


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