Optimizing the Onboarding Process for a Remote World

May 27, 2021 | Shannon Shoemaker

Onboarding is the most important phase in the employee life cycle, but it often doesn’t receive the attention needed to drive your retention strategy. Historically, onboarding has been confused with orientation and focused almost exclusively on reviewing rules and regulations (75% in one survey) and not on setting up employees for long-term success.

And when optimizing onboarding for a remote environment, taking your time to build human touchpoints and organizational culture into your onboarding process is more important than ever.

If your organization is geared up for long-term remote work, don’t overlook onboarding. Here’s how to develop an effective and engaging onboarding process for remote delivery.


Involve Leadership Via Video Conference

Remote onboarding allows you to get leadership more involved. Have organizational leaders join virtually or share a pre-recorded video welcoming the new cohort and outlining the organization’s mission, vision and values. When possible, customize messaging to the new cohort. Emphasize the role each new hire plays in helping the organization achieve its purpose.

Since new hires absorb a wealth of information at the beginning of remote onboarding, extend the process over the course of the new hires’ first full year at your organization. “New hires spend the first week meeting people across departments but don’t have context yet,” says Dani Kimlinger, CEO and Partner at MINES & Associates. “Reiterate and bring those people into meetings and processes down the line.”

Invite leaders to take turns participating in monthly check-ins, suggests Adriana Cooper, Founder of Destinations HR LLC. Allow each leader to interact with new hires, and make sure new hires have an opportunity to ask questions. In-person interactions with leaders are often less structured, but moderated remote check-ins facilitate conversations to make sure everyone is heard.


Set Expectations for Routine Check-Ins

Consistent communication is key in a remote environment. New remote employees won’t be able to pop into their supervisor’s office or ask questions in the hall. But they may not be comfortable calling their manager directly to ask a simple question. “New hires are going into a black hole of links and videos,” Cooper says. “Follow up to make sure it’s effective.” By scheduling consistent, expected check-ins where managers reach out to employees during onboarding, new hires have an opportunity to ask questions and receive dedicated one-on-one time.

The ongoing relationship between managers and employees is important, too, so have managers set a cadence of one-on-one check-ins that will be consistent through their first year, after which managers can reevaluate how much independence employees need. Check-in frequency during the first year could be daily or two or three days per week. Make sure those meetings occur at the same time and day(s) each week, and get them scheduled on both parties’ calendars.


Focus on Fostering Human Connections

In a remote environment, deliberate human touch points help new hires make friends, become more confident in their role and learn more about organizational culture. “Personal connection is really helpful,” Kimlinger says. Structure your onboarding cohort meetings with planned engagement questions, and have a moderator facilitate equal speaking time. Background screening partners can help by streamlining the hiring and orientation process. Automating what you can through a trusted vendor, like Cisive, frees up more bandwidth for human interactions.

Develop an ambassador program that employees can volunteer for. Ambassadors are employees who understand organizational norms and culture and who can help new hires acclimate. “Ambassadors should be individuals, not necessarily within the same reporting structure, that guide the employees through the process,” Cooper says. Ambassadors should meet with their new-hire groups regularly throughout their first year with the company to answer questions that new hires may not feel comfortable asking their managers.

Optimizing your onboarding process for remote delivery will help you engage employees at the beginning of their life cycle, no matter where they’re located. And as the economy and the competition for talent heats up, delivering effective, flexible onboarding is the first, most important step toward attracting and retaining top talent.

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