Seamless Remote Onboarding: Key to Employee Retention of Remote Workforce

September 15, 2020 | Antique Nguyen

An employee’s most productive time on 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 a steep increase in remote working, onboarding becomes critical. According to the 2019 Retention Report from the Work Institute, more than 38% of all turnover in 2018 was attributable to employees who quit in the first year and 43 out of 100 new employees quit in the first 90 days. This means that close to half of voluntary turnover happens within a year of new hires’ start dates.

In a recent post, What ICE’s Extension of Virtual I-9 Verification Means for HR, we discussed why employees tend to leave companies and how onboarding factors into retention. A BambooHR report indicated that new hires are leaving companies within the first six months for reasons that include feeling neglected, overwhelmed, under-appreciated, and underqualified. Remote onboarding can further exacerbate a lack of connection or communication, which is why it’s imperative to develop a seamless remote onboarding process.

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 – and this means we have to work to keep them. We outlined 6 Ways to Make Your Remote Onboarding Process Seamless in another recent post. Each of these can help improve the remote onboarding process, but here we’ll focus on what you can do to specifically improve employee retention.


Rethinking How Onboarding Works for New Employees Post-COVID-19

Historically, onboarding has been a company’s best tool for retaining employees. It’s an opportunity to take a deep dive into company culture, introduce mentorship, team building, ongoing career development, and start every new employee off in a positive way. It’s also something that a lot of companies “set and forget,” meaning they set up new hire training and return to it only when company policy changes. If improving retention during your new employees’ first six months is your focus, then getting creative with how you approach onboarding can be a game changer.


Establish continuous onboarding as the new normal.

In order to engage and retain talented remote employees, we need to extend our employee onboarding and new hire process beyond even 90 days. Historically, 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. Extending onboarding from a finite period during which all of the boxes are checked to an ongoing learning process means that no employee will ever feel left out or behind once onboarding ends.

Continuous onboarding is just long-form rolling engagement with your onboarding team and you can create set points for communication, outreach, mentorship, feedback, and ongoing training that can move into a career development plan. Longer onboarding programs are associated with stronger talent and business outcomes such as employee engagement, employer reputation, percentage of diverse hires, quality hires, and internal hires and promotions, according to a survey conducted by Kronos Inc., a workforce management technology provider, and the Human Capital Institute (HCI).


Build relationships that last.

Improving retention for remote employees involves building trust and relationships among your team while also checking in regularly with your new hires. An ongoing communication loop can help new employees feel that their opinions are heard, understood and considered.

Employees need clear processes, steps, and organized activities to make them feel as part of the team especially when working remotely. Consider sending anonymous feedback forms to all new employees at set points during their first six months, and employ other engagement strategies like virtual happy hour or virtual focus groups. Seek feedback often using online surveys, one on ones, and skip-level meetings.

Early in your continuous onboarding process, you can create an experience that feels personal, speaks to smaller groups of employees, and allows for immediate feedback and Q&A. Instead of concentrating onboarding activities into a one, two or three day (all day) training, extending onboarding means that your new remote hires will spend more online time with their hiring manager and team in their first days and weeks of employment. Day one can include an intro from HR (as the new hire paperwork was completed online during virtual “pre-boarding”) and time for questions. Day two or three can be a CEO personal intro video call to the new hire group, and the breakout sessions can be scheduled in weeks to come.


Educate hiring managers.

Your virtual onboarding can mirror an in-person experience when it comes to constant communication and feedback loops, but it’s important to educate managers on the importance of carving out time for one-to-one meetings with direct reports. Ensure that every hiring manager has time scheduled daily with new direct reports (and this can decrease to weekly following a 30-day period).


Reimagine Your Remote and Virtual Onboarding to Ensure Employee Retention Post-Pandemic

As with all other company programs and processes, we have to be able to question whether or not something we don’t think about very often is working for our employees. It’s important to reevaluate how onboarding is structured, not just when we have major changes (like the need to onboard remote employees), but as a consideration when our retention rates are not as high as they could be. If a high percentage of your employees are leaving before they hit their six-month mark, it could be due to a missed opportunity to connect, engage, or communicate during onboarding.

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