The Ultimate Guide to Onboarding Remote Employees [Free Checklist]
Onboarding new employees can be a tedious process – one that few companies do well. In fact, a recent Gallup poll found that only 12% of employees strongly agree that their organization does a great job onboarding new hires.
Failure to engage new employees and successfully integrate them into their new workplace culture can lead to high turnover, which has expensive consequences.
Studies also show that finding and training an employee’s replacement can cost the equivalent of six to nine months of their salary, if not more. This means that implementing an excellent onboarding process can improve your employee retention by 82%, and it can make your employees more productive from day one.
Onboarding is a particularly critical process for remote employees because that excitement – and often anxiety – of meeting your new colleagues, and that warm feeling you get from being welcomed into a new space is different if not completely missed. As such, extra steps have to be taken to ensure they feel welcomed and valued as a new member of the team.
Keep reading for our tips on how to best onboard new remote employees.
Challenges when onboarding remote employees
The onboarding process for remote employees will look very different than that of in-person employees, and for good reason.
Whereas an in-person employee’s first day at the office will include a physical space to settle into as well as numerous introductions and meetings, remote employees will communicate with their team members over emails and video conferencing software, which can be tiring.
This can make onboarding remote employees difficult. Before we explore ways to efficiently do so, it’s crucial to understand three main challenges new remote workers often face during the onboarding process.
#1 Feeling socially isolated
Social isolation is the main challenge many people face when entering a new remote workplace.
In-person workers can easily break the ice by walking up to new coworkers’ desks and introducing themselves, whereas this type of interaction requires more effort in the online environment.
Regularly scheduled video call meetings might involve a minute or two of small talk, but nothing to the extent you’d experience by eating lunch with coworkers or grabbing coffee together. So, it’s far more difficult for new remote employees to make friends at work, and this can leave many feeling socially isolated.
#2 Poor communication
Issues with communication can have detrimental effects on a new employee’s onboarding experience, and remote workers have the added task of dealing with the loss of nonverbal communication cues that accompanies remote onboarding.
When working in person, we rely on tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language to decode the meaning behind the messages we receive, whereas this becomes difficult to do when communicating online.
In the absence of these cues, the emotions and state of mind of a person reading a written message may have a larger impact on how they process the information than they would in person. This is why you might interpret a Slack message from your supervisor one way even though they intended it to sound significantly different.
Emojis are another example of communication that can be easily misinterpreted, as their meaning may depend on the culture and background of each person communicating. All of these reasons make communication during remote onboarding a potential challenge for a new team member.
#3 Information overload
Starting a new job, working for a new company, and getting to know new coworkers are all huge tasks in their own right.
A learning curve is to be expected in any new position, but throwing too much information at a new employee all at once can leave them feeling uncomfortable and overwhelmed.
If the onboarding process doesn’t properly account for all that a new job entails, employees can experience information overload, which can hinder their smooth transition into a new position.
Read also: How to Foster a Culture of Accountability Among Your Employees
Good vs. poor onboarding
You might be shocked to learn that more than 40% of turnover occurs during an employee’s first month on the job. But why does this happen?
The short answer is poor onboarding.
Onboarding helps foster a new employee’s connection to the company, which determines how engaged of an employee they will ultimately become. Companies with a standardized onboarding process experience 62% greater new hire productivity and 50% increased new hire retention, according to Harvard Business Review.
Good onboarding helps employees feel engaged from day one, whereas poor onboarding might encourage a new hire to start looking for another job.
Proper onboarding should be all-encompassing – in other words – it should make employees feel socially welcome, help them develop an understanding of workplace culture, understand expectations, and how their role will contribute to wider company goals. Your onboarding process should involve the 4C’s of onboarding:
4C’s of onboarding:
Compliance: The lowest level of onboarding, compliance involves having the new hire complete basic HR paperwork and review things like company policies and confidentiality information.
Clarification: This level involves outlining a new hire’s responsibilities and what’s expected of them so they’re prepared for their role. Clarification can also include answering logistical questions about their position.
Culture: Conveying the company’s culture and norms to new hires is a crucial part of onboarding. This includes a range of things, from company values to the way team members interact.
Connection: The highest level of onboarding, connection involves making the new employee feel as though they’re part of the team. Team members can build trust and familiarity with one another through formal and informal conversations and activities.
The goal of any onboarding process should be to create employees who are highly engaged and feel connected to the company and its goals. Highly engaged employees have positive feelings about their work and want to stay long-term in order to help the company succeed.
Neglecting to thoughtfully onboard employees means you’ll lose many of them to turnover. If you want employees who stay longer and are more productive, improving your onboarding process is a good place to start.
How to successfully onboard new hires remote
If you’re looking to create a remote onboarding process that helps new hires feel valued, comfortable, and engaged, we’ve curated a list of 11 steps to help you out:
1. Utilize ‘preboarding’ to get ahead on HR matters
Whereas onboarding begins on a new hire’s first day, ‘preboarding’ is known as the transition period between when the candidate signs the offer letter and when they start.
Many companies already have a preboarding process without even knowing there’s a name for this phase. Regardless, it’s an excellent idea to take advantage of the preboarding period to both get ahead on HR matters while also helping the new hire get excited about their job.
Use the preboarding period to send your employee their computer and other equipment as well as their tax, payroll, healthcare, and other documents so they can get a headstart on getting everything set up.
If your goal is to improve retention, bogging down a new hire’s first week with administrative paperwork won’t help them develop an emotional attachment to their new company and make them want to stay. Instead, utilizing preboarding can help them get some of the monotonous administrative work out of the way, allowing them to jump right into onboarding and spend time virtually meeting their coworkers on their first day.
This is a technique that works – research shows that companies that use preboarding retain 81% of their first-year hires.
2. Send a welcome gift or care package
As a remote worker, it’s very difficult to make personal connections in an entirely online environment. That said, receiving a welcome gift or care package can help new remote employees feel a physical connection to the company that they may otherwise lack.
For example, sending company merchandise can help new employees begin to take pride in where they work. Popular merchandise items include sweatshirts, T-shirts, coffee mugs, as well as other work-from-home essentials like a branded laptop sleeve or mousepad.
Even something small like a Starbucks gift card is a nice and thoughtful gesture that will make your employee feel welcome and excited to join the team.
3. Create a centralized onboarding folder
Once your new employee has officially started, it’s absolutely essential that they have a centralized place with all of their main onboarding documents and tasks to complete.
A digital folder with things like documents on company culture, instructions on how to set up and use various systems and tools, and where to find passwords is a good idea for small- to medium-sized companies.
Larger companies may find that an entire onboarding website works best for the volume of new hires they need to onboard. Either way, it’s necessary to implement a system that’s clearly organized and broken up into different chapters or sections for the new hire to tackle one at a time and refer back to as necessary.
4. Establish a timeline
Onboarding processes can range in duration from one day to one year, or even longer.
Choosing an appropriate timeline for your process can help prevent employees from experiencing information overload, which can be a common challenge for new hires.
Some companies divide their onboarding process into phases, starting with orientation, role training, role development, and finally, ongoing development. You might also want your timeline to involve specific deliverables and milestones that your new hire will need to meet along the way. If so, it’s important to make this clear from day one.
Whatever you decide, it’s helpful to share that timeline with the new hire on their first day so they know what to expect.
5. Assign a mentor
Entering a new work environment comes with endless questions, and it’s harder to get those questions answered as a new remote worker.
It can be helpful to assign an employee who’s been around for a while to act as a mentor to your new hire – someone who can be their go-to person to ease feelings of uneasiness or answer small questions.
While the new employee’s manager is certainly a good resource for onboarding questions, this mentor can serve as a more informal resource and answer questions surrounding culture that may feel too minor to reach out to a supervisor about.
Working remotely can feel isolating, and outside of answering questions, this mentor can help the new employee feel supported by regularly reaching out and asking how they’re doing as they work through their onboarding tasks.
Developing this sort of mentorship with a coworker can make it easier for a new employee to feel comfortable reaching out to other coworkers, as well.
Read also: 20 Working From Home Best Practices in 2023
6. Schedule regular check-in meetings
In-person employees tend to have far more opportunities to ask clarifying questions during their onboarding since all they need to do is walk to their supervisor’s desk and ask.
To account for this, it’s important to schedule check-in meetings with your new employee to give them a chance to both ask questions and get to know you better. Frequently meeting with you and other coworkers will help familiarize them with company culture and norms, too.
Having standing check-in meetings to go over onboarding progress with a supervisor can help new employees have a space to get their questions answered. It allows you to keep track of their progress, as well.
This is also a good opportunity to receive feedback on the onboarding process you’ve created and change it as necessary. Iterating on your onboarding process will help you improve your system for future new employees, and it’s a great way to show your new hire that their feedback matters to you.
7. Allow time to explore
New hires are usually introduced to an array of new platforms on their first day, including the company’s messaging system, employee handbook, email, and various other files.
As important as it is to provide a structured onboarding experience, it’s also important to budget time for an employee to look around these new platforms and familiarize themselves with the work and previous communication on them.
It’s helpful for new employees to observe work in action, which includes everything from how documents are typically formatted to how teams usually communicate in Slack channels.
This might seem like a minor part of an onboarding experience, but it can be really helpful in ensuring that your new employee feels comfortable jumping into their work once the process is complete.
8. Set up times for them to shadow meetings
Just like exploring new platforms, it’s important for new hires to shadow meetings. A lot of onboarding consists of setting expectations, and allowing employees to sit in on a variety of meetings is one of the best ways to accomplish this.
Even if the new hire won’t be contributing to the meeting, inviting them to join makes them feel included, helps connect them with team members, and provides insight on what their contributions will be once their training process is complete. Watching their coworkers in action also helps them better understand their roles as well.
9. Encourage virtual coffee breaks with colleagues
As we’ve already mentioned, social isolation is a main pain point for new remote employees. An easy way to help a new employee break the ice with coworkers is to encourage them to schedule 10-15 minute ‘virtual coffee breaks’ with their new colleagues.
These short, informal meetings can be used to learn more about each other’s backgrounds, interests, and hobbies, as well as for the new employee to learn more about the company and each coworker’s role. The goal with these is to replicate the casual conversation that occurs at the water cooler or coffee maker when working in an office.
Fostering employee relationships is an important part of developing employee engagement. You want your new employee to be excited to come to work every day, and ensuring they feel a personal connection to the people they work with is a big part of that.
Making these coffee breaks part of a new employee’s onboarding process forces them to reach out to coworkers to schedule a meeting, which is an extremely beneficial experience.
It’s also a good practice to encourage your team to regularly schedule these coffee breaks outside of onboarding, as receiving coworker input and feedback on projects can be extremely useful.
An in-person office environment often involves bouncing ideas off one another, and replicating this remotely with frequent, informal meetings can help bring new perspectives to your work. Brainstorming with teammates is a great way to come up with new ideas.
Read also: 13 Ways to Boost Creativity in the Workplace
10. Connect their work with company goals
Everyone wants to feel like their work is important – especially new employees. This is a big part of making a new employee feel valued which will, in turn, inspire them to be productive and motivated at work.
It’s crucial to share documents outlining the company mission, goals, and values with a new hire early on in the onboarding process, but it’s also beneficial to meet with the employee and discuss this information. This allows them to ask questions and better understand how they connect to the bigger picture.
For example, if you’re onboarding a new graphic designer, it would be helpful to explain how their day-to-day tasks will help the company achieve its goal of improving its brand messaging.
Connecting a new hire’s tasks to larger company goals helps create a sense of purpose that will hopefully inspire them to become invested in their work.
11. Utilize project management software
Making use of project management software is an excellent way to organize workflows and ensure that a new employee is able to jump right into work once their onboarding is complete.
For companies that provide client-based work that’s reliant on time tracking and budgeting, Rodeo is a great option. Rodeo offers a centralized system where remote employees can track time, message, share files, and view project schedules along with corresponding tasks.
Once a new employee begins their day-to-day work, a project management tool like Rodeo can help ensure they’re completing their tasks and recording their time properly without you having to constantly check in with them about their progress.
Rodeo allows you to view several reports to help you measure project progress and success, including an overview of work-in-progress projects, closed projects, employee productivity, and overall time registration.
If you’re interested in trying out a project management tool to help make the transition easier for new remote employees, you can start a 14-day free trial of Rodeo here – no credit card required.
Most organizations do a poor job onboarding new employees, and the consequences include low retention, productivity, and engagement.
Building relationships is difficult as a remote employee, therefore, it’s important that the onboarding process facilitates connection and integrates the new hire into your company culture as best as possible.
Don’t forget that developing employee engagement starts on day one, so ensuring you’re building a welcoming and organized experience from the start will pay off in the long run.
Download our checklist
We’ve created a handy remote employee onboarding checklist for you to ensure your process is thorough. Download it for free to help guide you and make sure you don’t forget any important steps.
Originally published on August 25, 2021, updated on Aug 25, 2022.