As more people work from home, onboarding remote employees has evolved. Instead of meeting in person, many new hires learn and connect online. To prepare new hires for remote work, you need a remote onboarding program to seamlessly introduce employees to their colleagues, the workplace, and their job responsibilities.
But statistics show that employers are struggling to design effective remote onboarding experiences. A Paychex survey found that 74% of employees declared their remote onboarding process to be a failure. Reasons cited included the onboarding process being boring (88%) or confusing (78%). This contrasts with hybrid and on-site employers, only 36% of whom found their most recent orientation experience to be confusing.
Discover what remote onboarding is, why it matters in today’s workplace, and get tips for developing an effective remote onboarding process for your organization.
What Is Remote Onboarding?
Remote onboarding is the process of orienting and training new employees who aren't physically present in the workplace. With the right strategies and tools, remote onboarding can be just as effective as traditional onboarding.
Remote onboarding involves creating an onboarding experience that covers the basics while being tailored to each hire’s individual needs. Human resources (HR) leaders and managers must create an environment that fosters collaboration and engagement.
Successful remote onboarding requires a variety of resources, including communication and collaboration tools, and virtual meetings, to help the employee become part of the organization. Whatever tools you use, remote hires should have access to the same benefits and resources as on-site employees.
Want to onboard with a WOW no matter where your newbies log in? Check out Enboarder’s solutions. 👀
Why Remote Employee Onboarding Matters Today
Remote onboarding matters more than ever because remote working has become an entrenched part of today’s workforce. Companies need to get remote employees going quickly without waiting to bring them on-site for training. Remote onboarding allows organizations to introduce new employees to the company's culture, processes, and policies from anywhere in the world. It also minimizes the resources and costs associated with traditional onboarding methods.
7 Challenges of Onboarding Remote Employees
There are several barriers to effectively onboarding remote employees. Watch out for these challenges as you design a program to level up your new hires’ remote onboarding experience.
Overcoming Technical Issues 🖥️
Without access to on-site IT support, technical issues can be more difficult to diagnose and resolve. This can contribute to prolonged and frustrating onboarding processes. Remote onboarding, in particular, relies on digital tools and applications, some of which aren’t user-friendly or reliable. Remote onboarding also requires a strong and reliable internet connection, which can be a challenge for those living in certain rural or remote areas.
Make sure new hires know where to direct tech problems. Ease the burden for new hires by integrating low-code or no-code tools, such as drag-and-drop HR workflow software, to automate onboarding processes. Develop contingency plans for employees with unreliable internet access, such as covering the cost of a coworking space.
Building Team Connections Remotely ✨
Long-term trusting relationships benefit from strong beginnings, and effective teams understand the importance of communication and collaboration. But engaging remote employees and helping them build connections with their co-workers can be challenging
A lot of camaraderie comes from chance encounters on-site, so you need to build time into onboarding for casual conversations to occur. When teams get to know each other, they’ll learn to trust and rely on each other, no matter where they’re located.
Providing Resources and Support From a Distance 💗
Employers used to supplying on-site workers with tools, resources, and support often find that they need a different approach with remote workers. Without seeing the new hire at work, for example, it may be harder for managers to assess how they’re progressing in their roles.
To ensure successful remote onboarding, managers need to provide a high level of support, foster open communication, and regularly check in to gauge how employees feel about their new job.
Working Through Time Zone Differences 🕝
Teams with remote employees will often be spread across multiple time zones, making it more challenging to coordinate meetings, deadlines, and other time-sensitive workplace activities. The onboarding process can be complicated or delayed if key team members aren't available at the same time.
Set clear expectations for hours so that everyone knows when team members are “on.” Additionally, develop a communication tree that emphasizes asynchronous communication as the default in most situations, with synchronous (real-time) communication being reserved for specific instances and emergencies. Prioritizing async communication empowers all employees to work on schedules that make sense for them, especially given their local time zone.
Monitoring Work and Productivity 🏋️
There will always be a gap between a new hire’s start date and when they reach peak productivity, but measuring that timespan can get complicated in remote work. Make sure you’re using a task-management system or other software to help managers view what new hires are working on and where they might be struggling with tasks.
Maintaining Compliance With Labor Laws ⚖️
Remote onboarding presents new challenges for HR teams looking to comply with labor laws. Employers may not be able to effectively check remote employees’ working conditions, equipment, or safety conditions, which can lead to labor law violations and other potential liability.
Additionally, remote employees are often subject to different labor laws based on their home location, which can cause surprises for unaware compliance teams. Develop onboarding checklists for each applicable jurisdiction to make sure you’re covering your bases.
Delivering Effective Training Remotely 🧑🏫
Assessing a new hire’s understanding, competence, and comfort with training and other onboarding activities can be more difficult without face-to-face interaction. Remote training can also be difficult to structure in a way that engages trainees.
Before a new hire’s first day, find out how they learn best so you can provide the right training and support to help them thrive.
8 Essential Elements of a Remote Onboarding Program
A great remote onboarding experience requires intentionality about building connections and establishing systems to help new hires find their footing.
Check out these eight essential elements of a successful experience-driven onboarding program in a remote setting.
Connect new hires with team members and other resources before their first official day so they can learn about your culture and hit the ground running. Preboarding activities also help the hiring manager build a relationship with the new hire and help them feel comfortable in their new role.
A welcome package creates a connection between the new employee and the company. It includes resources to help employees acclimate, including training materials. For remote onboarding, the welcome package should include any physical resources they need, such as laptops.
Welcome packages can also include comfort items, such as company swag, beverages and snacks, or a gift card — items that help them feel wanted and appreciated from the start.
Orientation and Paperwork
New-hire orientation covers the first few days of each employee’s tenure. This crucial period helps new hires wrap up official paperwork, become more comfortable in their new role, and better understand their duties and responsibilities.
Whether paperwork is covered before day one or during orientation, make sure HR team members are available to answer questions.
Clear Communication Channels
Clear communication channels ensure that new employees can always find the information they need and how to ask questions. Teaching employees how and when to use communication channels helps them move from onboarding to day-to-day work.
Remote onboarding should employ a variety of communication platforms (email, videoconferencing, instant messaging, and more) to ensure employees have what they need to make a positive contribution to the team. Share your communication policies with new hires to help them learn when and why to use each channel.
Remote-Friendly HR Software
Remote-friendly HR software provides a comprehensive system for managing, tracking, and streamlining the onboarding process. An automated onboarding solution helps HR teams efficiently and accurately manage employee onboarding documents, including contracts and financial forms.
Additionally, this software can provide new hires with access to company policies, employee handbooks, and other onboarding resources..
Remote-friendly HR software also helps managers connect more effectively with new remote workers. Automating a series of nudges can remind managers to check in with new hires and ask specific questions to support them better.
Social Integration With Colleagues
Even when employees don’t work in the same place, they benefit from regular social interaction with colleagues. This particularly helps new hires feel more comfortable, understand the company culture, and gain a sense of belonging. It also allows them to ask questions and get feedback from their colleagues quickly and easily.
A Personalized Training Plan
Personalized training plans ensure that each employee gets the onboarding they need for their job role while tailoring the content and delivery to their specific needs and goals.
By providing personalized training plans, employers help employees learn the skills, knowledge, and procedures required for their role while also allowing for more individualized feedback and support.
Ongoing Check-Ins and Feedback
Regular check-ins help managers get to know their new hires better and answer their questions about the role, company processes, and expectations. Managers who provide ongoing, constructive feedback help new hires get acclimated and on the path to their goals and objectives. Feedback is also a great way to provide positive reinforcement and recognize a job done well.
As part of your onboarding checklist, have managers establish a regular check-in cadence with new hires. They may choose to check in multiple times per week initially, tapering off to once a week or every two weeks after the new hire is established.
6 Tips for a Successful Remote Onboarding Experience
Don’t settle for an average onboarding experience. Follow these remote onboarding tips to take your program to the next level.
Tailor Onboarding Plans to Individual Needs
Every new hire needs different levels of support. New grads may be in their first full-time job, for instance, and require close support during the transition. A seasoned hire, on the other hand, is more likely to need support adjusting to the culture than to subject matter knowledge.
Tailor the onboarding plan based on each new hire’s needs. This can include creating an individualized onboarding timeline, assigning mentors, and providing targeted learning materials and resources. You can also create individualized check-ins and feedback sessions to ensure that employees are getting the support they need.
Set Clear and Realistic Expectations From Day One
Communicate job-specific information, expectations, and deadlines in a timely manner. Encourage managers to debrief after milestones to recognize success, identify roadblocks, and make the path smoother moving forward.
Onboarding is the perfect time to open communication channels between managers and employees so they can begin to build a trusting relationship. Open, honest communication is important for any manager-employee relationship but is especially crucial in a remote setting.
Use Technology for Training and Communication
Remote hires depend on technology at every stage of the onboarding process. They’ll need hardware, software, and a secure internet connection to get started.
New hires will use a variety of tools and channels for training and communication — videoconferencing, messaging platforms, company intranets, and more. Use all available tools to help new hires get the information they need and communicate with colleagues, even if they can’t be face to face.
Make sure new hires know how to participate in social, nonwork communication channels, too. Encourage them to participate in fun conversations, such as a thread where co-workers share their favorite hobbies.
Establish a Buddy System or Mentorship Program
Companies use a buddy system or mentorship program to give new hires guidance and support during the onboarding process. These approaches can be especially beneficial for new hires with little experience working remotely.
To create a successful buddy system or mentor program, you’ll need to identify a group of experienced, reliable employees to pair up with new hires. These mentors should be knowledgeable about the company’s policies and procedures and have time to help new hires get up to speed.
Additionally, mentors should provide support and guidance, not only with job duties but also in areas such as company culture, team dynamics, and work-life balance. New hires can acclimate to the job, the company culture, and expectations much more quickly when they have a partner — especially when they’re otherwise working by themselves remotely.
Organize Virtual Team-Building Activities
When starting a new job, virtual team-building activities are a great way to help remote workers get to know their colleagues and feel like part of the team.
Happy hours and online social events are popular ways to build camaraderie, but you can meaningfully support team-building in the flow of work, too. As part of your onboarding process, for example, have new hires participate in a team project. This can help them practice communicating and supporting co-workers in real-life situations, including under pressure.
Gather Feedback to Shape Improvements
Use each round of new remote hires as a chance to learn from their experiences and improve onboarding going forward. This can be done through surveys, interviews, or focus groups.
Embrace Remote Onboarding for the Future of Work
Remote onboarding has quickly become the norm in today's digitally enabled work environment, allowing you to get new hires up to speed in their roles without relying on in-person contact.
But just because new hires aren’t meeting face-to-face doesn’t mean you can’t — or shouldn’t — facilitate opportunities for human connection. By designing an onboarding experience that brings teams together virtually, you can build emotional momentum and employee happiness to keep new hires engaged for many years to come.
Want to learn more? Check out Enboarder’s Hybrid Onboarding Blueprint.