Over the past decade, remote work has changed drastically. What was once an exception for a select few gained in popularity with the proliferation of high speed internet and video conferencing capabilities.
And then COVID-19 came along and accelerated everything.
According to our recent HR in the New Era survey of more than 900 U.S. workers (methodology below), almost 75% of workers who transitioned from on-site to remote work during COVID-19 would prefer to work remotely at least half of the time moving forward.
This has changed everything about work, including virtual onboarding. A good remote onboarding experience goes a long way toward a great employee-employer relationship.
Use our onboarding checklist to make sure you have everything covered.
But onboarding fully remote employees presents unique challenges for HR professionals and even managers. This includes everything from filling out paperwork, to the always important face-to-virtual-facetime to get to know the new team.
With this in mind, we asked HR professionals to share their best tips for onboarding remote employees, and this is what we learned.
1. A good collaboration tool is your best friend for introductions
One of the biggest challenges for remote workers is avoiding a sense of isolation from their team. There’s simply no perfect replacement for office kitchen banter and team happy hours.
According to our survey, 58% of respondents who transitioned from on-site to remote work said that collaboration with coworkers was better on-site and 55% said that they felt more connected to company culture on-site.
This doesn’t mean that we should pull the plug on remote work and demand that every employee return to full-time on-site work immediately, but it does mean that we can do a better job of building connections through alternate methods during remote employee onboarding.
Mark Schlund, operations leader at Gravity Global AG, says that virtual coffee breaks using a video conferencing tool have gone a long way for bringing his team closer together and welcoming a new remote worker into the fold during employee onboarding.
Mark Schlund, operations leader at Gravity Global AG (Source)
“We do not speak about business but...just anything that could happen in a coffee break or water cooler conversation,” he wrote. “It was a little strange at first, but we are doing this three times a week and it brought us closer as a team. The coffee break is scheduled three times a week at the same hour, (and) is never rescheduled or moved. If anybody can’t make it, they don’t and the rest carries on.”
—Mark Schlund, Operations Leader at Gravity Global AG
Go the extra mile by mailing your new remote employee a company-branded coffee mug and stipend so they can stock up their own coffee nook at their home office. While it may seem like an unnecessary company expense, it can go a long way toward making the new employee feel more comfortable and supported in their remote work space.
2. Assign a remote mentor to buddy up with new remote employees
Virtual coffee time is great for introducing a new employee to their team, but when the camera turns off, they’re back in their own space by themselves (or maybe with a significant other or pet). It’s crucial for a new remote employee to have someone that they know they can turn to with questions or even just chat about how things are going.
Over time, these types of bonds should form naturally. But for the first month or so, it’s a good idea to arrange regularly scheduled check-ins with an experienced remote employee.
Addie Johnsen, director of global talent management at Aperian Global, suggests taking it one step further by matching new remote employees with someone in their same time zone. That way, if the new remote employee runs into an issue slightly outside of normal business hours, they might still be able to get help from their remote buddy.
Addie Johnsen, director of global talent management at Aperian Global (Source)
“This is especially important for the supervision of an employee in a different time zone,” she wrote. “Pick out a mentor that’s close to their specific time zone that your remote employee can go to for any pressing questions, concerns, or worries in those hours when you may be offline.”
—Addie Johnsen, Director of Global Talent Management at Aperian Global
Rather than assigning someone as a mentor, ask for volunteers and promote it as a career development opportunity. Acting as a mentor while onboarding remote employees is good leadership training, and volunteers will naturally be more motivated for the task than someone who is simply assigned to do so.
3. Digitize as much as possible, especially onboarding paperwork
It’s fun to get a new company tee shirt, coffee mug, or bag of snacks in the mail before your first day. It’s much less fun to get a heavy stack of HR documents that you must read through, sign, and return to your new employer. While unpleasant, this step of the onboarding process is necessary.
This is when digitizing can come in handy. Not only are you saving yourself from postage and papercuts, check out these added benefits:
Less equipment needed: Digital files mean less filing cabinets to store precious documents and fewer Xerox machines to make physical copies.
Document recovery: When you digitize important documents in the cloud or on a protected platform, there are less incidents of lost files.
File protection: In addition to document recovery, you can enable safe and secure file sharing to ensure your HR documents are secure.
Elliott Gill, people and talent advisor at CIPHR (Source)
“Invest in software that allows you to digitalise your normally paper-based HR admin,” he wrote. “Candidates receive everything via email and get reminders to sign if they don’t do it straight away.”
—Elliott Gill, People and Talent Advisor at CIPHR
While you’re digitizing paperwork, consider digitizing other things as well, for example, introductions. While live introductions are always preferable, a prerecorded, personalized greeting from upper managers who may not have time in their schedule for a one-on-one can leave a lasting, positive impression with a new employee.
Keeping track of all the different stages of the remote onboarding process, from document collection to benefits enrollment, is a lot to stay on top of. Luckily there is human resources software to take much of that burden off of your shoulders.
Check out our human resources software directory for everything you need to find the perfect tool for your business, including a buyers guide and a list of 15 Category Leaders based on thousands of verified user reviews.
GetApp’s Category Leaders in human resources software (Source)
GetApp conducted the HR in the New Era survey in January 2021 of 922 U.S. workers to learn more about their experience and preferences at work. Respondents were full- or part-time workers at U.S.-based businesses with 2-250 employees.
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