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For many organizations, it’s been a year of operating remotely. As employees and managers have worked to overcome the challenges that come with remote work, some are now facing a challenge they didn’t expect: how to onboard employees remotely.

Executive Summary

Traditional onboarding simply doesn’t translate to remote working, according to Sharon Emek, CEO of remote staffing company WAHVE. As a fully virtual company, WAHVE has developed a remote onboarding process that is intended to help employees achieve their performance goals—touching on the key areas of job clarity and expectations, productivity benchmarks, and connection to the company culture. Emek provides detailed advice to ready your company’s onboarding process to operate remotely, as well as steps to avoid, such as onboarding too quickly.

The more common challenges with traditional onboarding, such as lack of understanding of role, time management, cultural adaptation and managing expectations, become more pronounced when a company is still working out how to keep remote operations running smoothly. Also, remote onboarding poses its own set of challenges, such as the loss of physical connection to the company and its employees that many new employees experience.

Fortunately, these challenges can be overcome. It takes understanding where existing onboarding processes fall short and what changes can be made to improve remote onboarding success.

Traditional Shortcomings

A typical onboarding process should go something like this: Employees are introduced to their managers; they are made to feel welcome; the manager lays out the rules; and there is mentoring and follow-up conversations to make sure the employee is adapting well to the job and the culture. Traditional onboarding, done right, will include ways to get the new employee connected to and involved with the current staff.

A strong onboarding process matters, too. A study commissioned by Glassdoor in 2015 found that a strong onboarding process can improve new hire retention by 82 percent and productivity by a surprising 70 percent.

But how do you do that in a remote setting?

Certainly not by applying the same traditional methods, which may come with their own flaws, and assuming it will suffice. In fact, many traditional processes lack these things. Instead, this is what we find from traditional methods:

  • No real connection to the company culture. Many companies put their focus on getting the new employee up to speed on the job but fail to connect them to the culture around them. A 2017 Gallup State of the Global Workplace study found that 85 percent of employees are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. Moreover, a 2019 poll from staffing firm Spherion revealed that just 19 percent of employees felt their companies are putting effort into retaining them.
  • Lack of job clarity and expectations. Workers don’t know how their role fits into the organization’s larger goals. Your employees cannot work at optimum productivity levels if they don’t know how their contributions help the company achieve their objectives. According to data provided by Effectory, a European provider of employee feedback tools, employees who understand their roles are 83 percent more productive, 84 percent more willing to stay on the job and 75 percent more satisfied with the company leadership.
  • Focus on short-term rather than long-term productivity. Too many employers view onboarding as getting the employee’s information into the company system, enrolling them in benefits and giving them a quick introduction to the company. Without mentoring or a clearly defined process for asking questions, employees could be overwhelmed quickly.

That’s where companies could be making big missteps. Too often, organizations assume all departments have best practices in place for onboarding. Yet without any clear direction from upper management, how can onboarding be consistent across all departments?

A Smarter Remote Onboarding Process

Consistent onboarding applied across the organization increases the likelihood that your new hire will be satisfied and productive. In order to be most effective, onboarding should encompass not only the first few months of employment but also a more long-term employee success plan.

Too many employers view onboarding as getting the employee’s information into the company system, enrolling them in benefits and giving them a quick introduction to the company.
But first, you need to get them on board. As a fully virtual company, we at Work At Home Vintage Experts (WAHVE) have developed a remote onboarding process that is intended to touch on the key areas that help employees achieve their performance goals: job clarity and expectations, productivity benchmarks, and connection to the company culture.

Here are the methods we use—and recommend—when onboarding a new remote employee.

  1. Defining success.

One of the best ways to help your new hire succeed is by defining what that looks like. What key performance goals will your employee need to meet in order to be showing progress? How long will it take them to get up to speed?

  1. Virtual training.

Since we connect virtually with every potential employee during the interview process, we simply continue that form of connection for a new hire’s onboarding. As part of our virtual training, we provide a video series that includes a tour of the company and introductions to all management and team members. That video series includes:

  • A welcome message from CEO and executive team.
  • An onboarding guide video to set expectations.
  • A video outlining a model home office setup.
  • A video showing an employee performing the specific job.
  • Team welcome messages that put faces to names.
  • How-to training videos.

Training should also define what job success looks like for that particular role and spell out key performance goals.

  1. Mentorship.

Before training starts, assign your new hire a mentor. The mentor will be there to help with navigating the work environment and passing along knowledge where needed. Mentors will answer questions and help the employee understand work processes. We recommend that mentors check in with new hires on a daily basis.

It’s also a good idea to have your new hire shadow someone. While many organizations assign someone in the same department, we recommend that your new hire also shadow employees in other departments. This helps them understand more about how the company operates.

  1. Sticking to an engagement schedule.

From the moment your new hire accepts an offer through the first three months of employment, you need to be engaging with them. Regular check-ins with email polls or texts should ask how their first week went and subsequently how things are progressing. Using video conferencing as well can help keep your employee feeling engaged and connected.

  1. Reinforcing onboarding messaging.

That means onboarding has to be a more active endeavor than simply training an employee on the job role. We at WAHVE establish group activities—group lunches, social gatherings and virtual happy hours all help employees get to know each other and bond.

When possible, we rely heavily on video conferencing for calls and interactions. That deepens the connection between the employee and their peers and managers. And we don’t allow avatars. Face-to-face connections are the strongest.

Common Missteps to Avoid

Even with these elements in place, your organization could be making mistakes that are impacting your new hires.

  • Skimping on culture. Your organization’s culture is everything. If it’s not healthy, neither are your relationships. Not focusing on creating or even maintaining a strong employee brand or culture means that employees are left to add their own interpretations to everything from how to perform a task adequately to what defines ethical standards. Your culture should be clearly defined and promoted throughout your organization.
  • Onboarding too quickly. You need that employee yesterday, and you need someone to get up to speed quickly. Unfortunately, rushing the onboarding process could mean your employee is missing critical information or training that can help make them more productive. Never rush training or expect too much too soon.
  • Not measuring results. You can’t know your new hire is struggling if you’re not establishing benchmarks. Likewise, you can’t know if your training is inadequate or if your employee is unhappy if you’re not checking in regularly. Your organization’s overall health and success is directly related to the performance and satisfaction of your employees. Keeping track of how they are doing is easy and can help resolve issues before they become problems.

Better Onboarding, Happier Employees

Whether remote work is temporary or more long term, organizations will continue to face challenges and restructure their operations to meet these challenges. That includes how to bring new hires on board in a way that helps them achieve success and satisfaction on the job.

Adapting your onboarding process to better suit your current remote operations is a start. It’s a simple shift in how you deliver training, how you mentor and how you promote your company’s culture. Once you build a solid onboarding process that includes those elements, just watch your new employee thrive.