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Remote Employee Onboarding – A How-To Guide (+ Checklist)

Every new starter is different. Some take a few weeks to settle in, while others hit the ground running from day one. Nailing the onboarding process is a tricky task, and doing so remotely is arguably even more challenging.

To create an amazing new starter experience, it’s crucial to have a robust onboarding plan that covers everything from making an offer to completing the probation period. In this article, we’ll start by looking at why having a remote onboarding plan is so important before taking you through our 6-step onboarding checklist to ensure you tick every box for your new employees.

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Why is an Onboarding Plan So Important?

Recent studies show that 88% of organizations don’t onboard well. That means the vast majority of new starters have a poor experience when beginning life at a new company. 

But, what does a bad remote employee onboarding experience lead to? Here are four key downsides:

  • It Reduces Productivity. A poor onboarding experience lengthens the time it takes for new starters to become effective. Given you have a gap in your business, you need your new team member to start delivering outputs as soon as possible to make that role productive again. Poor onboarding prohibits that from happening.
  • Generates Poor ROI. Leading on from the first point, the longer it takes for a new starter to become productive, the worse your return on investment will be. Given that you’ll be paying a new starter’s wages from day one, a bad experience can directly affect the return your business gets vs the costs you’re paying out.
  • It Damages Culture. The onboarding process doesn’t just get new starters learning the functional aspects of their role, it also enrols them into the company culture. If new starters aren’t engaged with the mood and values of the company, it can have a negative effect on those around them and start to cause conflicts.
  • It Leads to Poor Retention. The onboarding period is like one big first impression for a new starter. If during onboarding new starters feel isolated, they’ll be more likely to look for a new role within the first six months. That puts you right back at step one and means you’re starting the recruitment process all over again. 

So, now we know what a lousy onboarding experience can do to your business, how does an onboarding plan help you overcome those challenges?

  • It Provides a Structured Approach. Like all plans, a solid onboarding process gives you an organized and systematic route to success. For new starters, this gives them confidence and shows them exactly how they’ll go from being a day one newbie to a rockstar in their new role.
  • It Helps to Boost Productivity. A clear roadmap to success helps new starters focus the mind on exactly how they’ll be a productive member of the team. A clear plan boosts productivity in its own right, giving new starters direction, goals and a sense of belonging within the organization.
  • New Starters Become Part of The Family. Talking of belonging, a great onboarding plan will also include dedicated tasks and activities to ensure new starters become part of the team. Especially when managing a remote employee onboarding process, this helps employees overcome the challenge of not being with their new colleagues in person.
  • It Delivers Consistency. Lastly, an onboarding plan ensures the experience is consistent for all new starters. This means whether they join the HR, Marketing or Development team, they’ll get the same onboarding structure as everyone else and will reap the benefits listed above. It also makes life easier for the person/team doing the onboarding, knowing that they can lean on other teams for advice or guidance on what’s worked well in the past.
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Remote vs In-Office Onboarding – Why You Need a Plan

Remote employee onboarding throws in some additional challenges when it comes to new starters. Here are three key areas to consider (and how to overcome them) when onboarding remotely:

  • It’s Hard to Build Relationships. When so much of starting a new role is about getting comfortable with your colleagues, seeing them through a screen makes building relationships a whole lot harder.

    How to fix it – As part of your plan, ensure you dedicate time for new starters to meet their teammates in a relaxed setting with virtual team events such as quizzes, games and socials.
  • Limited Access to Information. When you’re in the office, it’s easy to stick your head above the desk and ask a question. When you’re working remotely, the opportunity for a quick face-to-face chat isn’t always there.

    How to fix it – Get your new starter instant access to your team’s chat tool (such as Slack) so they can interact with colleagues and ask questions in a non-intrusive way. It’s important to instil a culture where it’s ok to ask questions, either openly to the team or as part of 1-2-1 meetings.
  • Uncertain Remote Culture. Creating and maintaining a great culture is tricky when working remotely. It’s easy for new starters to feel isolated and not part of the family when they first join a remote team.

    How to fix it – Get new starters actively involved straight away. Ensure the onboarding plan gets new joiners actively making decisions, organizing team events, and shaping how the team works in the future.  

6 Step Remote Employee Onboarding Checklist

Checklist Item 1 – Start Planning Early

Remote employee onboarding starts from the moment a candidate accepts a job offer. That’s your trigger to get started with your checklist, so don’t lose time waiting!

Start creating your detailed onboarding plan, breaking out all of the different introduction sessions, system accesses, tasks and social events you need to maximize new starter success.

Stuck for inspiration on how to fill out your plan? There’s no need to worry! The following five checklist items will ensure you cover all the bases for a killer onboarding plan.

Checklist Item 2 – Set-up System Access

Before you get your plan into place, it’s important to begin requesting all the right system accesses for your new starter. These are essential to ensure your new starters get up and running immediately and avoid you all wasting valuable onboarding time. 

Especially when working remotely, system access is not only essential for learning about the company but simply connecting with their colleagues from around the business.

Ensure you tick off requesting access to the following types of systems: 

  • Email/calendars
  • Collaboration systems (IM, project management tools etc.)
  • Department-specific tools (e.g. design tools, CRM systems etc.)
  • HR tools (Payroll, holidays, benefits etc.)
  • Finance tools (invoicing, purchase orders etc.)
  • Knowledge libraries (wikis, intranets etc.)

As with the department introductions, the systems your new starters need will be specific to your business and the role they’re undertaking.

Checklist Item 3 – Schedule Introduction Sessions

Especially when working remotely, the key to onboarding success is to meet all the different people within the company that will help you fulfil your role.

To help with this, create a schedule of introduction sessions for your new starter with the following people: 

  • Hiring manager/line manager (start of the first day)
  • Team members (to get to know the team)
  • An assigned buddy (for informal questions)
  • HR (generic company introduction session & orientation)
  • Finance (payroll, benefits & holiday information)
  • Relevant team leads (other teams they may need to work with)
  • Senior leader (introduction to company strategy)

There will likely be some more introductions that are specific for your organisation, so add in any additional sessions you think new starters will need.

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Checklist Item 4 – Create Learning Pathways

Once you’ve scheduled in all the people a new starter needs to meet, you need to start building out a program of learning. These sessions will directly teach your new starter how to do their new role alongside providing ways to test their knowledge. 

These will be different from business-to-business and role-to-role but should look to include sessions dedicated to learning about processes, administrative tasks, standards and best practices. 

You’ll then want to pencil in time for new starters to reflect, practice what they’ve learnt and receive feedback from their peers. 

For example, here’s how you could build out a learning roadmap for a Communications Manager:

  • Day 1 – 15:00 – 16:00 – Introduction to Communications Strategy (Session)
  • Day 2 – 10:00 – 11:30 – Introduction to The Communications Process (Session)
  • Day 2 – 14:00 – 15:00 – A Day In The Life of a Communications Manager (Session)
  • Day 3 – 10:00 – 12:00 – Review of Previous Communication Campaign (Task)
  • Day 3 – 14:00 – 15:00 – Mock Communications Brief Scenario (Task/Assignment)
  • Day 4 – 10:00 – 11:00 – Review of Mock Brief Scenario (Session)

You can complete this sort of process for each different type of work your new starter will do to ensure they’re up to speed with all of their responsibilities. 

Checklist Item 5 – Organise Some Fun Events

Onboarding new employees into your company’s culture is as important as their functional role, so ensure you put some fun events into your plan too. 

These sessions also allow new starters to meet other team members informally as they begin to become part of the work-family. 

Here are some ideas of alternative sessions you can schedule to help your new starters feel comfortable with the company culture and their new teammates:

  • A new starter lunch
  • A team quiz
  • A virtual office tour
  • A virtual scavenger hunt
  • Ice breaker games
  • Virtual film afternoon
  • Virtual murder mystery

Ultimately, it’s about making sure onboarding isn’t solely focused on formal work items and incorporates some time for building great relationships.

Checklist Item 6 – Factor in Downtime 

Remember that onboarding is a pretty stressful time for new starters. Whilst most will be raring to go and want to make a great first impression, you don’t want to create too much stress and risk immediate burnout. 

Ensure that as part of the onboarding plan you give new starters some free time to catch up on admin, have casual conversations with new colleagues and reflect on the barrage of new information heading their way. 

Ultimately, that free time is where everything sinks in and will make the process far more efficient and help new starters become productive a whole lot faster.  

Summary

Nailing the onboarding process is hard enough without the challenge of delivering it remotely. Like all things, getting onboarding right is made so much easier when you have a robust onboarding plan in place. 

You’re guaranteed to make the onboarding process simpler and more effective for new starters by simply planning out the introductions, learning sessions and team events a new starter will need in advance. 

July 26, 2021