Best Practices for Onboarding Remote Employees: How-To Update Your Onboarding Process for a Great Virtual New Hire Experience

April 5, 2023 Workhuman Editorial Team
onboarding remote employees

Onboarding new employees effectively has long been a struggle for employers. In fact, research from Gallup found only 12% of employees strongly agree their organization did a great job onboarding new employees. And that was before hybrid and remote work came to the forefront of the business world.

If organizations were struggling to onboard employees before this, what does that mean for onboarding remote employees in the future of work? How can employers build a remote onboarding strategy that draws employees into the culture and values of a company?

Today’s article discusses these questions and more, offering you a comprehensive guide to remote onboarding best practices so you can create a thriving employee culture, wherever your people are located. 

Challenges with remote onboarding

Conducting an effective virtual onboarding experience starts with identifying the challenges of remote onboarding to determine the best strategies for overcoming them.

But to do that, you first must differentiate between remote onboarding and in-person onboarding.

While the aim of both processes is the same: to introduce, acquaint, integrate, and socialize the new hire, the methods used to achieve these goals vary significantly when done virtually vs. face-to-face.

With a remote worker, you’re not trying to curate the on-site experience, but an intentional and distinct virtual onboarding experience that aligns with the company’s culture.

To further explain, consider the first day of a traditional onboarding:

It probably includes activities like a welcome orientation, a sit-down with HR to answer questions, a sit-down with tech support, an introduction to senior leaders and key team members, check-ins throughout the day, lunch with the team, or after-work drinks.

These practices are often done to make the new hire feel engaged, connected, valued, and motivated. But simply turning these experiences virtual may not resonate as strongly with a remote new hire…

For example, replacing in-person introductions with email introductions or replacing an in-person welcome presentation with an hour-long screen share may make the new employee feel disengaged, bored, or overwhelmed.

So while the intentions are good, these traditionally in-person activities may leave your new remote hire feeling unsure about the culture and their place in the organization. 

Some organizations use the 4 C’s of onboarding (compliance, clarification, culture, and connection) for traditional onboarding. For remote workers, they need to be restructured to address the differences caused by the remote setting.

As an HR executive or manager onboarding new remote hires, your first goal should be to overcome the following challenges:

  • Feelings of isolation
  • Delayed access to material and tech
  • Lack of personalization in the remote onboarding process
  • Identifying what the new hire can learn working remotely vs what you need to teach them
  • Possible miscommunication
  • Transitioning into training

Step-by-step instructions

remote employee onboarding examples

The following steps will put you on the right track for overcoming the challenges mentioned above and effectively onboarding remote employees:

1. Begin fast and early

Start the onboarding process as early as possible. Don’t wait until Day One to get the new hire acquainted with the tech, company culture, and coworkers.

To better prepare them for the onboarding experience, consider sending them information about the organization’s culture, the team they’ll be a part of, and the groups from other departments they will be collaborating with. Have this information available, but make sure they know it’s not required for them to take a look before their first day if they choose not to.

Add the new hires to the company’s digital workspace and provide access to all the necessary tools, apps, documents, and boards well a day or two before they officially begin working so they can get acclimated to thew tools and identify any issues IT may need to help with.

A fast start will help new employees quickly feel welcome and connected; like they became part of the team once they accepted the job offer.

Tosho Trajanov, VP of engineering at Adeva, recommends doing what his company does: kick off onboarding at least three weeks prior to the official start date.

If three weeks seems like too much, use your own judgement and company policies to determine when to begin the onboarding process.

2. Get the company excited about the new team member

Your company hires employees for a reason, so the new worker should never feel like they still have something to prove to the rest of the team. This will only make them anxious and closed off.

Instead, encourage your teammates and leaders to treat the new hire respectfully and have confidence in their abilities.

Prepare the organization to give a warm welcome to remote fresh talent by reminding them that the company’s success is accelerated when new team members are brought onboard.

Additionally, facilitate a channel of communication between current employees and the new remote teammate. On that channel, announce the new hire and share an overview of their skills and personality so the team can become familiar.

Urge current employees to send welcome and good luck messages. Ask the new hire to write a little bit about themselves to get them more comfortable interacting with the rest of the team.

Conversations® is one of the most reliable remote collaboration tools that focuses on establishing a connection among members of remote teams. It helps managers initiate frequent check-ins and supports manager-employee trust, creating a sense of community early on.

helping employees build relationships

3. Establish a connection to the company right away

From the first day after accepting the position, even before the official first day of the new job, you want to create a connection between the remote worker and the organization.

This boosts the sense of belonging and employee engagement.

One idea you can apply is sending a welcome gift to the new hire’s home. Gifts for remote employees can be a season care package, office supplies with the new employee’s name on them, a small succulent, and other thoughtful yet practical items.

4. Build solid relationships across the company

Since you’re dealing with a virtual environment, you need to keep in mind that relationships won’t organically sprout as they usually do when working in the office. There are no coffee/water talks, conversing in hallways, lunch get-togethers, and so on.

As such, establishing relationships among employees should be proactive and agile.

You should work to set up both formal and informal one-on-one conversations between the new hire and their peers, as the opportunities for new hires to engage in small talk in a remote setting are few.

Video calls have made scheduling such interactions easier and more personal, but be sure to throw in a remote icebreaker to get the conversation flowing.

Team building questions for remote workers are another tool you can use to strengthen relationships within the organization.

Pro tip: build broader relationships by setting up “shadow meetings” where the new hire joins meetings across various teams and departments that may not be directly relevant to the new employee’s position.

5. Implement a buddy system

An effective onboarding strategy for remote employees starting a new job is implementing a buddy system. This is when you assign a current team member to serve as a mentor for the new remote employee.

That way, you give new hires friendly faces that they can turn to for professional and social support. This can also improve collaboration and productivity among the team.

When choosing a new hire buddy, make sure they want to assume such a role in the first place. They should have a good understanding of the company’s culture/values, enjoy providing help, and be up for initiating regular audio and video check-ins.

6. Offer a digital handbook of the company

A company handbook is a vital part of any successful virtual onboarding process. It’s basically a guide to the organizational values, culture, history, and stories that the new hire should be familiar with.

Turn this information into a digital form that you can send to the remote worker to help them get started with their journey.

building company culture through onboarding

7. Schedule video check-ins as part of an individualized plan

As mentioned earlier, video check-ins should be a main ingredient of the remote onboarding process.

While many of these will include multiple team members, one-on-one face time with leaders and managers is essential for an individualized plan that’ll make new hires at least 58% more likely to stick around after three years.

This type of support should continue beyond the first two weeks to include the first few months of an employee’s tenure.

Pro tip: encourage new hires to ask questions for a more efficient remote onboarding experience. Similarly, ask for the new hires’ feedback on how the process is going so far and what would make it better.

8. Encourage employee development from the get-go

According to a McKinsey Global Survey on future workforce needs, 87% of companies are either currently experiencing skill gaps among employees or expect them to happen within a few years.

So why not work on bridging the looming gap from the get-go?

Not only will this benefit the organization, but it’ll also make for more loyal employees as they feel that their company cares about their professional growth.

Based on information from Clear Company research, organizations that offer employee training programs show 34% higher retention rates. Additionally, 94% of employees said that they would stay longer at companies that invest in professional development.

Remote employee onboarding checklist

9. Set clear, reasonable expectations and tie them to the company’s goals

When you set expectations for new hires, they get a clear picture of their responsibilities and how their performance should align with the organization’s objectives.

This helps them prioritize and organize work depending on the company’s goals, leading to a smoother fit into their appointed role.

10. Adopt employee recognition strategies

One of the main objectives of onboarding, whether virtual or in-person, is to make the new hire want to stay working in your company.

Applying recognition strategies is one of the most important tools to increase employee retention. Additionally, providing recognition can boost employees’ performance and productivity.

According to this Workhuman® report, new hires are 4x more likely to actively look for another job when they don’t get fulfilling recognition. On the other hand, new employees are 56% less likely to actively seek or be on the lookout for other jobs when they receive adequate recognition.

This can be integrated into your virtual onboarding program through communication platforms such as Workhuman’s Social Recognition®. This tool helps you celebrate achievements and milestones as a part of culture-strengthening practices that can benefit remote workplaces.

Remote FAQs

Social Recognition® allows managers and leaders to show appreciation remotely based on performance, professional achievements, and professional milestones such as the number of projects, promotions, and work anniversaries.

Recognition can be in the form of shoutouts or rewards. You can also take the practice a step further and celebrate personal events.

The Workhuman-Gallup Report demonstrates the benefits of such an approach as it gets the organization to recognize the human behind the work. When new employees feel that you view them as people, you can expect an improvement in retention rates.

One example of a company that used Social Recognition® for boosting retention is LinkedIn. It experienced a 96% retention rate in current employees receiving recognition, whereas new hires receiving recognition showed a 9% increase in retention rate.

Take your employee recognition to the next level with our 5 simple steps! Click now to discover how easy it is to boost morale, increase productivity, and show your employees they’re valued.

Read it now!


Final thoughts

Onboarding remote employees is a bigger challenge compared to traditional onboarding due to the lack of physical presence and face-to-face communication.

However, reforming the process is possible to yield effective results by following the steps discussed in today’s guide.