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How to get remote hires onboard, not just online

Nov 20, 2020

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  • EDITORIAL TEAM Talent Management Institute
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With remote work moving from a trend to a norm due to the COVID19 pandemic, many organizations were caught without any procedures for working remotely. Among the many challenges organizations have faced in the remote work transition is hiring and onboarding. It’s challenging enough figuring out how to maintain company culture and engagement with a newly remote workforce, much less adding new hires into the mix. Successful onboarding is one of the most crucial factors in the long term satisfaction and productivity of an employee. It is so much more than how a new hire starts work or learns the intricacies of their new role; it is the foundation of how employees fit within the company culture, how they start and build relationships, and how they achieve success. With such a rapid transition to a remote workforce, how can organizations be sure their new hires don’t just come online but effectively come onboard within the company?

We’re not talking about the new employee paperwork and technology set up. You could easily find a remote onboarding checklist online if you’re looking for a quick fix, but stopping at that would be setting up the new relationship for failure. We’re talking about company culture and community. All new employees, particularly when there is no physical office space, need to feel a sense of belonging and connection. Getting employees to truly buy-in to the company culture can be quite a challenge. This is why it is extremely important to pay special attention to this when onboarding remote employees. Extra time spent on company culture, connection, and community during the first months will go a long way in ensuring a prosperous relationship.

Don’t do it all at once

It doesn’t make sense to do all of your onboarding activities live when so much work will not be done live or face-to-face. That’s not to say live onboarding sessions are not essential; they are. Face to face connections in the early days of employment are crucial for both learning and connection. But in a remote work environment, much work is done asynchronously. That means onboarding should be done in a similar fashion. There are many ways companies can make onboarding activities interactive even when they’re not live. This could include videos, readings, writing assignments, games, and more. Companies should spend some time developing fun and interactive ways to complete onboarding tasks and getting new hires integrated into the organization.

Don’t go it alone

Getting plugged in can be a big challenge in a remote work environment. That is why you should give every remote hire an onboarding partner. This onboarding partner should be someone from a different team who they wouldn’t normally work closely with; not someone in HR and not their manager or teammate. They will have plenty of opportunity to meet, work with, and get to know their team mates. Connecting new hires with people in other departments outside of their direct circle will help them to learn more about the culture and how the company works. As an added bonus, it can also lead to greater cross-functional ideation and collaboration.

Empower your managers

If this is your company’s first major experience with a remote workforce, it might also be a manager’s first experience managing remote employees. This can be quite a challenge, particularly in light of the challenging circumstances of the pandemic. The training and empowerment of managers cannot go overlooked. They are the ones overseeing much of the onboarding of their new team members. It is their responsibility to ensure the new hires feel connected and cared for. Managers should feel empowered to customize onboarding activities to meet the learning and social needs of the employee. Individual and personalized time with their manager during the onboarding process goes a long way toward helping a new hire get fully on board, not just online.

Communication is key

Employers need to reach out early and often during the onboarding process. This is easy in an office setting when you can visually see how your new hires are doing. For remote workers, employers need to be intentional about communicating with new hires to ensure they’re progressing appropriately. Without enough communication, new employees can feel both overwhelmed and disconnected, often at the same time.

Communication isn’t one way, though. It must take place by both the employee and employer. This means employers need to actively listen to their new hires. Feedback is integral to effective remote onboarding. Whether through surveys, task completion data, or direct feedback, companies need to be listening to what their new hires are experiencing. Not only will that help improve the remote onboarding process, it will help new hires feel heard and connected.

Last but not least

If you want employees to do more than simply coming online to get started, your onboarding activities need to be a long term and iterative process. Long term doesn’t mean years, but it does means at least weeks and potentially months. Strong connections don’t happen overnight, particularly when employees are mostly looking at screens and not faces. Follow these guidelines and you’ll have more employees connected onboard and not just working online.

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