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Remote onboarding in 2020: An essential guide for companies


Competition for talent has led companies today to look further afield for the best people. This often means finding ways to remotely onboard new hires. Distributed companies – those that have no physical location, and where employees are based remotely in all different parts of the world – are on the rise too. And the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has seen a general increase in remote onboarding practices.

Whatever the context, businesses of all sizes are finding creative ways to onboard remote workers. Below are some tips to ensure your remote onboarding process is a success.

You start before they start

Get tech in place

The last thing you want is your employee spending their first few days in the job going backwards and forwards with your IT team, setting up equipment and troubleshooting issues. Ahead of their start date, make sure you deliver all necessary hardware to your new hire. That includes basic kit like Laptop, Mouse, Keyboard, Monitor, etc. Determine their Wi-Fi capacities too, and whether they need a VPN. Furthermore, ensure they have access to bespoke or licenced company software, any log-in details they need, computer security guidelines, as well as additional instructions for setting up their workstation. These latter points are particularly critical for companies that operate a BYOD (bring-your-own-device) policy.

Nigel Wright’s Michael Dawson says:

“Access can be managed remotely with ease, as long as devices are pre-configured correctly. If the company doesn’t have a BYOD policy, then you’ve got to factor in time from hardware to travel from vendor to IT before full deployment. If you’re suddenly scaling up your remote working operations, then the existing setup may be inadequate vis-à-vis information security. That’s something you must consider before any remote onboarding efforts.”

Make admin easy

All remote staff need to meet legal and regulatory requirements before they start. Again, you mustn’t leave this too late and clog up someone’s time during that first week on the job. Employment contracts and other legal documents are notoriously time-consuming – this is especially the case when people must print, scan and post them. So, investigate legally binding tools like DocuSign and HelloSign now and integrate them into your hiring process. During this stage, it’s also probably a good idea to send pertinent information such as an organisation chart, indicating who in the business your remote worker should reach out to for specific issues, and to arrange their various induction sessions.

Send gifts and positive messages

A common onboarding practise is to provide new employees with gifts on their first day in the office. Gestures like this are even more important when your new hire is a remote worker. And this could be something you align with the delivery of technology – how happy will your recent recruit be if they receive a mysterious beribboned parcel with their shiny new laptop? It could be a branded coffee cup, or even headphones, gift cards or local cinema tickets. A friendly (written or video) message from the team and/or the CEO is another great way to make someone feel welcome. 

Create an onboarding portal

Once you’ve got some remote onboarding experience, you might consider developing an online portal. This will become a ‘one-stop-shop’ for all onboarding administration, communication and induction materials. Even if it only includes basics like an employee handbook, organisational chart, training materials, workstation set up guides, and marketing templates, it’s going to make your remote workers’ early days in the business much easier. Populating and updating this ahead of the new hire’s start date will ensure all bases are covered. Some companies take advantage of applications like Slack for this purpose if a bespoke solution isn’t possible. 

Clarity and connectivity from day one

Clear early objectives

If your employee is a remote worker, they’re already going to have bags of initiative and expertise in managing their time effectively. It's still important, however, to set clear tasks and give them purpose early on – make them feel like they’re having an impact and contributing to the wider team. As well as immediate role-specific priorities, getting them involved in larger projects is a great way to introduce them to team members or the wider business. Training too could involve tangible tasks that enable remote staff to get used to systems and ways of working. Leverage their initiative and encourage them to pick up the phone or organise video conferences with colleagues, to ensure diaries are super-busy those first few weeks. 

Review progress regularly

As well as setting short and long terms goals, it’s essential to monitor and review the progress of remote workers during the onboarding period. This, at the very least, should include one-to-one virtual meetings on a weekly basis, to discuss projects, priorities and expectations. Scheduling training is difficult at the best of times, but it’s important that specific training for remote workers always goes ahead as planned. And make sure you touch base with them afterwards to find out how it went. Remember, remote employees can become ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ Don’t neglect them during those first few weeks. Consider extending a typical onboarding process to ensure their progress remains consistent over a prolonged period.

Establish a mentoring or buddy program

This is another classic onboarding initiative, but it’s one that can easily be neglected in a remote working context. All efforts to make your new remote employee feel connected to the organisation will help in their long term development. Assign them a buddy or mentor and encourage the buddy/mentor to use video conferencing technology to interact with the remote worker during the onboarding process. This can include taking them through company procedures, giving general advice and guidance, facilitating introductions to other people in the business, or organising virtual coffee-catch ups and informal chats. If the buddy/mentor is office-based, they could even give virtual tours to bring the company culture to life.

Whickham School says:

“We have a new member of staff joining our leadership team in April. We’ve already got them set-up with a laptop and access to the Academy’s IT system. And, next week, we’re doing a virtual ‘meet-and-greet’ with them and the team here. As this individual is from outside of the education sector, we’re also in the process of connecting them with relevant people at other Academies so they can start building a peer network over the coming weeks, via Skype, telephone, etc.”

And finally... embed culture fast

Interaction is the best and fastest way to embed company culture. And the activities outlined above should be extended to the team straight away. Yes, the buddy/mentor is the remote worker's first port of call, however, you should always aim to ‘over-communicate’ during a remote onboarding process, and that means lots of virtual meetings and conversations with the whole team. Getting camera angles right and boosting audio quality will diminish the sense of ‘apartness’ a remote worker may feel. Companies relying on physical inductions to fast-track cultural alignment should always commit to paying all travel, accommodation and other expenses. Though, you might want to avoid physical meetups altogether and focus on delivering all onboarding remotely, given that's the ‘norm’ moving forward.

Mayborn Group say:

“The COVID-19 crisis means we’re remotely onboarding all candidates due to join our business over the next few months. Everyone will receive a laptop, etc. and we have various Skype/VPN meetings planned so that new starters get the chance to virtually meet new colleagues.”

Nicky Gallagher, Head of HR at Armstrong Ceiling Solutions said:

“Our new CAPEX Procurement Specialist was due to start on 23rd March 2020, right when we were sending employees home due to COVID-19.  We acted quickly to ensure their onboarding experience wasn’t too disrupted. They received a laptop in the post with their log-in details, etc. as well as a document outlining the business’s homeworking arrangements and practices.

Microsoft Teams meetings were arranged with their line manager, our MD, and HR, who welcomed them on board and took them through company policies and procedures. We’ve made it very clear that they should contact HR with any queries, regardless of how small. There’s nothing worse than feeling isolated and not knowing who to approach. 

Moving forward, for the next few weeks, they will have daily virtual meetings with their team. As well as familiarising themselves with our systems, their line manager has requested that they document a process flow for procurement activity. This is an ideal opportunity for them to ‘set out their stall’ for all future projects.

Ordinarily, a new hire would also get a factory tour and meet with key people across the business. Instead, we arranged for various colleagues to call them as part of their remote induction. Contact details for other internal and external stakeholders they may wish to reach out to over the next few weeks were also provided.”

Contact us

If you would like to find out more about successful remote onboarding, how to adapt your recruitment process for remote hiring or the different video conferencing platforms to suit you and your business, please feel free to contact one of our specialised and experienced Recruitment Consultants who will be more than happy to help. Alternatively, you can contact us via info@nigelwright.com or +33 1 76 73 29 80.

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