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How to onboard remote employees: a 5 step guide

Onboarding new staff correctly has never been more important.

The Covid-19 outbreak introduced many New Zealand organisations to working from home. As the virus' more recent resurgence has proved, it's essential that businesses have contingency plans for when BAU is disrupted.

Onboarding is no exception. 

Whether you're about to begin onboarding a new employee, or are part way through your standard cycle when you're forced to go remote, this critical business process needs to run as smoothly as possible.

To help, we asked Sam Stevens, Manager at Robert Walters recruitment consultancy in Auckland, for her advice on how Kiwi businesses can get remote onboarding right.

Your remote onboarding checklist

1. Map out your milestones

‘Onboarding’ refers to the entire process from listing a job through to embedding a new employee into your organisation, and we’re talking about this entire journey here.

Because doing this remotely is new to many employers, Sam says it’s vital you identify key milestones and touchpoints along the way. By doing so you can determine the tech you’ll need to “facilitate and streamline the process for a really positive candidate experience.”

For example, consider how you’ll assemble, circulate and collect the paperwork that comes with onboarding. Here, tools like DocuSign and HelloSign are easy to use, and eliminate the need for face-to-face interaction.

2. Make use of video

You need to keep your onboarding process engaging, and video is the next best thing to in-person communication.

The team at Robert Walters has been using video for years as part of their process, with great results. In particular, Sam recommends embedding a video into your job listing. This can help bring your company and culture to life, while also making your ad stand out. Such videos could include a tour of the office, an introduction to the wider team and tips for what to expect through the rest of the hiring process.

Don't jump in head first – map out a clear and engaging remote onboarding journey for your candidates.

3. Help your new starter prepare

In the week leading up to their start date, send your new starter everything they need to feel comfortable about their first day.

As well as standard documents and readings, it’s important to remember that the new employee’s experience will be very different from those you’ve onboarded in the past.

“Remote employees can’t come in and read the room”, Sam points out, so go above and beyond by preparing them a ‘playbook’ of what to expect. This could include important culture info like values, clothing and language, and will go a long way to making up for the lost social cues that new personnel often rely on.

4. Make them feel like part of the team

This is hugely important, and one of the biggest challenges of remote onboarding. How do you make someone feel part of the team when they’ve never met their colleagues?

Sam’s advice here centres around familiarity – “when you start a new job in a normal environment, you become familiar with those around you through regular conversation and touchpoints”. As this isn’t possible in a remote office, the responsibility is on you as a manager to provide alternatives. Consider:

  • Introductory calls with the whole team: here, you can introduce the new starter to everyone they’d usually be working alongside. This allows them to get a good idea of the team atmosphere, and the personalities they’ll be interacting with.
  • Regular social catch-ups: there’s no reason to halt coffee mornings or Friday drinks because everyone is working remotely. These settings are particularly important for new employees who will want to build social connections with their teammates.
  • Giving your new starter a buddy: we’ve all had situations in new roles where we’ve worried about looking stupid by asking or doing the ‘wrong’ thing. By pairing up your new team member with someone who isn’t their manager (ideally a peer in a similar role), they can ask all the questions they want, with none of the embarrassment.

Group video calls are a great way to introduce new starters to the whole team.

5. Set up a regular communication schedule

Managers are often unsure about how and when they communicate with new remote employees. As a general rule, Sam advises that “more is more – working remotely doesn’t mean touchpoints should decrease, if anything they’re of greater importance than ever.”

This communication can even start before their first day – for example, sending the candidate a message when they’ve signed their contract to let them know you’re excited for them to start.

Once they’re working, establish regular 1:1 video catch-ups. This both allows you to set and monitor expectations regarding their work, but also to form a social bond and build a good relationship.