Virtual Onboarding for Remote Employees
Remote work and virtual onboarding are new realities of the workplace, thanks to changes wrought by the global COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, many businesses had little choice but to institute remote work policies, which included a different form of new employee onboarding than they had ever used before. That onboarding approach was often, at first, makeshift and impromptu, but now, a year later, it's become essential that companies look closer at the remote onboarding process and consider implementing it more fully in their human resources portfolio.
What is the most strategic and effective remote onboarding process for your business? The good news is a wide array of technological resources are available to assist you in your remote onboarding strategy. Tools range from video interviews and conferencing, to many other interactive exercises for new employees. These tools facilitate the process and help ensure that new hires get what they need to "hit the ground running"--benefiting the company and its new employees at the same time.
What is Virtual Employee Onboarding?
Most businesses have an established form of new employee onboarding and orientation. The traditional approach focuses on in-person training and mentoring within the workplace.
Virtual employee onboarding can be designed to take place, when necessary, across time zones, in different parts of the country and on a timetable that can differ significantly from the traditional approach. In fact, this type of onboarding has become essential for companies grappling with an ever-expanding virtual workforce. This strategy is designed to help new hires working from a remote location feel they are "part of the team" from day one and can more easily acclimate to their new work environment.
There are numerous examples of businesses adopting a hybrid approach to onboarding--partially remote and partially on-site--though many businesses are already transitioning to a 100% remote onboarding process.
The Difference Between Remote Onboarding and Virtual New Hire Orientation
Both remote onboarding and virtual new hire orientation are effective means of welcoming and introducing new hires to an organization.
Generally speaking, new hire orientation is designed to enable individuals to acquire a deeper familiarity with their new employer's company mission and vision. It's also an opportunity to become knowledgeable about eligible benefits, as well as company policies regarding workplace conduct and safety measures. In many cases, certain new hire paperwork must be completed as part of the orientation process.
By contrast, onboarding usually occurs over a longer stretch of time, and is often customized for a new hire's specific responsibilities within the organization. It may include orientation as an element of the process but is designed to extend far beyond a one-day experience.
How to Create a Remote Onboarding Process
As noted, crafting a strategic remote onboarding experience is critically important to bringing new remote hires into the company. Here are critical steps employers should consider when onboarding remote employees:
- Draw up an "onboarding roadmap."
- Create pre-onboarding tasks for new hires.
- Organize a virtual team welcome.
- Introduce the process and set goals.
- Implement virtual training and "shadowing."
- Schedule regular check-ins.
- Measure new employee satisfaction with the process.
Draw Up a Remote Onboarding Process Roadmap
Designing every aspect of the remote onboarding process--in other words, crafting a "roadmap" of the process--can greatly boost the likelihood of success. An effective roadmap involves guidelines, expectations, and the alignment of strategic objectives with the efforts of others within the company.
Accountability also plays a critical role in ensuring the success of the remote onboarding process. While a supervisor can't closely monitor the new hire's onboarding experience on a minute-by-minute (or even day-by-day) schedule, there should be some built-in checkpoints that clearly detail how the process is proceeding. This can be achieved by having the supervisor set up ongoing calls or video chats with the new hire. In some situations, a virtual mentor may be assigned to the new hire, and this individual can serve as an advisor to lead the way through the onboarding process.
Complete Pre-Onboarding Tasks for Remote Employees
As with any new hire, certain tasks may take place before he or she begins work (remotely or on-site). Completion of these tasks beforehand means more time spent interacting with co-workers and becoming accustomed to the workplace environment on day one.
Here are key tasks to complete ahead of the remote worker's all-important first day on the job:
- Offer relevant, work-related information. Make sure the new hire has been given appropriate contact information, including the company email address, and email addresses for his or her supervisor and relevant team members. Set up a calendar that includes a schedule for the initial onboarding experience, as well as a checklist of tasks the virtual remote employee is expected to complete in the first week of onboarding.
- Provide mandatory paperwork. As with any new hire, remote employees must complete certain mandatory paperwork. This includes a review of company policies and procedures, as well as financial, tax, contracts, and other forms. To increase efficiency, provide an online signature service with these documents, so new hires can acknowledge receipt and review of the materials.
- Deliver equipment and technology. Remote workers need equipment and technology to help them take on their new job duties. In many cases, such technology includes a phone, laptop, printer, desk, chair, router, along with other important supplies. Don't wait to ship equipment on the day the new hire comes onboard. The more lead time given to this delivery process, the quicker the new employee can become acquainted with the technology and hit the ground running.
- Provide a "welcome package" representing your organization. Does your company offer "swag" to its team members, i.e., branded mugs, t-shirts, mousepad, and so on? If so, get those out through your internal or external delivery service so, once again, they are in the new hire's possession before day one on the job. It may seem like an unnecessary expenditure of resources, but when he or she owns some company swag, it goes a long way towards building engagement with the organization.
In essence, whatever you offer to new employees who plan to work onsite should also go to your remote workers. Remember, regardless of their physical location, everyone is part of the team!
Organize a Virtual Team Welcome
The goal for many employers is welcoming new hires upon arrival (remote or in person) and making them feel comfortable ASAP. Towards that end, it's a great idea to organize a virtual team welcome for new hires. After all, just because the new person isn't working in the office doesn't mean they should be excluded from any traditional new hire welcoming activities.
To organize a strong virtual team welcome:
- Ask current team members to reach out to the remote worker via email and offer a personal welcome.
- Put together a virtual team lunch or happy hour.
- Formally announce the new hire's presence as part of the workforce at your companywide, all-staff meeting, as well as by email (which should include some brief background information on the new person, which they have approved beforehand, such as job experience and hobbies or interests).
Rounding out the "Welcome Wagon" approach, have the new hire's manager arrange a short, one-on-one meeting with co-workers, so everyone learns more about the individual in a personal way.
Introduce the Process and Set Goals for Remote Workers
It may be a fine line between assigning tasks and responsibilities on an employee's first day and inadvertently making them feel overwhelmed at the outset. But approached with consideration, it's critically important to get the ball rolling as soon as possible. Here's what direct managers can do:
- Describe in some detail the new hire's key tasks and responsibilities.
- Outline short-term and long-range employee objectives.
- Encourage the remote new hire to offer some job-related objectives of their own.
- Make sure their questions get answered by the appropriate authority within the organization.
Remember, the desired outcome is a remote worker who comes to their new job more fully informed about the company.
Virtual New Employee Training
With remote workers, there are multiple forms of training that can help facilitate the onboarding process. Among the two chief forms:
- Role-specific training. In this approach, employers offer interactive role-specific training that involves specialized job and video training. Interactive courses are considered the most effective, both because they often contain elements of "fun" (games, friendly competitions, puzzles, etc.) and because these courses become more established in the new employee's mind after each training session.
- IT training. It's very helpful for new employees to receive specialized IT training in the use of relevant technology, such as file-sharing apps, cloud backup software, and advanced security software for protecting the company's IT assets.
Virtual new employee training that encompasses these critical areas will enable the new hire to feel more comfortable with company assets and resources.
Encourage Virtual Shadowing
Just as with new on-site employees, virtual workers should be encouraged to get involved right away with business concerns and projects. One effective approach involves "virtual shadowing," in which remote workers follow co-workers and others currently tackling high-priority initiatives--particularly those related to their own remote job duties.
Also, you can invite these virtual employees to offer their own suggestions and input (once they are familiarized with a specific issue). Not only is it possible to obtain great suggestions from new team members, but this approach also helps instill a valuable sense of engagement among those new to the job.
Schedule Regular Check-Ins
When an employee works remotely, it's not as easy to track their progress as it is when an employee is in-house. But thanks to advances in communications technology, there are plenty of opportunities for managers to schedule regular audio or video check-ins so they can evaluate how well things are progressing.
This is particularly important with respect to the new remote worker's performance and goals. It's also a good way to determine if they are encountering job-related obstacles or experiencing other types of challenges in their new position.
Measure Employee Satisfaction with the Remote Onboarding Process
It's critical that you establish a process by which you can assess the degree of satisfaction new employees feel after going through the virtual employee onboarding process.
To achieve this objective:
- Distribute an "onboarding checklist" to new remote workers to determine if they have met the right short-term goals and are now working towards more strategic, long-range objectives.
- Encourage these new hires to complete an anonymous survey where they can provide honest feedback on the onboarding experience.
- Collect and evaluate the responses, in order to assess what aspects of the onboarding process are meeting your goals and where efforts fall short and need improvement.
Remember, it's the new remote hires themselves who are the best "experts" on their own experience. Draw upon this to refine the program and ensure greater success the next time around.
Remote Onboarding Best Practices: Tips for Onboarding Virtual Employees
While some elements may differ from one company to another, certain virtual employee onboarding best practices can apply to most new remote onboarding process you establish within your organization. These best practices (with more details to come) include:
- Communicating with new remote hires
- Describing and emphasizing the importance of your company culture
- Assigning a "dedicated buddy"
Following these remote onboarding best practices can significantly boost the potential success rate for your new remote employees.
Communicate with New Remote Hires
It's common for new hires to feel anxious or uncertain when they embark upon a new position with your organization. You can dramatically reduce these negative feelings by supporting your managers' communications efforts (email, chat, videoconferencing) with the new hires. Of course, avoid overwhelming the individual with too much information at once. Take a judicious approach towards making the new hire feel welcome, and helping them cope with their feelings of anxiety.
Emphasize Company Culture and Values
Virtual employee onboarding represents a great opportunity to begin instilling the company's culture and values early on. Be sure to include the kind of information about culture and values that your on-site new hires receive in their orientation. Providing that same information to new hires helps them feel they are part of that culture.
Assign a Dedicated Buddy
Any new hire is likely to feel unsettled during their first days on the job. That may be doubly true for remote workers unfamiliar with the ways of the organization. For this reason, consider implementing a "dedicated buddy" system by which a veteran employee can team up with the new hire and guide them through those early days.
But things don't have to end there. An effective buddy system can extend for weeks or months, helping new remote hires gradually become more comfortable with organizational policies and initiatives. (You may also consider enlisting the buddy-system services of someone outside of the new hire's department, in order to expand his or her range of relationships inside the company.)
Virtual Employee Onboarding FAQs
Here's a brief list of FAQs covering the information provided here:
What should be included in virtual employee onboarding?
Virtual employee onboarding should include completion of new employee paperwork, creating an itinerary for the first days on the job, creating an official "virtual welcome" package, and delivery of relevant technology.
How long is the virtual employee onboarding process?
The process may differ from one company to the next, but in general, both on-site and virtual employee onboarding can extend beyond the first few days, sometimes over weeks or months. A lot depends on how much time and resources are given to guiding the new remote hire through their early engagement with the organization.
How is onboarding a remote employee different than on-site?
Virtual onboarding resembles physical onboarding in many ways, covering the same materials (company policies, culture, etc.), but differs primarily in the way those materials are delivered. With the use of communications technology, remote onboarding entails providing key information on a timely basis (often before the new hire's first day at work) and enlisting the services of the new hire's manager and/or co-workers to build relationships through the use of chat rooms and videoconferencing.
Is there technology to help with virtual employee onboarding?
A wide range of software and technology helps to guide the success of remote employee onboarding. Among the most effective tools:
- Online company portals
- Collaboration software
- Videoconferencing software
- Online surveys
How necessary is technology to the remote onboarding process? The answer is simple: without this technology, your new remote hire is likely to take much longer (and require more company resources) to become comfortable with his or her new job. Use of the right technology speeds the process in an effective manner.
What are the challenges of remote onboarding?
Many of the challenges involved in remote onboarding can be overcome with the proper attention to detail. Common challenges include:
- Making the new remote employee feel comfortable in his or her job
- Bridging gaps in communications between managers and remote workers
- Building awareness of company culture, mission, and values
- Insufficient contact with co-workers and others
Helping the new remote employee overcome a sense of distance or lack of connection is key. When companies work to address this challenge, many other obstacles are more easily handled.
Implement a Virtual New Employee Onboarding Process with Software from Paychex
As we have noted, the virtual onboarding process is comprised of many different parts and activities. Using the information provided here, you can get started on creating an effective process that helps with your new remote hires in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
But you don't have to do it alone. Learn more about Paychex Employee Onboarding Software that offers valuable assistance in completion of mandatory forms, a new remote hire checklist, automated form collection, and more. With the right onboarding experience, your new remote hires can feel part of the team from their first day on the job.