Thanks to covid-19, more people are working remotely than ever before. And it seems that flexibility is here to stay, with 80 per cent of company leaders planning to allow remote working at least part time after the pandemic.

There’s no doubt that working remotely can provide huge benefits for both employers and employees. However, it also demands significant changes in workplace operations. What once took place within the four walls of the office must now be done remotely, making use of virtual tools and technology.

Employee onboarding is no exception to that rule. It’s crucial to get onboarding right, even when it’s taking place remotely. That’s because - according to Glassdoor - a positive onboarding experience can improve employee retention by 82 per cent and increase productivity by more than 70 per cent. Despite this, 88 per cent of employees have reported that their employer did a poor job with onboarding. It’s clear, then, that many companies need to make critical improvements to their onboarding process.

In this article we’ll explore how remote onboarding works and learn about the difficulties it can bring, with a view to creating a better onboarding experience for new hires and their employers.

What is remote onboarding?

Employee onboarding is the process a new hire goes through when they join a company. It’s a set of stages that helps the employee to get acquainted with the organisation and their team, learning about the operations and attitudes that underpin the business. Onboarding also gives the employer an opportunity to share their expectations and guidance for success with the new worker.

When an employee isn’t or can’t be based in the office, onboarding may have to take place in a remote capacity. Remote onboarding can be more complex and time consuming than face-to-face onboarding, so it’s crucial that the process runs smoothly. The length of the onboarding period can vary greatly between companies and roles, depending on factors such as the size of the organisation and the complexity of the employee’s duties.

Onboarding can last just a few days or stretch on for several months. However, most companies stop the onboarding process after just one week. While a shorter onboarding period can be time and cost effective, it can also have a negative impact on employee experience and retention. A new hire needs to feel involved in the company and confident that they can successfully carry out their role – particularly if they are working remotely.

Both a formal and informal approach can be taken to onboarding, with most companies choosing to use both. The stages of formal onboarding can include training, workshops, and learning exercises – all of which will take place virtually for remote hires. Informal remote onboarding might include virtual observation and shadowing of colleagues as they work, or more ad hoc training if it is required.

What are the difficulties of remote onboarding?

Remote onboarding can be lengthier and more complicated than traditional face-to-face onboarding. With all the toing and froing taking place virtually, there’s more space for things to go wrong. Employees may make mistakes when signing documents, for example, or they may miss out on crucial training. It’s also harder to offer guidance and assistance to remote employees. This can result in them feeling confused, frustrated and isolated during the onboarding process.

To mitigate these risks, communication is key. Hiring managers should take steps to ensure their employee feels supported and that communication channels are accessible and open to any questions or worries. The average new hire has 54 activities to complete during onboarding, so they can easily become overwhelmed. It’s crucial that they are supplied with a clear and detailed list of everything they need to do and understand what is expected of them.

Remote onboarding steps

There are four main stages to the remote onboarding process that an organisation should follow. The steps below will explore how to create a better onboarding experience for remote employees.

Pre-onboarding

In the week leading up to the employee’s start date, the company should ensure they have everything they need to begin their new role. Any equipment they will use for their work – such as a laptop, keyboard or company phone – should be sent to them. Guidance on how to set up the equipment can be provided by the IT department over the phone or via video if necessary.

HR paperwork should be completed in advance if possible. This includes documents such as contracts and benefits agreements. It’s a process that can be more time consuming when done remotely, so using an e-signature tool such as HelloSign or DocuSign can be useful. This enables all documents to be signed virtually and securely with no fears about paperwork being damaged or going missing.

Managers should also send a welcome email or arrange a call to discuss the agenda for the employee’s first day. This means there’ll be no hidden surprises on the day and the employee will feel prepared, confident and organised going into their new role.

Orientation

During the orientation stage of the onboarding process, the employee should learn more about the company and its culture, ethos and mission. An orientation event could last one day or stretch over several. It might also take place in a group capacity if there are multiple new hires joining the company at the same time.

When orientation takes place remotely, the hiring manager could provide a virtual handbook with all the information a new hire needs to know. Alternatively, they could set up a presentation with videos and interactive features. Hiring managers should also set up video meetings for the new hire with their team and other key employees. This can include co-workers, managers and departments they’ll work alongside in their role.

Training

Depending on the complexity of the role and the experience of the new hire, significant training might be required before they can begin their work. Rather than giving remote workers pages of information to digest, role specific training could take the form of an interactive course with videos, games and quizzes. This would make the training a more dynamic and engaging learning experience.

Any new hire joining a company will need to learn about the organisation’s communication network and tools. This will include features like company email, group messaging programmes – such as slack - and video conferencing software. They may also need training from the IT department to use company technology such as cloud software and file-sharing applications. Learning about company security protocols like password management systems and data encryption is also extremely important.

Monitoring progress

Hiring managers should monitor the progress and experience of their new employee throughout the entirety of the remote onboarding process. From the outset, they should set out their expectations of the hire as well as the short and long-term goals of their employment.

Regular video meetings or calls should be arranged to discuss the employee’s development and give them the opportunity to voice any concerns. These could take place weekly for the first month, moving on to monthly and then quarterly depending on the length of the onboarding period. If possible, a one-off in-person meeting could be arranged to touch base. This could take place in the office or, if this isn’t an option, at a shared workspace or coffee shop.

How can an HRIS help?

An HRIS can help to ease the burden of remote onboarding, making life easier for both managers and new hires. Despite this, only two in five organisations use a dedicated onboarding solution. An HRIS can improve the onboarding experience by holding all necessary employee documents and information, providing insights into company turnover and employee progress and integrating with useful tools.

The Humaans Integrations function, for example can connect to the calendar – to organise progress meetings – Slack – to communicate with news hires – and DocuSign – to enable documents to be signed virtually – as well as a number of other integrations.

Tips for better remote onboarding

There’s no doubt that both hiring managers and new hires have a lot on their plate during the onboarding process. Here are some tips to ease the process and improve the remote onboarding experience:

Look to group onboarding

If multiple hires are joining the company at the same time, group onboarding can be a more efficient and productive process. Not only does it ease the workload for hiring managers, but it can provide a more social experience for the new employees. Group onboarding can help new hires to feel less isolated and encourage them to build relationships with their colleagues from the outset.

Arrange regular check-ins

It’s particularly important to ensure a new hire feels supported during the first week of their onboarding process. Arranging regular check-ins via phone or video call is a great way to do this, giving the employee a chance to voice any queries or concerns. These meetings can be interactive, with videos and quizzes to help the new employee process all the necessary information.

Plan initial projects

As well as learning about company culture and operations during onboarding, employees will be taking on their initial duties in their new position. It can be helpful, therefore, to set up a clear work plan that is in line with the demands of their role. Projects set for the first 30, 60 and 90 days should encompass the full range of the new employee’s responsibilities and give them the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues and teams across the organisation.

Encourage communication and connection

It’s crucial that onboarding employees begin to build relationships and form connections with their colleagues and managers from the outset. Existing employees should be encouraged to reach out and introduce themselves to new hires to ensure they feel welcomed and a part of the team. If possible, a real-life meeting could be arranged during the employee’s first week – at the office, a coffee shop or outside area – to enable in-person communication and connection.

Ask for feedback

New hires can help to improve the onboarding experience for future employees by providing feedback to their hiring manager throughout and after the process. By recognising the successes and issues of the onboarding process, companies can provide a better experience for employees and work to improve their retainment of top talent.

Conclusion

When it comes to employee onboarding, first impressions really do count. That’s why a successful onboarding process is so important and has a huge impact on employee satisfaction and retainment. Remote onboarding provides a whole new set of challenges for hiring managers, who must find virtual and engaging ways to connect and support new hires. Onboarding remotely can also be lengthier and more complex than traditional onboarding, so companies should follow a clear process to ensure a positive employee experience.

During pre-onboarding, an employee should receive all the equipment and sign all the necessary paperwork they’ll need for their role. Plans for the first day should also be clearly outlined. At the orientation stage, employees should be equipped with key information about the company and its culture, attending virtual introductions with managers and colleagues. Role specific training will vary depending on duties and experience, but all new hires should be trained in company software and security protocols. Finally, employees should be monitored throughout the process, with regular meetings to ask questions and voice any concerns.

Implementing an HRIS can greatly improve the onboarding process, easing administrative burdens, integrating with key tools and providing important insights. Other improvements to employee onboarding can come from group orientation, regular check-ins, project planning, encouraging communication and asking new hires for feedback.

By following these steps and employing these techniques, companies can ensure they have a remote onboarding process worth boasting about. Armed with this, an organisation can provide a positive employee experience and retain the top talent within their field.

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