Employees come and go. Most importantly, new employees are welcomed on board, with one caveat: as remote workers, they don't get the usual in-person tours, all-hands meetings, or general hand-shaking roundtable with the crew. How do you onboard a remote team member? It can be a tricky challenge. Luckily, we're experts in supporting remote work, and we're here to give you our best advice.
Remote work has increased dramatically in popularity worldwide due to the Covid pandemic. Whether you're a company welcoming the rest with a "great, isn't it?" or you're a newcomer to remote work and struggling with the adjustment, it's something you have to get used to.
During these trying times, life goes on. Employees come and go. Most importantly, new employees are welcomed on board, with one caveat: as remote workers, they don't get the usual in-person tours, all-hands meetings, or general hand-shaking roundtable with the crew.
How do you onboard a remote team member? It can be a tricky challenge.
Luckily, we're experts in supporting remote work, and we're here to give you our best advice.
The first thing to do is recognize that onboarding is exceptionally crucial. It's not just about making your company feel warm and welcome or introducing the employee to their new team. It's not just about reducing friction and opening lines of communication. It's about the consistency and longevity of your new hires.
"According to Digitate, employees who have a negative onboarding experience are twice as likely to look for other career opportunities in the future. On the flip side, research by Glassdoor found that organizations with a positive onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%." - Trello.
When turnover becomes an expensive endeavor, keeping employees around is critical. If your onboarding and welcoming process is sub-par, you leave your new employee floundering. They might feel left out, isolated, or as if they aren't part of the team. Some people work past these feelings and eventually fit in. Others, not so much.
So, here's our first tip: treat onboarding with the importance it deserves.
That doesn't mean it needs to be a sober, profound moment! This step is an opportunity to welcome a new employee into your company culture, and a first impression is crucial.
Hiring remote employees has the advantage of allowing you to hire people from anywhere, even across the country or across an ocean. You get to pick the best workers from anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, that means you need to deal with a wide variety of possible complications, including currency exchanges, regional variations in tax laws, and more.
Proper, effective processes are critical for a smooth onboarding. Make sure to be aggressive with ensuring all of the appropriate paperwork is handled as quickly as possible. This way, if an issue comes up, you can solve it before it delays a paycheck.
Remember, a new employee is often conflict-averse and might not bring a pay issue to your attention until it goes on far too long, at which point it's already damaging to their impression of your business.
When you're hiring someone new, you should notify the people with whom this new employee will be working. They generally have a close awareness of what a new team member might need, and talking to them can be a great idea to figure out precisely what you want in a new hire.
More importantly, you want to let your team know when you've made the decision. You don't need to keep every team member up to date for every step of the process, and it's not your team's role to vet and analyze candidates. However, once you've chosen a new hire, let your team know that you have. You may also want to let them know additional information, such as:
It can also be a good idea to ask the new hire to write a short bio about themselves to be shared with the team ahead of time. This bio can consist of info that helps the team feel like your team can get to know the new hire right away and find common ground. This bio can include basic information like the employee's location, their hobbies, their pets if they want to share, and so on.
You want the first day and the first week to go as smoothly as possible. Every bit of friction you can reduce or eliminate is a potential reason the new hire could quit, removed.
One of the most important things to establish is a list of critical people to introduce to your new hire:
Introductions are in order here, preferably longer one-on-one meetings. You don't want to drop a 30-second introduction and a phone tree on the new guy and let them languish; you want them to feel like they have a connection and know who to talk to about any issue that arises. The mentor is significant here, as a peer who knows their way around the company and can field the questions the new hire might not want to ask a superior.
One thing Buffer does with their remote team is that they assign two mentors; a role mentor and a culture mentor. The role mentor is their go-to person to ask about anything relating to their job, role, and daily tasks. The cultural mentor asks questions about etiquette in Slack channels, what sports teams people talk about, and other questions that might otherwise be awkward to ask.
One trick you can do to give your new hires an immediate source of socialization and common ground is to hire several new people at once. Hiring a cohort of new employees gives them something to bond about – being employed simultaneously is often a good thing. That sort of team pride can become the foundation of an excellent social identity.
Just make sure not to let things get too competitive or wildly out of hand. If your cohorts end up too competitive, bully one another for not meeting metrics, or otherwise take it to a sports-like extreme, it can do more harm than good.
The first day at work is never going to be productive. Your new hire has a lot on their plate, from getting to know everyone to find their way around your computer systems to figuring out where their work can contribute to the overall team. Nothing tangible will happen on that first day anyway, so why not make it a fun day instead?
Try to schedule the first day to coincide with a light day of work for most of your team. Ensure that they can be flexible and take the day "off," so to speak. Then, dedicate the day to fun activities.
Whatever you do, try to arrange it as a therapeutic half-day for your existing employees. Make sure they don't have to forego work, get pressed for time, and resent the new hire taking up their day.
New hires are often left with questions that aren't adequately explained. Maybe the information is available but hard to find. Perhaps it's just a question you never thought to answer in your documentation before. Maybe it's even specific to them. Whatever the case may be, it's essential to have someone higher up the chain answer these questions.
It can be not very enjoyable if the new hire has to ping their department lead every half hour with a question, though, so give it some structure. The most common and effective strategy is quite simple. "Log your questions throughout the day, and ask me in our meeting in the evening." This strategy, combined with a mentor available to be asked questions throughout the day, forms a robust system of checks to ensure the new hire never feels left out in the cold.
Over the first week or two, these meetings and check-ins can be daily. After that, you can reduce how often you need them until you no longer need them at all.
As a bonus, watch the questions they ask, both their mentor and their designated department head. Some of those questions might be worth addressing in the onboarding process for future employees.
Typically, swag bags are something of a cliché. Nothing says a job well done like some customized stationery and a branded pen, eh? You know it's valuable because it cost the company at least $5 to buy! That still holds true when it's a meaningless gesture designed to appease employees dissatisfied with working conditions or pay rates.
However, it's excellent for a new hire to send them a bag of branded goodies. Send them a t-shirt as a "uniform" they can wear for their introductory meeting, give them a water bottle, and so on.
To make things a little more practical, consider items that a remote employee can make use of. A laptop stand or a dock, wireless devices like keyboards and mice, noise-canceling headphones, a decent webcam, a Pomodoro timer, or a voucher to help pay for a new office chair or desk setup can go a long way. Plus, you can make a "thing" during their introduction by showing off what they bought with the voucher.
The keys here are to make the stuff you send helpful and valuable. You don't want to send a bunch of meaningless platitudes and a greeting card; you want something to make their life more manageable as your employee.
One often overlooked part of onboarding is asking your new hire, a few weeks or months down the line, how they experienced the onboarding process.
Feedback allows you to address any latent issues the new hire has had since they onboarded, but they may not have brought up otherwise. It also allows you to fix or change those processes before hiring someone else and sending them through the same process.
The more you make a new hire feel like part of the team, and the more you can reduce the speedbumps that get in the way, the better they'll be able to settle in. That's a bonus for everyone and everything involved, from your hiring budget to your other team members.
If you need help with some fun ways to welcome a new employee on their first day, whether they're in a different state or an entirely different country, give us a shout! It's what we specialize in, and we help connect distributed teams worldwide with fun shared experiences.