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How to Onboard Remote Workers

By Paul McDonald
October 1, 2022

A few simple steps can help ensure new remote workers will be positioned for success in your organization.

 

The pandemic-inspired “new normal” has quickly become just the plain normal. For example, the practice of employing workers on a remote or hybrid basis is now so commonplace that it’s hard to remember when (or why) it was considered an uncommon perk. Many financial companies are finding that reporting, auditing, and other processes can be completed remotely just as efficiently as on site.

 

The stats back up this sentiment. The Robert Half Salary Guide found that 80% of companies plan to hire fully or partially remote workers in 2022. Additionally, 40% of employees said they want more flexibility to work remotely—that’s on top of the 53% who already have it.

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF ONBOARDING

 

Onboarding allows new employees to learn about the company they’re preparing to join, understand the expectations associated with their job, and get to know their new coworkers. It’s essential to making them feel like they’re part of the team, and it goes a long way in enhancing employee success and job satisfaction.

 

Yet onboarding remote workers presents employers with a unique challenge. How do you make new hires feel like they’re seen, heard, and part of the team when they’re working hundreds—or even thousands—of miles away?

 

TIPS FOR ONBOARDING REMOTE EMPLOYEES

 

Whether you’re currently hiring remote employees or looking to do so in the not-so-distant future, here are a few ways to make far-flung recruits feel at home.

 

1. Plan their first week. For remote onboarding to be successful, you can’t wing it. Set up a schedule for your employee’s first day and week. Where possible, make sure that schedule includes all the same elements you’d have with an in-person orientation program.

 

This should include a virtual meet and greet with your current team, including fully remote, hybrid, and on-site workers. It can be part business, with team members sharing their responsibilities, and part social hour with everyone introducing themselves and sharing a few words about their hobbies or interests. An underrated advantage of virtual meetings is that everyone’s name is clearly displayed, sparing newcomers the awkwardness of asking for reintroductions. They can also be recorded for future reference.

 

Another first-day priority should be a one-on-one meeting with the new hire when you talk about the company’s overall mission and your team’s contribution to it. Explain your organization’s general policies as well as any special rules or policies pertaining to remote workers.

 

Human resources may want to have a similar conversation with your new hire. While it’s fine if both you and HR cover similar ground—indeed, it can help reinforce the most important points—coordinate with your HR colleagues to ensure you don’t contradict one another or send mixed messages.

 

When you’ve finalized the virtual onboarding schedule, email the details and any pertinent instructions to the employee before their first day. Doing so will show them how glad you are that they’re joining the team and that you’ve put in the effort to make their first few days go as smoothly as possible.

 

Remote working is popular with employers and workers alike. But its benefits, such as reduced turnover and improved employee engagement, don’t happen by magic. To reap them, companies need to optimize every stage of the remote employee journey, beginning with the very first stage: onboarding.

 

2. Set them up for success. New employees may need hardware and software to do their jobs, and you should take care of this well before they start. Make sure you allow plenty of time for your organization to order equipment and ship it to the employee as well as time for your employee to set it up. Be sure to include detailed instructions on how to set up the equipment along with contact information for the IT department in case any questions or issues arise. It’s important that this step is as easy and straightforward as possible because setting up new equipment on your own can sometimes be a daunting experience.

 

For financial organizations handling sensitive data, there’s more to this process than sending new employees a laptop already loaded with relevant software. As well as general tech support, your recruit will need a briefing by someone on your security team—particularly if they’ll be using cloud-based financial software that can be vulnerable to cyberattacks. It isn’t enough that your new team member can log in—they need to log in securely.

 

Finally, create and share a quick-reference guide. This can include the information on the collaboration app your company uses for phone calls and virtual meetings as well as a list of email addresses for team members.

 

3. Help them learn the ropes. Consider pairing your new hire with an established remote worker who can help answer questions while they’re settling in. This buddy system doesn’t take the place of formal training, but it’s a helpful addition that will allow new hires to build confidence during their first few weeks.

 

4. Prioritize balance. Because they aren’t in the office where they can be observed on the job, some remote employees may feel like they have to be available 24/7 or “always on.” This can quickly lead to excessive stress, exhaustion, and—if left unchecked—burnout. As an employer, it’s critical that you help new hires set boundaries.

 

Share your team’s standard work hours so your new employees know when they should be online and available. Beyond that, focus on results and productivity, not hours spent in front of the screen. If you hired someone to work remotely, it’s presumably because they have a great track record of delivering high-quality work from home. If the secret to their success is starting late and working an extra hour in the evening, don’t meddle with their routine unless you begin to witness poor performance or a decline in work productivity.

 

5. Offer support. Your new employees need to know you’re invested in their success, so keep your door (so to speak) open and check in with them regularly during the first few weeks.

 

If you think it’s premature to talk about career development during the onboarding process, think again. The sooner your new hire begins to visualize a long-term future at your company, the better your chances of retaining their talents in this punishingly competitive hiring market.

 

Finally, remember that your virtual onboarding process should constantly be evolving. Ask for honest feedback from your employees who go through onboarding, learn from any missteps, and adjust your processes accordingly.

 

Paul McDonald is a senior executive director at talent solutions and recruiting firm Robert Half and a member of IMA. You can follow him on LinkedIn.
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