Working remotely is an increasingly popular concept for both employees and employers. Employees benefit from being able to work from the comfort of their home and avoid a time-consuming commute, while employers benefit from reduced overheads, less intensive management or oversight required, greater productivity from the worker and more.
If you are thinking about hiring a remote employee, you should plan to walk through a formal onboarding program in the same fashion as you would with an in-office employee.
While it can be challenging to train and build momentum with a remote employee, this step is critical if you want the individual to be as successful, productive and motivated as possible. When you create an onboarding program that gives the new hire the proper tools and communication necessary for accountability and strong engagement, you can ensure the best outcome from this experience.
Why is onboarding remote employees important?
You understandably want your new hires to become valued and productive members of your team, regardless of their remote work location. Onboarding helps your new hires to adjust more quickly to all aspects of the job. Through onboarding, your new hire will learn more about the work environment, role-specific tasks, tools and documentation they need to work with, who their co-workers are, their roles, and more.
You should spend time creating and implementing an onboarding strategy that aligns with your corporate culture and that builds strong rapport with the new employee. Through an effective onboarding program, the new hire can immediately engage in the position and feel comfortable working with colleagues. Performance and involvement will be high right from the start. This is critical if you want the most from your remote workers.
Onboarding remote employees
The proper initial step to take when onboarding remote employees is to set up time for them to visit the office in-person. This ensures they are immersed in the corporate culture, meet the people who they will be working with personally and are introduced to wider teams within the business. They should be included in team meetings right from the start so that they can feel like they are part of the process, can be incorporated into team culture and attain corporate knowledge quickly.
If it is not possible for them to meet with the team personally, a video chat should be completed. Video conferencing during team meetings can also make the meeting experience more real for remote workers and can help them to feel included.
While there are communication and relationship challenges associated with the distance and time difference when you have remote workers, it is possible to overcome these challenges when you have the right onboarding program established. Your onboarding program should take into account the employee’s position and skills as well as the corporate culture. These tips can help you to complete the remote worker onboarding process.
1. Connect face-to-face
While your remote workers may not be in your office, you can (and should) still strive to see the individual face-to-face on a regular basis, if possible. Verbal communication is important, but remote employees who visually see coworkers can more easily feel included in the environment. If possible, bring remote workers into your office during their first week of employment, and consider scheduling in-office meetings every couple of months as needed.
A virtual tour is an affordable alternative to in-office visits if these aren’t an option for your business. Through a virtual tour, you can facilitate the onboarding process by showing employees around the office, introducing them to the team and helping to immerse them in the culture.
You can also use video conferencing and screen sharing tools to remain in constant communication with the employee in the years to come. It is reported that communication is 55% visual, 37% vocal and just 8% verbal; using technology to enable remote workers to see their colleagues will help them pick up on non-verbal cues, enabling both parties to make eye contact, view body language and more. These are critical elements to developing a bond with coworkers, as well as increasing their understanding of what is being discussed.
2. Set clear expectations
Setting expectations and goals for all employees is important, and this is even more critical for remote workers who must work independently right from the start.
During the onboarding process, provide detailed instructions and mentoring to ensure your new hire understands what he or she should be doing. Fully enable them to complete tasks by giving them all of the tools and resources they require, ensuring seamless access and a positive user experience, regardless of their location. Ask questions to ensure that they understand goals and concepts.
Encourage the individual to communicate with you or a designated mentor when questions arise, and be available to respond to questions promptly. Facilitate instantaneous communication with social tools, such as an intranet or enterprise social network, to enable two-way collaboration. Ensure that the individual will be available for video conferencing at scheduled team meetings.
It may also be helpful to follow up with a verbal explanation of rules, procedures, goals and more in writing so that the new hire can refer back to it as needed. Host essential information, documents and policies in a centralized location, such as a cloud-based CMS, with easy access and an enterprise search function to ensure employees can find everything they need.
(An enterprise search function on your company intranet will ensure remote workers can find essential information, policies, documents and colleagues – hosted within a central and accessible location.)
3. Make them feel welcome
Your remote worker likely will become a valuable member of your team, but they can feel unwelcome and isolated because of the remote nature of the workplace.
Encourage your in-office team to be as helpful and understanding as possible, and ensure that they will be receptive to questions so that the remote worker can get up to speed quickly. Talk to your team members about how to properly communicate effectively with a remote worker. Tell the remote worker who he or she can turn to for questions, and make introductions as necessary. A centralized people directory that employees can use to search for colleagues by department, role, or specialty, can be invaluable.
(Fully completed profiles on a company intranet enable users to search for specific skill sets and interests, alongside the normal job title or department perimeters. This connects employees, regardless of their location.)
New hires should be well-aware of the company’s values, mission, workflow and more. The new employee also should be knowledgeable of their own goals and expectations, and he or she should feel enabled to accomplish those goals.
4. Evaluate and refine the process
When you create a new position, there will likely be some shifting and movement within other areas of the company as an accommodation. This is particularly true when you are adding a remote position to your company. Within a few weeks of bringing the individual onboard, have a candid conversation with him or her about questions, concerns, suggestions and more.
Ask others who work closely with this individual for their feedback as well. Evaluate the information that you have gathered to determine if changes need to be made to improve the remote work process. Remember that it may take some trial and error before you can fully get things right.
Onboarding all employees is vital to ensuring maximum performance, employee engagement and productivity for them, as well as to ensure their satisfaction with the job and with the company. Onboarding remote workers can be challenging, but there are steps you can take to create an efficient and effective process that favors the employee as well as the company.