Since the start of the pandemic, the normality we once knew has been uprooted and turned on its head. Privileges we previously took for granted became less available. Seeing friends, family, and sources of entertainment all mutated into (more) time spent with our devices.
One other space that has experienced a similar transition is the workplace. Of the many processes and policies that experienced change during this time, onboarding new employees often did not reach the top of the priority list.
Still, adaptable as we are, much has been learned and many precedents have since been set across industries. Let’s dive into some of these newly-minted best practices.
Common challenges of remote onboarding
It’s no secret that face-to-face training is simpler, and arguably more effective, than remote training. In order to make remote training a success, it’s important to know what some of the biggest challenges will be. Some of those include:
- A lack of supervision: Most employees consider their training and probation periods a formality, a box to check. The lack of face-to-face contact in remote training can cause some issues. Trainers fear employee efforts will be minimal, and employees can struggle without “over-the-shoulder” guidance on hand for questions.
- Lack of information: In a remote environment, the all-too-important fundamental questions employees may have can be harder to answer, and those answers may take longer to receive. A lack of information flow can spell disaster for your training process.
- Isolation: Going to work each day, socializing with colleagues, and working collectively on projects makes us feel like part of the team and the organization at large. Without this, it can be difficult for new employees to integrate.
- Distractions: The home is full of these. Distraction could be from young children, noisy neighbors, or a lack of dedicated workspace (among others).
- Technical difficulties: Even offices are prone to technical difficulties. Throw an untrained employee and remote training into the mix and troubleshooting errors can be a much more significant problem.
Now that you know what can go wrong, it’s time to look at just how to do the job properly.
Develop a “preboarding” process
While the status quo may be to start the training process on day one, you can start orienting new workers well in advance, possibly from the day they’re hired. Some ideas include:
- Send a personalized video: You can send your new employees a nice welcome message, or even training videos. Regardless of what it contains, personalized video content is engaging and humanizes a process that has the capacity to feel synthetic. (1)
- Complete paperwork early: Avoid having new employees spend their first day filling out paperwork so you can get straight into the onboarding process.
- Include the whole team in welcoming them aboard: Even remote workers need to feel like part of the team. This can be as simple as a group email, or creating a culture of welcoming messages over LinkedIn. (2)
Create a welcome package for the new employee
A warm welcome and sense of excitement is a good way to attract and retain professional talent. Since your team won’t be able to welcome the new employee in more conventional ways, like with an office lunch or with a formal meeting, create a package for them to make them feel welcome. This package can include things like: (3)
- A company signed digital card
- A voucher for a local café or coffee chain
- A welcome party hosted over Zoom
- A welcome pack that contains inspirational ( or humorously gimmicky) merchandise.
This will avoid feelings of isolation that can be common among remote employees.
Establish a “buddy” system to onboard new employees
Beyond technical processes and workplace protocols, most companies will have a workplace culture they would like their employees to uphold. In a new position at work, it’s always good to have somebody who can “show you the ropes.” This kind of support network can eliminate a lot of anxiety when familiarizing oneself with a new environment.
The new employee’s buddy can answer any questions they may have surrounding things like cybersecurity when working remotely, the names of their many new colleagues, the different personalities in the office, and other miscellaneous questions. This also gives superiors a window into the progress of the new employee.
Create virtual inductions
Aside from simply being socially integrated, new employees need to understand the more formal aspects of the business. The benefits of an induction are numerous for both employee and employer, including but not limited to:
- A reduction of absenteeism
- Reduced staff turnover
- Increased employee commitment
- Heightened job satisfaction. (4)
These sessions give employees the opportunity to meet staff in senior positions, provide insights into the operational structure of the company, and develop a clearer view of what the broader company mission is all about. Going through these kinds of formalities with new employees also fosters a sense of value in their work, meaning that they will feel an increased sense of purpose in their role with the company.
Continuously give and receive feedback
Nothing is perfect in this world, and it is certainly expected that your (probably quite new) remote onboarding process will have imperfections. Because of the inevitable flaws of remote working, clear feedback is an important step to counter them. Between both trainers and trainees, a more dynamic approach to giving and collecting feedback where answers are prioritized over questions, has been shown to have positive outcomes for company success. (5)
It’s important to remember that the onboarding sequence doesn’t end just because the training has. Complacency can be a very real problem to onboard new employees, and this can be magnified by physical exclusion from the workplace. Some ideas to keep on top of this include:
- An end of training survey: The experience of a new employee is invaluable to the future success and continual improvement of your onboarding system.
- Keep an open channel of communication: If initiated, this can be through the buddy allocation or through a policy of transparency and “ask-me-anything” culture from company superiors.
- Encourage two-way communication: This provides space for both the company and employee to improve.
- Keep up the feedback for six months, not six weeks: Even in the first six months to a year, an employee is still relatively new. Check in regularly and make sure they don’t fall by the wayside..
Work practices have changed significantly over the past 12-18 months. Digitization has accelerated to onboard new employees, and employers are now learning how to execute important tasks with physical distance working against them. By being familiar with some of the problems of remote work and adhering to the key tips above, the onboarding of new staff should be a smoother and more welcoming process for all.
- “Personalized Video Content Can Be The Marketing Breakthrough Brands Need,” Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jiawertz/2018/08/31/personalized-video-content-can-be-the-marketing-breakthrough-brands-need/?sh=1c4d0d692e6f
- “How to Supercharge Remote Onboarding with Pre-boarding,” Source: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-supercharge-remote-onboarding-pre-boarding-andrew-smondulak?articleId=6676283772855451648
- “How to Write a Welcome Message to a New Employee,” Source: https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/welcome-message-to-new-employee
- “Assessing new employee orientation programs,” Source: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/242350020_Assessing_new_employee_orientation_programs
- “Opening classroom interaction: the importance of feedback,” Source: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03057640601048357