Onboarding is a crucial part of the employee experience. Harvard Business Review reports organizations with strong onboarding practices to boost employee retention by 82%. According to a report by Digitate, employees who had a bad onboarding experience as new hires are twice as likely to look for new work opportunities in the near future.
But according to research by Gallup, only 12% of professionals strongly agree their organization does a great job onboarding new employees. Considering employee turnover can be as high as 50% in the first 18 months of employment, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, onboarding needs to be effective, whether it’s done in person or virtually.
Virtual onboarding is likely to increase in prevalence. An October 2021 report by Gallup found in white-collar jobs, more than two-thirds of employees (67%) worked remotely either exclusively (41%) or at least part of the time (26%).
To successfully onboard new hires in a remote environment, take these steps.
1. Provide the Right Equipment
First, think about what type of equipment and technology the new hire needs to get started. Consider logistical equipment issues like the following:
- How to provide new employees with safe, secure, and clean equipment
- How to pre-load software onto equipment and set user permissions
- How to ensure a remote new hire has the Wi-Fi capacity they need to work effectively
- If the employee is using a personal device, how device security will be ensured
You’ll want to ensure the employee has the physical tools they need to access all important people, programs, and resources to start their job. To help with access, consider assigning an IT team member to the new employee.
That IT member can be responsible for ensuring they have access to all resources as soon as they start and can introduce the new hire to the new tools. You might schedule a time when an IT expert can provide virtual tool training, so the new hire can walk through how to use each type of system and ask questions in real-time.
In addition to providing new hires with the work equipment they need before they start, you might consider making new hires feel welcome by sending them something that connects them to the company – a branded mousepad or T-shirt, for example. A physical item can bond them with you as an employer, even when they’re working for you virtually.
2. Provide Clear Expectations
Once new hires have the right equipment, make sure they know what to do with that equipment. Make sure they have clear expectations regarding schedules and communication. Explain:
- What the new hire’s expected schedule is and if there’s any flexibility
- How quickly an employee needs to respond to various forms of communication (email, chat, etc.)
- What a typical week looks like with meetings, so the employee can self-manage their work schedule
Also, explain performance expectations. What kind of work is the employee expected to produce? How do they communicate results, so they know they’re on the right track?
You may want to create a 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day plan so the employee stays aligned on their role expectations.
3. Give the Employee Access to Training Materials
Use technology to give new hires cloud-based access to onboarding resources, so they can access them whenever they need to, from any device. You might use a learning management system or create an online repository for onboarding and training materials.
During the onboarding process, hiring managers should provide employees with electronic versions of important employer documents, videos, and learning modules that explain:
- Company culture
- Company policies
- Company procedures
- Code of conduct
- Employee handbook
Hiring managers should offer virtual sessions for orientations and mandatory training sessions. Ideally, the employee should receive training on whatever tools will be used during training before the training occurs.
Also, consider having always-on support for new hires. This might be through a chatbot, live chat, or a virtual help desk. Let the new hire know exactly who they can contact when they have questions about various issues.
4. Create a Remote Onboarding Schedule to Keep Employees Engaged
Ideally, each part of your company’s onboarding process should be mapped out on a schedule that’s designed to keep employees engaged. You might develop an onboarding plan that lasts several weeks, so the new hire feels supported every step of the way.
A solid onboarding plan gives employees expectations for how the onboarding process will work. They’ll be better able to plan onboarding activities among work they need to complete. Evolve your plan according to the feedback you receive, so you can continually improve it for future new hires.
5. Connect New Hires with Key People
Hiring managers should be in close contact with the new employee throughout the onboarding process. Hiring managers can:
- Introduce new hires to other staff in the organization.
- Provide new hires with a list of all the key people the employee should connect with, including direct reports, key peers, a mentor or buddy, and representatives from other key functions. Early on, the new hire should meet with their direct reports and other key people via videoconferencing. These could be group meetings, one-on-one meetings, or a combination.
- Conduct frequent regular check-ins with the new hire early on to ensure all processes go smoothly.
You can also assign an HR member to the new hire who can track the employee and ensure they’re getting everything they need. Again, formal check-ins with HR can engage the employee and make the onboarding process succeed.
You might also do group onboarding to allow new hires to bond as a cohort. You could schedule times for remote hires to interact and get to know each other, so they connect with others at work.
To bond socially, consider hosting a virtual coffee date or happy hour, with icebreaker activities so the new hire can get to know the team. You can invite multiple levels and departments so new hires can get to know more of the company.
6. Gather Feedback to Improve Your Processes
It’s important to ask new hires what they thought of the remote onboarding process so you can improve onboarding for future employees. After onboarding is complete, provide a survey or have their manager conduct a videoconference interview to gather their feedback. Ask questions like:
- Did you have the equipment and tools you needed to successfully do your job from your start date?
- Do you feel like you got a good sense of the company culture during onboarding?
- Do you feel like your training on new systems and company procedures was effective?
- What do you wish was covered in the onboarding process?
Asking new hires for feedback can make them feel valued and like a part of the team. You can immediately implement their feedback and evolve your ongoing onboarding process.