Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Hugh McCullen – President of MicroTek. His opinions are his own.
The importance of successfully onboarding new employees is undeniable. Onboarding helps new hires acclimate to their work responsibilities as well as to the company’s social and professional environment, so they know what’s expected of them and how they fit into the organization. Most employers have an effective onboarding procedure in place for on-site employees, but the real challenge lies in designing a satisfactory program for onboarding remote hires.
Why is this an issue? The widespread availability of instant communication via chat apps and video conferencing software allows companies to hire the best and brightest employees regardless of their home locations. In fact, 57 percent of companies have a formal policy in place allowing employees to work remotely.
While the lack of face-to-face communication makes it difficult to onboard and train remote employees, it is not an insurmountable difficulty — a little planning and a lot of organization is all you need.
Below are the five best practices that, when designed and implemented thoughtfully, deliver optimal results.
1. Organize your onboarding process
Make your remote onboarding process consistent and repeatable by documenting it. Your onboarding document should read like a lengthy to-do list, and it should be shared with the new hire to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Organize your onboarding process into distinct chunks so you can keep track of your progress. The following items should be covered in your document:
- Things to accomplish before the remote hire begins work, including a “welcome to the team” email, paperwork to fill out (e.g., tax, payroll and insurance forms) and what to expect during the first week.
- Items to cover during the first week such as facts about the company, an introduction to relevant tools and software, login/password/security information, the training schedule and topics, work expectations, and a list of employees and how to get in touch with them.
- Ongoing or intermittent tasks, including checking in with your remote hire every few days, work product assessments, the sharing of tidbits from company events, regular video chats and anything else you can think of to make your remote employee feel like a valued member of your team.
As part of the remote onboarding process, you should develop a training manual that includes dates, topics, task descriptions and expectations, and an indication of how progress is evaluated.
Store your training manual and other materials, such as self-help articles, written policies and online training tools, in some kind of learning library that is easily accessed and referenced as needed.
2. Introduce your new employee to the team
Welcoming new employees in person is ideal. You can evaluate their reactions, they may feel freer to ask questions, and it’s easier for all employees — both those on-site as well as the new remote worker — to connect names with faces.
What can you do to make the remote worker feel like a part of your team? The easiest and most effective solution is to invite the new hire to spend his or her first week at your office. This allows all employees to get to know one another, introduces the new hire to your culture, and facilitates training.
But what if your new virtual employees cannot travel to your office? You simply adapt your welcoming process to accommodate them — without sacrificing face-to-face communication. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, video conferencing technology is an extremely valuable tool for onboarding remote hires.
Incorporating video conferencing into your onboarding process lets you bring the office to your remote employees. Start by setting up a video meeting that permits you to introduce the new hire(s) to your current employees. How about a virtual tour of the office? Even better, why not conduct a virtual walk-through to present the new employee to each coworker individually?
3. Break training into steps
Break down the training into small, discrete elements; after completing each step, assign the employee a series of activities that allow you assess his or her understanding of the task. When the employee has mastered an item, move on to the next one.
As training advances, begin assigning “real” work with short deadlines so you can provide detailed feedback. It’s vital to point out mistakes and reinforce correct work methods before too much time has passed. Make sure your new hire knows where to put work in process so everyone involved in the project can track its progress.
4. Instill your company’s culture
This may be the most difficult part of the remote onboarding process. Company culture is transmitted almost effortlessly when new on-site employees spend time in the office and interact with their coworkers.
But how do remote hires learn the professional and social norms of an organization? It takes some work, but building relationships between on- and off-site colleagues is well worth the effort. Communication is key. Speaking “face to face” via video chats, instant messaging and conference calls helps nurture connections. Always remember to include remote workers in meetings, and encourage them to share their ideas and opinions.
Another, and perhaps the best way to instill culture in remote workers, is to assign an on-site mentor or coach, whose goal is to make the remote worker feel like a member of the work family. Mentors are responsible for helping new hires adjust to the way things work, the company’s overall goals, and work product expectations.
5. Make improvement an ongoing task
Continual evaluation and tweaks are necessary to keep your remote onboarding process and materials up to date. Ask for feedback from new employees about their onboarding experiences. What could or should you have done better or differently? What questions were asked that you did not anticipate? Did you offer enough personal support to make your virtual employees feel comfortable working remotely? Are your on-site employees communicating effectively with their remote counterparts?
Use the responses and reactions from all employees to make thoughtful improvements to your onboarding program.
Remember, if you can successfully integrate remote hires, you are free to look virtually anywhere in the world for the best candidates.