How do you successfully onboard new remote workers after they accept the job offer? This is a concern many companies face when considering remote work models, and rightfully so. While traditional office settings empower new employees to successfully navigate the onboarding process through face-to-face peer interaction and guidance on projects and paperwork (often literally “watching over a mentor’s shoulder”), a successful virtual orientation requires a unique set of tools and processes.
The following tips will ensure your remote workers’ first days are smooth sailing.
Set clear first-day expectations.
With an in-office job, you show up at the office on the first day and expect to be told where to go and what to do. But, where and how do you “show up” for your first day at a remote job?
Whether the new employee has worked in a remote setting before or is new to the concept, the virtual onboarding process can still be confusing and unclear. To ensure he or she confidently hits the ground running on day one, clearly communicate expectations and directions a few days before the start date. Verifying that new hires have a solid understanding of what tasks they will tackle when they first show up to work (by logging in!)–whether it be filling out paperwork or attending a team meeting–helps orientation move along efficiently and reduces anxiety.
Start with a phone call explaining the systems and tools they’ll use for orientation projects, engagement with managers, and accessing company information. Providing credentials for all platforms in advance saves time and avoids confusion during the onboarding process. To make certain that the new hire’s weekly goals and time are met, establish and confirm a suitable schedule in addition to their expected availability for team meetings and communication based on their time zone.
Lastly, follow up with a clearly written email summarizing key topics that were discussed in the meeting. Send the email to both their personal and new company email accounts to make sure they receive and review the information.
Make them feel welcome.
Working for a remote company can be a big adjustment from the in-person culture of the traditional shared workplace. When you’re a physical office of one, it can get pretty lonely. It’s important to make employees feel like a part of the team early on. Announcements of new hires through outlets such as company internal blogs, intranets, and/or team email helps to break the ice and establish camaraderie amongst the group. Be sure introductions include a healthy mix of professional accolades and fun facts so that other employees understand who their new colleague is outside of work.
Consider an “orientation buddy” program to connect new hires with tenured employees during their first few weeks. Pairing new workers with someone other than their direct manager or human resources encourages employee interaction and, of course, there are times when it is less intimidating to ask a peer for help.
Have a thorough, self-guided orientation project tailored to the role.
Distributed teams enable remote employees to work independently from day one: starting with orientation. While an HR director isn’t going to personally walk new hires through the paperwork, there are ways to use popular and intuitive tools like Basecamp to create a self-guided, asynchronous orientation project. With Basecamp, HR and management can set up an orientation “project” prior to the start date, combining tasks and references for boilerplate HR paperwork, role-specific reading and exercises, and tasks tailored to a new hire. Task lists often include benefits and employment paperwork, scheduling introductory meetings with team members, researching information related to their position, and setting up and trying out company tools. As each task is finished, the new hire simply checks it off the to-do list, and moves on to the next task.
If the new hire gets stuck, he or she can simply go into a specific task and add a question or comment to the appropriate team member for further clarification (who is automatically notified).
Provide detailed instructions for all systems.
Even if you’ve hired the most tech-savvy employee, never assume they already know how to use your company’s systems or tools. Many off-the-shelf tools offer instructions in the form of tutorials and videos readily available on their websites. Be sure to provide any additional company-specific instructions so they can get set up quickly. Also consider creating videos to explain complex processes.
Frequent communication is essential in setting remote employees up for success. They need to be able to escalate problems, ask questions, or request feedback in a quick, timely manner. Even before their first day, new workers should have a manager’s phone number in case they get stuck. Tools such as Zoom, for video conferencing, offer many of the compelling benefits of in-person meetings, with a high-quality, virtual face-to-face experience. Encourage new remote workers to initiate these visual introductions and meetings with company leaders and team members they will work with to build rapport early on. Private group chat tools such as HipChat facilitate conversations between individuals and groups in a virtual chat room style setting.
Establish a transition path.
Now that all of the paperwork has been filled out and the new employee is up to speed on the company’s culture and policies, it’s time to ensure that your new remote workers clearly understand the process for transitioning out of orientation and into role-related work.
Before new workers dive into specific projects, be sure to clearly communicate expectations during the post-onboarding period. Depending on seniority, it’s highly unlikely for new employees to operate at full speed during their first month at a new company. That said, it’s important they understand that asking a lot of questions and showing an eagerness to learn and adapt quickly will be expected.
To ensure they know how to get started on their first project, schedule a meeting to discuss the ramping up process, introduce new colleagues and managers, and review clearly defined tasks using project management tools. Make it a priority to have periodic check-ins to manage their delivery pressure from orientation to bigger projects.
Jake Goldman is the owner & President of 10up (Remote.co profile), a full service web agency focused on outstanding content management experiences, with full time designers, engineers, strategists, and systems experts. Between leading the charge at 10up, Jake has been a writer and expert reviewer for Smashing Magazine and taught WordPress development at Boston University. Jake has spoken at conferences around the country, including WordCamp San Francisco and New York, CMSExpo, and Pressnomics. He helped organize the first WordCamp Boston in 2010 and founded Providence and Sacramento Meetups. Follow him at @jakemgold.