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Remote Onboarding

Navigating the New Normal: Remote Onboarding

The future of onboarding new employees is here, and it’s not in the boardroom or even in-person. In recent years, there’s been a noticeable shift towards remote work, with 12.7% of full-time employees working from home in 2023. By 2025, the number of remote workers is expected to increase to 22% of the workforce, an estimated 32.6 million Americans. This transition has significantly changed how we approach employee onboarding, traditionally a face-to-face process, now adapting to remote work environments. 

The Shift to Remote Work 

The traditional concept of commuting to an office has given way to a new reality: remote work. This shift has been driven by various factors like advancements in technology, work-life balance, and global response to events such as COVID-19. As a result, remote work has become increasingly prevalent across many industries. 

Despite not being as popular as it was during the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work continues to play a significant role in workplace dynamics. Remote work has become more accessible due to improved tools and platforms like video conferencing and collaborative workspaces.

As remote hires becomes increasingly common, so does the need to rethink traditional onboarding towards more remote methods. Gone are the days of in-person introductions and office tours. Instead, the new norm is embracing digital handshakes and virtual orientations. 

What is Remote Employee Onboarding?

Remote onboarding is the process of integrating new employees into a company when they are not physically present in the office. It involves familiarizing them with the company culture, policies, and expectations, as well as providing them the necessary tools and resources for them to work effectively from a remote location.

"The No. 1 thing to remember is that you're building a foundation for the new hire to have new relationships in the workplace and helping them to have a voice, which is even more important when they are remote." Lianne Vineberg, the founder and director of talent and recruitment at Toronto-based HR consulting firm Talent in the 6ix, told the Society for Human Resource Management.

What This Means for Traditional Onboarding Processes

The shift of remote work has changed how we approach traditional onboarding. It's important to adjust these processes for remote settings. One significant challenge is keeping the personal touch and face-to-face meetings that are an important part of successful onboarding. Without meeting in person, companies need to find new ways to connect with and integrate new hires.

Adjusting traditional methods for remote work also means dealing with practical issues, like making sure new hires have what they need to be successful in their role. This means providing necessary resources and technology. Also, remote onboarding programs require a different way of training and orientation, often using online learning and self-directed resources.

Many of the best practices associated with on-site onboarding will still apply to remote onboarding. However, since remote onboarding introduces new challenges, it will require some specific adaptations to work.

Challenges of Remote Onboarding

Remote onboarding brings about several unique challenges that companies must address to ensure a smooth transition for new hires. These challenges include:

  • Lack of Face-to-Face Interaction

Remote onboarding lacks the in-person connections that traditional onboarding offers. Without face-to-face introductions, new hires may find it difficult to build relationships with colleagues and understand company culture.

  • Reliance on Digital Communication

Virtual onboarding heavily relies on digital communication tools, which can sometimes lead to miscommunication or technical difficulties. Companies must make sure new hires have access to reliable communication platforms and provide guidance on effective remote communication.

  • Ensuring New Hires Feel Connect and Supported

Without being physically present, new hires might feel isolated or disconnected from their team. Businesses need to create opportunities for new hires to engage with colleagues, participate in team activities, and access support resources to foster a sense of belonging and support.

Strategies for Effective Remote Employee Onboarding

A remote employee onboarding plan requires tailored strategies to ensure new hires feel connected, supported, and prepared to excel in their roles. Here are key strategies to consider:

Robust Communication Strategies

Ensuring effective communication is at the heart of successful onboarding plans. By incorporating regular check-ins, video calls, and designated channels for questions, such as slack channels, businesses can provide consistent support and guidance to new hires. Open dialogue and offering various ways to connect with colleagues and mentors fosters a sense of inclusion.

Moreover, hosting virtual coffee chats, team-building activities, and informal social events creates opportunities for new employees to interact with their peers in a relaxed setting. This not only strengthens team bonds but also helps new hires feel valued and integrated.

"It's really important that [new hires] feel like they're part of the team, and it's really important that folks treat them as part of the team," Dustin Verity, CPA, CGMA, managing partner at Honolulu-based Verity CPAs, which hires remote accountants, told The Journal of Accountancy.

Creating a Sense of Belonging

Establishing a sense of belonging is crucial for remote employees to feel connected and engaged from the beginning. Here are some strategies to foster a sense of belonging for remote employees.

Mentorship Programs

  • Implement mentorship programs pairing new hires with experienced employees. Mentors can provide guidance, support, company knowledge, and answer questions. All of which helps new hires navigate their roles and company culture effectively.

Virtual Cohorts

  • Create virtual cohorts or groups of new hires who join the company at the same time. These groups offer a sense of camaraderie and support as new employees can share experiences, ask questions, and learn together in a collaborative space.

Informal Social Events

  • Plan informal social events that remote employees can attend. Whether it be virtual coffee breaks, or team lunches, this can create casual interactions among remote team members. These virtual events provide opportunities for remote employees to connect on a personal level, fostering relationships and team work.

Michele Nelson, EY Americas Director of onboarding and transitions, stresses the importance of making new hires feel like they belong. She explains,  "Onboarding is a new joiner's first opportunity to experience a company's culture, build connections, and learn about the various resources available to them. We onboard new joiners through virtual cohorts that help them establish key contacts right from the beginning that continue to meet throughout the first year."

Personalize the Onboarding Process

Tailoring the onboarding process to fit each employee's roles and needs is crucial for starting on the right foot. This tailored approach ensures that new team members get the right training and support from the beginning. By customizing the onboarding experience to match the responsibilities and expectations of each role, companies can speed up the learning process and boost job satisfaction among new hires.

At the core of tailored onboarding is clear communication of expectations and goals. New employees need to understand what's expected of them and the goals they're supposed to achieve. This clarity gives them a clear path to success, empowering them to contribute right away. It also creates a foundation for accountability and performance measurement, which keeps new hires motivated and engaged.

Alongside clear expectations, offering personalized support throughout the onboarding program is crucial. This includes the previously mentioned mentorship programs, who can provide guidance and assistance tailored to their individual needs.

Provide Reliable Technology Support

Making sure new hires have access to reliable technical support is paramount for a smooth onboarding experience. This is especially true in remote work settings where tech plays a crucial role. Here's why reliable support is essential and how to ensure it:

Avoid Delays.

  • Technical issues can disrupt new hire's productivity and hinder their ability to perform their duties. By providing support, businesses can minimize delays and ensure new employees can focus on their work without interruptions.

Address Issues Quickly.

  • It's important to address tech issues promptly to maintain employee morale and confidence. Access to support enables new hires to quickly address any issues, preventing frustration and minimizing potential setbacks.

Enhancing Efficiency

  • Reliable tech support contributes to a more efficient onboarding process by allowing new employees to navigate tools and platforms effectively. When new hires receive timely assistance, they can complete tasks more efficiently and have a smoother integration into their role.

To make sure new hires have access to reliable support, companies can implement several strategies:

  • Provide training on relevant software, tools, and systems during the onboarding program.
  • Establish channels for new hires to report issues and receive assistance, such as a dedicated IT helpdesk.
  • Assign dedicated IT personnel or resources specifically for onboarding purposes to make sure new hires receive prompt attention and resolution for any issues.
  • Offer ongoing support and resources for new hires to continue building their skills and proficiency beyond the initial onboarding period.

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