Stop searching. Start hiring with Robert Half.

As we enter year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, recruiting, hiring and onboarding remote employees remains business critical.

While some companies are delaying yet again a return to the office, employers in Canada have already announced a long-term or permanent work-from-home policy, and 32 per cent of those surveyed for the Robert Half Salary Guide say they’re now open to recruiting from outside their geographic area. Workers, meanwhile, are firm about their desire for a flexible work option: in a separate Robert Half survey, 53 per cent of professionals say they would look for a new job if their employer required them to return to the office.

Odds are, then, that if you’re looking to hire in this market, you’re looking to hire remote employees, be it for the short-term or the long haul. We can help with that. But finding and hiring the best available talent also means providing the best possible onboarding experience.

Why is onboarding remote employees critical?

Onboarding will help the new employee learn the basics of their job, understand the workplace culture, build relationships with coworkers on their team and across the enterprise, and ensure they have the necessary tools and training to do the work. As their introduction to the company, the onboarding experience will create the new employee’s first impression of their employer, peers and career opportunities.

But onboarding remote employees can create unique challenges. You’re taking an already complicated process — one that involves coordination with multiple teams in your organization — and presenting it as an online experience. Managing the logistics will be difficult enough, but now you also have to consider how you’re going to make the new hire feel welcome, supported and part of a team they might never meet in person.

Done right, your virtual onboarding program will be the new hire’s first step toward a successful and possibly long career at your company. Done poorly, and that first step will be a misstep and a missed opportunity — and possibly a rush for the exit door.

Here’s how to do it right.

1. Ship the hardware before Day One

Put in requisitions for the company-issued laptop, phone or other required office equipment in time so your new remote employee has what they need on their first day. Separately, send clear instructions on how to connect to the company server, and include the contact information of someone on your tech support team who can handle any troubleshooting for the new hire.

Granting access to email, webcasts, internal platforms and other technology where content can be readily accessed from the start is crucial to successfully onboarding remote employees, and it communicates to your new hires that they are a priority.

Still looking for the ideal job candidate? See our tips for how to hire remote workers.

2. Show the big picture

Within the new employee’s first week, schedule an online orientation with HR or key team leaders that covers not only benefits, workplace policies and administrative details, but also includes discussion of the company culture, values, mission, organizational chart, and products and services.

Workers feel a sense of purpose and job satisfaction when they understand how their specific role supports a company’s mission and how the organization supports its staff. With a remote workforce that comes together only on video calls, giving the big picture is especially important so every employee feels a connection with the team and an understanding that everyone is ultimately working toward the same goals.

3. Establish realistic responsibilities

If you’re not in-office to see your employees working and interacting with them face-to-face, it’s important to be alert for signs of worker burnout and chronic stress. The 24/7 possibility of online work, as many have come to learn, can be a blessing and a curse: It’s nice to avoid the morning commute and have the option of a flexible work schedule, but it’s dangerously easy to just keep working when you’re living in the office. Add to that the daily stress of coping with the uncertainties of a pandemic, and it’s no wonder many remote workers feel overwhelmed.

As a manager, you can help by developing routines and setting realistic schedules that work for both you and the employee. Remind your new hire that maintaining a healthy work-life balance is core to your company’s values. When remote workers know what’s expected, they’re more inclined to give themselves room to recharge and participate in meaningful ways.

4. Encourage a supportive team culture

Connecting the new remote worker with their team members early on is a critical piece of an onboarding program. A virtual team meeting during the first week can provide valuable insight on how coworkers interact, what a typical day looks like and how the organization operates. Keeping a weekly or biweekly team meeting on the calendar for project updates and to brainstorm problem-solving ideas will help build relationships and staff cohesion.

Consider, too, a virtual lunch hour with the entire team at the end of week two or three, and offer as a conversation starter a topic like how team members are maintaining a work-life balance and handling the isolation of working from home. The exchange might alleviate some stress for an employee still settling into their role and, in the process, demonstrate a supportive company culture.

If an organization consists of multiple departments, it’s beneficial for a new hire to meet people who make key organizational decisions or other colleagues they might be working with. This can help them form new relationships across the enterprise, share a sense of belonging in the workplace and find their voice.

5. Train your new remote employee

You made a great hire based off the candidate’s skills and experience, and the potential they bring to your company. Even so, that doesn’t mean they’re going to be familiar with your processes, tools and technology.

Give careful thought to what skill set the new remote employee brings and what training they may need to fill knowledge gaps. Insist that trainers adhere to punctuality, so the trainee feels valued. Query the employee soon after their training and welcome their feedback. You want to be certain each session was useful and is helping them perform their daily tasks.

See how to support your employee’s career advancement with professional development.

6. Create a coaching plan

Given the isolation of offsite work, it’s ever more important to keep the lines of communication open and provide opportunities for questions and feedback. Managers should take the opportunity early on to build a relationship with new team members. Schedule frequent and regular video check-ins to go over goals, challenges and concerns. In your conversations, dive deeper into job expectations and also chat about their professional priorities and goals.

Assigning a mentor would provide additional coaching and guidance, give the new hire a sounding board, and show how much the organization supports professional development. Mentoring is a great way for new employees to get a better feel for the company culture, including how people typically communicate and interact.

7. Don’t let your message die

Make no mistake, onboarding remote employees isn’t going to be a one-off, one-day formality. Begin with the warm virtual welcome and introductions to your company and people, follow up with the online training and networking, and provide continuity through coaching and mentoring. But make sure the message never grows old.

The company values and best practices you stress during the new hire’s introduction should come through loud and clear month after month — through your actions and through internal communications, such as employee publications and your company intranet. In ongoing training activities, continue to make it plain that values such as respect for colleagues, commitment to quality service, and doing what’s right rather than what’s easy or convenient aren’t just first-day lip service but integral to your philosophy of doing business.

Now that you know the best practices for onboarding remote employees, read our post on managing a remote team.