By Trisha Plovie, Senior Vice President, Future of Work, Robert Half

Many employers are trying to figure out how to make remote and hybrid work successful for their teams for the long term as they look to build on the success that they found with these arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many employers have already announced a long-term or permanent work-from-home policy — and 78% of those surveyed for the latest 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 recent Robert Half survey, 50% of professionals currently working from home said they would look for a new job if their employer required them to return to the office full time. Many job seekers are also specifically seeking remote work opportunities, and they have high expectations about what that experience should be like.

Which brings us to a critical question: Does your organization have a virtual onboarding program in place — and are you sure it is both comprehensive and effective? This program will be a new remote hire’s first step toward a successful and possibly long career at your company. If your program is lacking, you risk alienating remote hires from the start. And in today’s competitive hiring environment, that could mean fast turnover of great talent you worked hard to secure.

Why is onboarding remote employees critical?

Onboarding helps new employees learn the basics of their job, understand the workplace culture, and build relationships with coworkers on their team and across the enterprise. It also helps to ensure they have the necessary tools and training to do the work their role requires. And this process is just as essential for remote workers as it is for employees hired to work on-site.

Onboarding remote employees does create some unique challenges, though. You’re taking an already complicated process — one that involves coordination with multiple teams in your organization — and presenting it as a virtual 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.

With all that in mind, here are seven tips to help create a relatively stress-free and highly engaging onboarding experience for remote employees:

1. Tackle the technical details early

The more seamless a remote employee’s first day is, the more comfortable and included they’ll feel. It will also make your company look good. So, make a point to ease as many technical logistics as possible before the new hire’s start date.

For example, put in requisitions for the company-issued laptop, phone or other required office equipment so your new remote employee can get connected and communicating fast. Make sure the employee’s access to email, webcasts, internal platforms and other content and tech is ready to go, too. Also, send the remote hire clear instructions on how to connect to the company server securely, and give them contact information for tech support staff who will be available to handle troubleshooting.

2. Deliver an enthusiastic welcome

Set up a video conference and introduce the remote employee to your current remote or on-site team members. Have everyone on the team say something about themselves and briefly describe their role. Leave time during this meet-and-greet conference to talk about non-work topics so that the new remote employee can get to know everyone and vice versa.

Also, within the new hire’s first week, be sure to schedule an online orientation with human resources and other relevant team members to discuss benefits, workplace policies and administrative details. Conversations about the company’s culture, values, mission, organizational chart, and products and services are also vital to successful onboarding.

When remote workers understand how their specific role supports a company’s mission and how the business supports its staff, they will naturally feel more connected to the organization.

3. Set up a ‘work buddy’ system

Off-site work can be isolating at first. New hires aren’t yet familiar with names on the organizational chart and may be unsure where to go to get answers to their questions. So, consider partnering each new remote hire with a staff member who can help them through their first few weeks on the job. (Note: This arrangement should be more like a mini mentorship and not a substitute for formal on-the-job training.)

4. Create an easy-to-access reference guide

Consider creating an online guide with all the essential need-to-knows about your organization and saving it to a platform like Microsoft Teams or Google Drive, where it will be easy to update and share. This guide will help all new remote hires (and other employees) stay up to date on the company’s policies, procedures, organizational chart and more.

Your guide could include instructions for company systems, project schedules, brand guidelines and links to important files, for example. Including a company directory with team members’ names, titles, contact information and photos is also a good idea.

5. Emphasize work-life balance from the start

One downside of remote work is that it’s very easy to just keep on working when you’re essentially living in the office — and that can lead to burnout fast. So, encourage remote hires to develop structured work routines and set realistic schedules that will meet their needs and those of the company.

When remote workers know what’s expected of them and that they’re supported in their efforts to maintain a good work-life balance, they’ll be more inclined to take the time they need to recharge so they can give their best performance while on the clock.

6. Provide timely and targeted training

Like any new hire, your remote employees need to learn your company’s processes, tools and technology — and that may require formal training in some cases. Give careful thought to what training a remote worker might need to fill knowledge gaps and be productive. Also, make a point to get feedback from both trainers and remote employees to make sure that virtual training processes are going smoothly and delivering the intended results.

7. Check in often — and prioritize good team communication

Even with a work buddy, remote hires will seek their manager’s time and feedback as they navigate their new role and organization. During the first few weeks, check in with them regularly and provide words of encouragement to help them stay motivated. Give them attention regarding their specific work assignments, but also help them visualize the “big picture” and feel like part of the team.

All the onboarding steps outlined above are meant to help your remote hires get up to speed quickly with their work and prevent them from feeling isolated or uncertain. Clear communication is a must if you want to create a workplace where all your employees — whether they are working remotely or on-site — feel like they are valued members who are part of one team.

Finally, stay flexible. It will take your organization time to settle into remote or hybrid work for the long term — and for you to refine your approach to managing a remote team. Track and measure progress, adjust processes as needed, and encourage all team members to provide feedback about what’s working for them or not. And remember that your remote employees have an especially critical role to play in helping your business get the most from a remote or hybrid work model, so be sure to invest in their success — including with a great onboarding process.

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