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  • Katie Navarra

Take Care When Onboarding Remote Employees

By Katie Navarra

February 2, 2022

The onboarding process is HR's opportunity to create an experience that energizes new employees. Individuals who feel welcomed, prepared and appreciated in their first week are more likely to stay and be committed to the organization.

Providing technology, usernames and passwords is the critical first step. But the equipment is only the gateway—the process you take new hires through sets the tone for their experience and productivity.

Here are five strategies for developing a remote onboarding process that prepares employees for their new role and makes them feel like part of the team.

1. Set Expectations

Self-starters thrive in remote settings. They log in at 8 a.m. and are productive without prompting. But not everyone has this approach, according to Terry Simpson, senior solutions engineer at workflow automation platform Nintex. Some people are more task-oriented and need a plan to outline activities for the day.

"You have to get to know the individual you are bringing on board and the management style they need," Simpson said. "One of my first tasks is finding out" how the new team member prefers to work.

As president and founder of Minneapolis-based INGCO, a translation services company, Ingrid Christensen said this has been the biggest lesson learned in moving to remote onboarding.

"Don't leave them wondering what to do, who to talk to, etc.," she said. "Start and end each day with a short one-one-one with their manager, but plan the remainder of the day so they can meet with each department pertinent to their job."

2. Define the Role Managers can fall into the trap of focusing on communicating information about the organization while skimming over the details of the person's role. Newcomers must understand both how to do their new job remotely and how that fits in with the business.

"I had a great candidate who was excited about working for us until they discovered the majority of our calls are held outside of the 9-to-5 hours," said Erik Hansen, consultant manager for London-based IT consultancy Right People Group. "This quickly changed their perspective, and we didn't land this person as a result."

3. Introduce a Work Buddy

Interactions and team dynamics organically evolve in person over a trip to the water cooler, in the hallways, or coming and going from a building. Creating those moments remotely can be more challenging. To overcome this, Daniel Cook, head of business development at Mullen and Mullen Law Firm, pairs new remote employees with a staff member who works in person.

"This allows them to gain maximum insight and information of the work culture and expectations of them through someone who is experienced in the same field," he said.

4. Keep It Real and Casual

Simpson prefers keeping online meetings informal. He opens the meeting a few minutes early for conversations about the weather, the weekend or other highlights a person wants to share. He also considers what it is like for others on the call to watch and listen.

"I put a lot of effort into my office setup so that my video and audio experience is good for others to consume," he said. "When you don't have good light, your face is only two inches tall on the right-hand screen, and the audio sounds like you're driving down the road, [these] all leave an impression."

5. Ask for Feedback

"We want to hear any information we can utilize to fine-tune our current [onboarding] process," said Elana Schmidt, onboarding specialist at AptAmigo, a real estate technology startup.

At the end of a new hire's first week, Schmidt sends the new employee a survey using Google Forms. Questions ask for specifics on what went well and what changes could make the process stronger.

"These surveys have given me plenty of ideas to work into our onboarding process and improve the new-hire experience," she said.

After the first week, Schmidt regularly checks in with each person and asks for feedback that can potentially benefit the entire team.

"We've gotten some incredible feedback from these sessions and can make the changes as soon as possible," Schmidt said. "This allows new hires to feel heard and truly a part of the team."

The Benefits of Getting It Right

When Simpson started at Nintex, he was one of only five to six employees not located in or near a physical office. Today, it's the opposite; nearly all 850 employees are remote. Remote onboarding is a necessity in today's environment.

"The majority of people we have hired the last year or two have been remote. I think that helps our ability to acquire top talent because physical limitations around who you hire are now gone," he said. "This opens opportunity for talent acquisition. Tech can play such a vital role that allows you [and new employees to] stay connected to the organization."

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