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Remote & Async Work 7 min

Onboarding remote employees: processes, tactics, and advice from experts


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Onboarding remote employees isn’t like onboarding people in an office. Not exactly, anyway. You don’t have to provide a tour of the building or share secrets about which break room is usually the quietest. Instead, your job is a bit more complex: You must make your new employee feel informed, supported, and welcomed, all without ever meeting in person.

Fortunately, you have all the tools you need to make that happen. Despite the absence of an office, onboarding remote employees really isn’t all that different from onboarding employees in person. It’s just a matter of preparation and perspective.

In this article, we’ll share some tips from a few remote onboarding experts that will make life easier for you and your new employees.

What are the main differences between physical and virtual onboarding?

No matter where your team members live, you want them to feel valued. A great onboarding experience creates a lasting impression that employees will carry with them throughout their time with your company. Similarly, a negative experience could make them doubt the company’s abilities or sincerity.

“There are many things that are critical in remote onboarding: having an onboarding plan, using interactive tools like video or having a training curriculum for new hires,” says Cristiane Reis, WhatsApp director of partnerships and business development. “Managers need to understand remote onboarding will possibly take longer than face to face, and they need to plan accordingly to help the new employee and the organization to succeed.”

You can solve issues of time-intensive onboarding by decoupling the need for synchronous work. This is called asynchronous working, and it’s something we practice at Remote.

Don’t think of remote onboarding as a completely different animal. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to be more deliberate about things you may have taken for granted in co-located workplaces. For example, in an office, you might turn a new hire loose and let them discover aspects of company culture on their own. In a remote environment, culture is more deliberately curated, which means you can set the stage for a positive experience from the start.

Tips to onboard remote employees successfully

1. Automate remote onboarding with more self-serve elements.

“Considering things have shifted so much in the last 18 months, most HR teams will find that a corporate, customised, hand-holding approach won't scale,” says Nadia Vatalidis, head of people at Remote. “This ad-hoc approach to onboarding will struggle to set anyone up for success in the future of work.”

Fast growth necessitates automation. You can’t scale a company by creating more manual work for yourself. However, increased automation should not lead to decreased feelings of connectedness for incoming workers.

“There is no amount of sugar-coating or shortcut-taking that can cover the tremendous benefit enjoyed by shifting as much of your onboarding as possible to a self-serve mechanism,” says Darren Murph, global head of remote at GitLab. “This creates a more inclusive experience, enabling people to onboard, explore, digest, ponder, and propose updates on a schedule that best suits them.”

It may be strange to think of remote work as a driver of inclusivity, but that’s exactly what it should be. Creating self-serve processes for new employees allows them to work on their own time in a way that makes sense for their unique life situations.

2. Be selective about the content you include in onboarding.

It can be tempting to throw every piece of content you have at a new hire. Resist the urge. A person can only absorb so much new information at once, and when joining a new company, there’s usually a lot to learn.

What kind of content should make the cut? Start by making everything easy to reference. New recruits can’t memorize everything, but they can learn where to look for information. By teaching them how to use company documentation, you avoid the struggle of cramming for the test and allow new hires to learn as they go.

Consider providing a list of helpful bookmarks or setting up an onboarding-specific page with direct links to relevant content. Limit “required” content to the absolute essentials and some cultural flavor. Short Loom videos from other employees are a great way to make a positive first impression.

3. Use the onboarding buddy system.

“Pair each new hire with an onboarding buddy to answer the typical ‘I'm new here!’ questions, and invest in onboarding experiences — ideally, bringing new hire cohorts together in-person for culture and rapport building,” says Darren Murph.

Onboarding buddies help new hires get acquainted quickly by providing a go-to resource for basic questions. Many people feel more comfortable asking a buddy questions about culture, processes, or company norms than they would be asking someone in HR.

In addition to practical answers, onboarding buddies can also provide new perspectives for incoming employees.

“Ideally, you'd want this person to represent another team, culture, and background — someone your new hire won't be working with on a regular basis,” says Anastasia Pshegodskaya, senior recruiting manager at Remote. “This helps to get another perspective of the company, get to know people outside of your team, get comfortable with asking questions, embrace diversity and make real friends!”

4. Establish a culture of ownership early.

Not all new hires come from the same background. Even people who have worked remotely in the past may not be familiar with how your company works. Use this opportunity to show them that you value their contributions and trust them to be a positive addition to the team.

“When you hire someone, you should trust them fully from day one,” says Nadia Vatalidis. “You have this super unique opportunity for new hires to discover how to work at your organization, how to set them up for success, and how to create a self-enabled environment to ensure no matter who is online when, they need to learn how to find things, how to get help, and have very clear guidelines on how things work day to day.”

At Remote, where we handle remote onboarding all over the world, ownership is one of our core values. We don’t believe in monitoring employees’ work hours or checking in unnecessarily. Instead, we let employees demonstrate their trustworthiness based on their outputs. We have found that people who receive respect from the start tend to do great work.

What changes when onboarding remote contractors?

The only real difference when onboarding contractors is the administrative paperwork. While you may not need to do a full onboarding for a contractor who will only take on occasional projects, contractors who work full-time for your company will inevitably become part of your culture and therefore deserve to be included as much as possible.

Make sure your contractors sign all the necessary paperwork related to intellectual property. Different countries have different rules, and what works in one place might not work in another. For more information, check out our guide to intellectual property rights and remote workers.

Otherwise, contractors should go through the same onboarding flow to learn the culture of the company, the contents of the company handbook, and where to find necessary information. If possible, provide contractors with similar benefits as well, such as health insurance as paid time off, to make them feel valued and respected.

Even for contractors brought on for short-term projects, it's still important to provide opportunities to interact with full-time workers to gain a better understanding of the company. Their onboarding process will likely be shorter but should contain education on the company's culture, work style, and expectations.

International employee onboarding made easy

At Remote, we don’t just onboard our own employees — we also help your team members set up in countries around the world. We recognize our role is to provide your employees with a great experience and a great first impression of working at your business, which is why we meet the highest standards of international compliance and security. When your team members onboard with Remote, they receive a warm welcome, easy access to all their important payroll and benefits information, and a dedicated HR manager to answer any questions.

Ready to grow your global team? Sign up today and begin onboarding in minutes.

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