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Remote Onboarding: How to Prepare New Hires From Anywhere

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    Remote onboarding is the process of virtually preparing new hires with the documents and tools they need to succeed at your organization. Unlike in-person onboarding, remote onboarding can create opportunities for disengagement and disconnection. With an effective process, however, you’ll inspire employees to collaborate with their team, cultivate their skills and, ultimately, find a career-long purpose within your organization. Read how to craft the ideal remote onboarding experience.

    New hires should experience great onboarding no matter where they work. But with a steady number of employees still working remotely, it might seem easy for onboarding to feel detached and clinical.

    Even if only a fraction of your staff works outside the office, they still potentially have the same HR needs as in-person employees. Through effective remote onboarding, you can help ensure all talent have a chance to meaningfully:

    • grow and advance
    • find the answers they need
    • engage with your organization
    • build rapport with managers and co-workers

    Let’s explore what remote onboarding is and how your organization can deliver an informative and streamlined experience.

    What is remote onboarding?

    Remote onboarding is the process of setting up and acclimating a new hire to a business virtually, online or otherwise removed from their employer’s physical location. While this practice is common for employees who work from home, remote onboarding could also apply to contributors who work in remote settings that could still resemble an office or another traditional working environment.

    Regardless of a new hire’s exact arrangement, remote onboarding works when they can’t undergo the process in person. However, that doesn’t mean they should expect or accept lower quality treatment than employees who regularly have face-to-face interactions. After all, the right HR technology connects us even if how we work constantly shifts and evolves.

    Checklist for remote onboarding

    While remote onboarding should offer at least the same caliber of an experience as its in-person equivalent, that doesn’t mean you should approach it the same way. According to James M. Citrin and Darleen DeRosa, authors of Leading at a Distance: Practical Lessons for Virtual Success, onboarding in any form needs to:

    • get off to a fast start to make new hires feel welcome
    • establish a foundation of strong relationships
    • build an understanding of work culture and how the business operates
    • set clear expectations as they relate to a company’s mission, vision and goals

    This may understandably seem daunting to pull off in general, let alone for a remote employee. Luckily, it’s possible to still set up remote workers for success with just a few adjustments to in-person onboarding’s formula. Here’s how.


    Onboarding truly starts even before a new hire officially does. Remember throughout this phase, nothing is more important than clear and frequent communication.

    Keep these initial steps in mind to avoid a Day 1 crunch.

    Scheduling orientation

    Your newest employees shouldn’t get blindsided by an abrupt meeting, especially something as important as orientation. Ensure you provide them with all the necessary details, including:

    • the time and date of the meeting
    • how to access it
    • what forms or materials they should bring
    • a brief rundown of what to expect
    • an FAQ to get ahead of common orientation questions

    This step is vital for onboarding in general, not just remotely. If you do your due diligence through regular communication, pre-onboarding will give you a chance to inspire and instill confidence in fresh talent.

    Setting a one-on-one meeting with a manager

    As with orientation, you should also inform new hires early of when they’ll virtually meet with their supervisor. For a smoother process, encourage their manager to contact the new hire to kick-start the dialogue and rapport. To give a new hire a greater sense of agency, their manager may want to approach them with multiple potential meeting times.

    When prepping your leaders, ensure they have a solid grasp of how important onboarding is, even if it’s not conducted in person. If the employee’s manager has never experienced remote onboarding, it could be wise to recommend training for online etiquette and other tips to keep virtual conversations engaging. For example, consider giving them these one-on-one best practices from the Society for Human Resource Management.

    Preparing technology

    Ensure that your new hire has received any hardware or supplemental materials they need, as well as tutorials for any software they need to install. To prepare them even further, consider investing in an onboarding tool that allows them to:

    • complete tax forms
    • provide direct-deposit authorization
    • sign any relevant documents or policies
    • watch introductory videos

    In other words, any opportunity to engage remote employees before their actual start date is one you should seize.

    First day

    Don’t lose your momentum once you’ve adequately prepared a new hire. Here’s how to help remote employees excel and engage with your workplace the day they start.

    New hire orientation

    Regardless of the setting, boring new hire orientations create a precedent for disengagement. Even virtually, you should find ways to make this obligatory meeting interactive, not mundane.

    For example, use a chat tool that allows new hires to respond and propose their own comments in real time without disrupting the ongoing presentation. Consider breaking up the monotony with videos or engaging, open-ended questions. You should also be mindful of how easily people can feel isolated or minimized in group settings. While this is easier to gauge in person, you should gather feedback to determine if your potentially large, remote orientations don’t cause new hires to tune out.

    Essential paperwork

    While the right HR tech will empower new hires to complete essential paperwork before their first day, you may still have items they need to address. Give them a channel to ask questions about these documents and ensure their purpose is abundantly clear. Avoid sending items to remote employees through email with no context. Ideally, and if your organization has the capacity, it may be best to set a short, more personalized meeting to go over important materials.

    Compliance training

    A new hire isn’t going to learn everything right off the bat. However, legally required training should still be a top priority. While giving employees the option to choose their training path usually helps, compliance should always come first.

    At the same time, don’t overwhelm new hires with seemingly unending walls of text. While the training should include all necessary materials required for your business to comply, consult with HR and use an intuitive learning management system (LMS) to help break up the monotony.

    Introduction to team and supervisors

    Keep the team your new hire will be joining in the loop and schedule introductions in advance to ensure they have time to clear their schedules. While a brief tour to a colleague’s desk and a handshake might work in person, remote employees need a more personalized approach.

    If the team is small enough, a single virtual meeting with all of them may suffice for this purpose. Otherwise, it would probably be in the new hire’s best interest to limit these introductions just to the individuals they’ll work with most. Since they won’t be physically working alongside everyone, overloading them with personalities they’ll rarely interact with could be confusing and jarring.

    Accounts and tool access

    Remote employees should have a glimpse into the tools and software they’ll use before they start. Even so, they’ll still need additional training or at least authorization to use their equipment. This should happen before a new hire receives any official assignment.

    Again, make sure granting them this access comes with dedicated support. If possible, give them a direct point of contact with IT or request that their manager walk them through this process over a virtual meeting. In fact, screen sharing over a video call may help make this process even easier than it would be in person.

    Outlining expectations

    After your new hire completes orientation, meets their team and accesses the tools they need, you can outline expectations. Ideally, a manager meeting should also provide this info. You could potentially consolidate this with their manager one-on-one, though it could be intimidating for the new hire if they don’t have a complete understanding of their role yet.

    And expectations shouldn’t just come with what they need to function. The outline you provide should also allude to their potential growth and any relevant resources that will help them succeed. Additionally, don’t set higher expectations for a remote employee just because they’re not physically present. Equity applies to everyone no matter where they work.

    First week

    While the bulk of onboarding will wrap up by the end of a new hire’s first day, remote employees should still know they have your organization’s support as they continue to familiarize themselves with their job. Consider these steps to keep them engaged and connected with their employer — even from afar.

    Periodic check-ins

    Certain employees may be more self-sufficient, but all need to know their supervisors have their back. A manager should check in with a new hire every day of their first week. These don’t have to be long or extended meetings. Simply asking if the employee has any concerns through a chat app might be enough.

    Still, it would be wise to ask a new hire how frequently they need support and in what form. Don’t assume they need a call every two hours or that a period of no communication is automatically a bad sign. Even if the employee previously worked in the same remote setting, it still takes time to get comfortable with a new job. Give them grace but let them know your organization is there to help.

    Gather feedback

    Remote onboarding constantly evolves. Inquire with your new hires and their managers to discover what could make the process better. After all, this process ultimately affects them most. Without going through it yourself, it might not be obvious where you should adjust.

    And prepare yourself for unexpected or negative feedback. Don’t consider this input failure; think of it as a chance to pivot and enhance your onboarding strategy.

    If you onboarded many remote employees, consider a survey tool that quickly obtains their feedback and helps HR analyze the results. This could expedite your company’s ability to improve processes and address problem areas faster.

    Remote onboarding best practices

    By now, you have a grasp of how remote onboarding should proceed. Let’s consider other practices to help you make the most out of this process and continually expand it.

    Clearly define expectations

    At no point should your new hire not know what’s expected of them. This is exceptionally crucial in a remote setting. Without clear guidance, it could be easy for an at-home employee to tune out and disengage, quickly compromising the investment of hiring them.

    Keep channels of communication open and stick to regular check-ins even beyond their first week. While vital early on, all new hires still need guidance, and how much may depend on the individual.

    Follow up with managers

    Keep communicating with managers to ensure your new hires are on the right track. These conversations should be candid and address any potential concerns. They also shouldn’t conclude without a clear path forward. Work to strategize with the manager to determine how best to keep your new hire engaged and developing.

    Assign a mentor

    Remember, mentoring is still possible even with remote work. Empower your new hire with a mentor who can help:

    • address questions
    • facilitate job shadowing
    • give them a sense of belonging

    A mentor doesn’t have to be their direct supervisor, either. Sometimes that can be ideal, but a more seasoned employee who’s on their own path toward leadership may equally benefit from the experience. Inquire with the new hire’s team about possible mentors and consult the relevant manager to identify your ideal candidate.

    Provide training

    Working is learning. Period. Every shift is a chance to grow and improve upon what we do. Make sure your new hires have access to the training they want whenever — and wherever — they need it. Ideally, their LMS will operate seamlessly in the same single HR software in which employees manage all their data.

    Plus, don’t limit new hires to required training. If they have the capacity to take voluntary courses your business offers, actively encourage them to do so. This will only expand the value they obtain from your workplace and, in turn, help encourage their long-term investment.

    Automate processes

    No new hire wants their routine derailed by frustrating tech. Consider buying HR software that allows them to enter data once before it flows seamlessly into benefits, payroll and any other part of their HR life cycle. The harder your workplace tech is to use, the more likely employees will disengage from it. Remember, automation and agency go hand in hand. Your organization should prioritize self-service tools that help remote employees find what they need easily and efficiently.

    Remote onboarding tips for HR

    Beyond general best practices, consider these tips your HR department can use to enhance remote onboarding.

    Encourage socialization

    Working remotely can be isolating. Make sure your new hires know that despite their physical location, they’re still part of a team that cares. Maintain an ongoing schedule of and encourage your workforce to participate in virtual team-building events like:

    • icebreakers
    • movie nights
    • digital happy hours
    • games and contests
    • and more

    Software training

    While it’s important for your new hires to understand their technology, HR should have a solid grasp of employee tools, too. Before expecting a new hire to use your onboarding technology, consider scheduling trial runs with HR. This will help you catch unexpected hurdles and spot opportunities to tweak and enhance the process.

    Assign a buddy

    Unless your company is extremely small, onboarding shouldn’t fall on one person. Make sure everyone in HR is familiar with the process and prepared to assist employees when needed. Assigning a pair of HR professionals to the process could make it easier for them to manage new hires and strategize how to optimize onboarding.

    Remote onboarding: FAQ

    How is remote onboarding different from regular onboarding?

    Remote onboarding takes place virtually from a separate physical location, such as in an employee’s home office. This also means new hires have a higher chance of disengagement, making effective remote onboarding more challenging.

    How long should remote onboarding take?

    Like normal onboarding, the length of the process depends on unique business requirements. However, a fresh employee can handle certain items before their first official day through the right HR tech. Ideally, an employee should be able to work somewhat independently within their first week, though they should continue to develop throughout their first few months and beyond.

    How can remote onboarding become easier?

    Planning in advance and empowering new hires with the right onboarding software simplifies the process. Invest in tools that make it easy for employees to:

    • provide their data
    • execute important documents
    • communicate with their team and manager
    • ask HR questions

    Why is effective onboarding important?

    A poor onboarding experience sets a negative precedent for an employee’s entire tenure. When done effectively, however, it instills purpose in new hires and can give them a compelling reason for their career to take root.

    Explore Paycom’s resources to learn about onboarding, employee engagement and more.

    DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.