The COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to transition to remote work environments practically overnight. And while businesses had to quickly adapt, many have come to realize the benefits—including larger talent pools, more motivated teams, less absenteeism, and lower costs.
While some workers will gradually return to the office after the pandemic ends, remote working is here to stay for the long term. According to a recent report by the work marketplace Upwork, 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely by 2025—an 87% increase over pre-pandemic levels.[i]
As organizations transition to this new world of work, one challenge is onboarding remote workers. A positive onboarding experience quickly integrates new employees into the company, making them feel welcome and ensuring they become productive contributors right out of the gate. Conversely, a poor onboarding experience leads to dissatisfied employees and increases the risk of losing top talent.
Ways to integrate virtual employees
So how can companies efficiently integrate new employees into a remote work environment? And how can they adapt their in-office onboarding experience—including all of the personal touches that come with it—for virtual employees? Here are 10 tips for successfully onboarding remote employees:
- Mail them a care package. Employers can make new hires feel welcome right from the start by mailing them a welcome package. The package should arrive before the employee’s first day of work. It can include company products, branded items with your company’s logo, or another welcome gift that showcases your company and its culture. It should also include a warm note welcoming the new employees to your organization.
- Provide them with the right technology. Ensure your new hires are immediately productive by providing them with access to email, your company’s intranet, and internal platforms. Set up their laptops in advance along with the specific applications they need to perform their work. Also, be sure they have access to videoconferencing and chat tools so that they can easily collaborate with other workers as they integrate into the company.
- Simplify access to information. Ensure new employees have easy access to the applications and data they need. Offer single sign-on to make it simple for them to access online accounts without having to remember complex passwords. Leverage technology to help them complete administrative paperwork. Also, create a virtual folder with company background information, team materials, a diagram of your organizational structure, healthcare and benefits information, and other important materials so that employees can find everything they need from a centralized place.
- Create virtual orientation sessions. Develop a plan for your new hire’s first days on the job. This should include videoconferencing sessions introducing them to the organization, their co-workers, and company leaders. Include training sessions about the company’s history; its mission, vision, and goals; its products and competitive landscape; and company policies. Provide new employees with the training they need to set up their laptop, use your organization’s technology, and troubleshoot any technology issues as they arise. As you develop this plan, consider supplementing the videoconferencing sessions with videos introducing them to company executives to personalize the experience and create a welcoming feel for new hires.
- Explain the company culture. Without daily interactions within a physical office, it can be difficult to pick up on the cues that define a company’s culture. Rather than leaving new hires to figure it out for themselves, be explicit about your organization’s values, norms, and day-to-day practices. Describe expectations for working with co-workers, partners, and customers. Also, be explicit about things like work hours, dress, videoconferencing etiquette, organizational processes, and communication norms.
- Set them up with a virtual buddy. Pairing your new hires with a virtual buddy or mentor gives them the opportunity to ask all of their questions, no matter how small. It also helps them learn more about the company culture, while speeding their time to full productivity. Make sure the buddy you assign proactively touches base with the new employee on a regular basis. They should also have the availability to quickly answer messages and jump on videoconferencing calls when needed.
- Establish clear expectations. Give your new remote employees a well-defined picture of what success looks like. You can do this by clearly describing their responsibilities, helping them to prioritize their time, and defining the outcomes you’re hoping to see during their first months on the job. Also, give your new hire a sense of purpose by showing them how their responsibilities fit into the larger mission and goals of the organization.
- Create regular check-ins. Set up ongoing one-on-one videoconferencing meetings with your new hire to keep in touch, answer any questions, and ensure they stay on track as they work to come up to speed. Share your ideas about managing time and increasing productivity in a virtual work environment—and help them troubleshoot any issues that arise as they adjust to their virtual job.
- Help them build connections. Working remotely makes it more difficult to build the relationships that naturally occur while present in a physical office. Help your new hires integrate into the company by making room for them to introduce themselves at team meetings and interact with their co-workers. Assign them projects that enable them to connect with others within the company. Also, create regular virtual team lunches, online happy hours, and other social events to encourage them to get to know their peers.
- Solicit their feedback. Employee feedback can be a godsend as you adapt your onboarding program to a remote work environment.Survey your new hires at different intervals during their first 100 days on the job to understand what worked and what didn’t during their onboarding experience. And consider making these surveys anonymous so that you obtain candid responses. By gathering input from new hires, you’ll be able to accurately evaluate your remote onboarding program, fine tune your initiatives, and test out new ideas that can improve the onboarding experience over time.
Final Thoughts: A strong experience improves employee success
While a successful onboarding program is key to overall employee success, these initiatives require additional thought and attention when adapted for a remote workforce. By developing a welcoming onboarding experience for virtual employees, you can establish high morale, productivity, and loyalty right from the start—helping you to successfully assimilate new talent into your company.
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