By Emily Walsh
Once you’ve locked in the right person for the right role at your organization, you might understandably breathe a huge sigh of relief. But another crucial task awaits: setting up your new hire for success from their very first day—perhaps even up to their first year.
If your new hire is working remotely, the stakes may feel even higher. Maintaining a strong organizational culture with remote employees is daunting enough to drive many employers to mandate in-office work—but it’s not impossible!
A thoughtful onboarding plan will help your new hire hit the ground running and remind them why they made the right call in joining your organization.
Just as with in-office employees, onboarding a remote hire should begin even before their first day. As soon as they’ve accepted your offer, send a digital welcome package containing important HR documents and personal messages from team members and leadership. If you have any company swag, consider shipping an item or two along with a handwritten note.
If their start date is weeks away, space out messages with helpful “preboarding” information, such as handbooks or training manuals, to maintain a connection. If they’ll need a company laptop or other hardware, ensure these are fully configured for the new hire’s first day and ship them well in advance.
Finally, include a schedule of meetings and training through at least their first week. The HR magazine SHRM advises focusing on the four C’s: clarification, compliance, connection, and culture.
The goal is to convey excitement about the new hire and the supportive environment they’ll be walking into. (This is especially valuable if the interview process was drawn out or arduous!) It also shows your new hire that you are organized and ready to help them succeed.
Alongside these efforts, determine the best way to introduce them to the organization based on its size, culture, and their role. An all-staff email might be the simplest; a virtual company meeting may be more personal. Think about the most efficient way to promote a welcoming culture while connecting your new hire with everyone they’ll need to know.
Onboarding is all about frontloading essential information, but remember that it’s actually a long game. According to Onboarding Best Practices: A Guide for Onboarding New Staff by Leading Edge, it takes around a year for most employees to feel fully integrated. When planning a remote hire’s schedule, SHRM recommends resisting information dumps that check items off your list but risk overwhelming your new colleague.
Prioritize technology training to ensure they are fully connected right away and know how and when to use your organization’s various platforms. Then, consider carefully what topics can be broken into bite-sized training over longer periods to maximize your new hire’s retention of information and productivity. Include informal chats with peers or teams, as well as blocks of time for breathing room to allow new hires to review handbooks or recent projects at their own pace.
If you’re uncertain about striking the right balance in your onboarding plan, ask relatively new employees to share feedback on their experience.
Most anxieties about remote work have to do with communication. Without the nuances of in-person interaction, you will have to work harder to establish norms that align with your organization’s culture, keep morale high, and provide proper channels when problems arise.
Get ahead of the most common trouble areas of remote work by establishing communication channels on day one. Provide your new hire with contact information for HR, managers, and team members. Use video calls for a more personal touch and to facilitate face-to-face interactions. Give your new hire clear touchpoints for any questions they have in the form of a mentor or peer colleague.
If the majority of the organization works in person, consider assigning two resources: one who can meet in the office as needed and another with an established remote employee who can advise on staying engaged in a hybrid environment.
One strategy that can encourage remote workers to ask questions more freely is to advise that they spend 5-10 minutes researching an answer in company materials, and if they can’t find it in that time, go to a manager or peer for help.
Clearly communicate performance expectations, roles, and responsibilities from the beginning. Set measurable goals and provide feedback regularly to help the employee understand their progress and areas for improvement.
You might choose to set early milestones along a timeline, such as the first 30, 60, and 90 days. Schedule check-ins at these points to review accomplishments and adjust future goals.
Because office culture can be hard to define for outsiders, it might be tempting to hope that employees will naturally absorb your organization’s norms and practices. But leaving them without guidance in this area can be as damaging as any other.
Below are prompts to help you think about how to support your new hire’s integration.
Behavioral norms can be fraught, variable, and determinants of employee morale, so clarifying them is essential to upholding your organizational culture. Avoid assuming that new hires will figure them out as they go. Offer written guidelines as part of your onboarding plan, and ask managers, mentors, and/or peer colleagues to act as resources for new hires.
Forbes notes that because remote jobs tend to draw highly productive, self-sufficient candidates, it’s important to stay mindful of signs of burnout that emerge when workers overcompensate for their lack of in-person engagement. These will be harder to spot among remote employees, so make sure to explain and demonstrate norms around productivity and include the topic as part of regular check-ins.
At the end of your onboarding timeline, invite your new hire to share what was and wasn’t helpful with the timeline, sequence, or materials they received. Ask for specific resources they wish they’d had, and refine your process accordingly for future hires.
In addition to strengthening your onboarding process, this demonstrates to your newly established employee that your culture genuinely values feedback.
Ultimately, the objectives of remote onboarding mirror those of hybrid or in-person arrangements, but minding these considerations for remote hires increases the chances of seamless integration.
Impact Opportunity would like to thank Emily Walsh for writing this article. Emily is a writer and editor specializing in nonprofit and philanthropy management. She has edited articles published by The Bridgespan Group, the Center for Effective Philanthropy, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Forbes.com. She is also a classically trained professional musician and small business owner.