Onboarding work from home (WFH) employees can be challenging. Virtually replacing the face-to-face interactions that offer ample opportunities to make new employees feel at home takes creative planning and flexibility.
According to the 2020 State of Remote Work Report: Unlocking Opportunity conducted by Hired, a marketplace that matches tech talent with companies, “97 percent of respondents said they are either very open or somewhat open to remote onboarding at a new company, so long as they have the right resources and support.”
Yet the report found that onboarding new hires remotely is among the top recruiting challenges companies currently face. (The April 2020 study surveyed 2,200 tech workers and 300 companies across North America and the United Kingdom.)
Onboarding New Remote Employees
For some company leaders, onboarding WFH employees remotely has required stepping into entirely new terrain.
“We used to decorate new employees’ offices or cubicles the first day of work, take them on a tour to meet everyone, have a breakfast pop-up party and introduce them in our weekly Friday company huddle meetings,” says Kara Hertzog, president of workforce solutions company Innovative Employee Solutions.
“The current WFH environment has required pivoting to onboarding employees in a whole new way,” Hertzog continues. “For instance, rather than taking new hires out to lunch to help them understand our vision and company culture, I now hold virtual coffee meetings.”
Replicating the various onboarding touchpoints remotely may be challenging, but it’s possible. The following suggestions can help new WFH employees become an integral part of your team as quickly as possible.
1. Be prepared to clearly communicate with your new WFH employees.
The remote environment demands that you’re ultra-organized when it comes to preparing new WFH employees. You won’t be there in person when they set up their workstations or take their first customer service calls. The more thoroughly you prepare employees and communicate expectations, the better.
“Much of company norms and culture are perceived through observing colleague behaviors in the office. With the WFH environment, it’s important to compensate for this missed step by explicitly communicating expectations,” says LJ Suzuki, founder of outsourced finance and accounting company CFOShare.
“It’s impossible to overcommunicate when onboarding WFH employees,” agrees Eyal Feldman, CEO of Stampli, an AI-based platform that streamlines the accounts payable process. “As early as possible, paint a clear picture of what each phase of the new employee’s onboarding will look like.”
Feldman suggests informing new employees of the following during onboarding:
- when operational materials (laptop, cell, system access) will arrive and who to contact to set them up
- who to call for assistance the first few weeks
- who they will be meeting with and when
- which regular meetings they are expected to attend
- any background materials on the company and its position, including a detailed job description.
- any employee manual (which includes remote onboarding protocols) that they'll need to read and sign
2. Make new WFH employees feel welcome.
Welcoming new employees to the company takes on even greater urgency in the WFH landscape. Without in-person body language and social cues from smiles and chats in the breakroom, it’s far too easy for a new employee to feel disconnected.
“We’ve found it’s vital to make new employees feel welcome and excited to be a part of the company as soon as possible,” says Jessie Goldberg, director of marketing at nutritional supplement manufacturer Jetson.
“We send care packages containing company swag that show how thrilled we are to have the new employees on our team,” says Goldberg. “On the first day, we hold a virtual video chat lunch to introduce new employees to coworkers.”
To replicate the onsite office environment as much as possible, ensure that employees are greeted in a variety of ways.
“Proper introductions via email, video team calls and chat channels can make a world of difference to new hires and get conversations flowing,” says Feldman. “We also assign someone in a similar role to each new employee. This mentor makes the new hire feel like a part of the team and helps during the onboarding process and beyond.”
At the social media management company Duarte Group, they use employee bios and headshots to create a sense of camaraderie.
It’s impossible to overcommunicate when onboarding WFH employees. As early as possible, paint a clear picture of what each phase of the new employee’s onboarding will look like.
—Eyal Feldman, CEO, Stampli
“Employees have profile photos and mini bios in Slack that new employees can reference,” says the company's co-founder and CEO, Katee Duarte. “New employee bios are also shared with the team. Long-standing employees are encouraged and expected to welcome new team members. Many will reach out via direct message and start conversations in our watercooler Slack channel.”
3. Share the company culture while onboarding WFH employees.
One of the most difficult tasks of onboarding WFH employees is helping them assimilate to company culture. A new employee may find it challenging to understand your company’s values, goals and common practices from afar.
“Explaining your company’s culture code to remote workers is a necessary step in making them feel comfortable,” says Dean Calhoun, president and CEO Affygility Solutions, an environmental, health and safety service provider. “If you have a culture code, discuss it with your managers. If you don’t have one, create one.”
Assigning an employee to each onboarding WFH employee is something that works well to replicate the in-office onboarding experience when it comes to culture.
“I’m a big believer in 1-on-1 trainings to help new employees understand and absorb culture,” says Suzuki. “Company veterans can communicate expectations, including small things that make an employee feel like he or she belongs, such as how to dress for virtual meetings and how quickly they are expected to respond to company emails.”
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