Remote workers: How to onboard them effectively (and safely)

Onboarding remote workers

Employees will continue to work remotely for months to come.

Like many businesses, you may have spent the first few months of the pandemic in a holding pattern: Maybe you were able to sit tight, maybe you had to furlough a few employees, but you definitely weren’t hiring a lot of new staff.

But it’s hard to stay static for long, especially now that we’re rapidly approaching the one-year anniversary of the first shutdowns. Many businesses have found that they have been able to pivot successfully, whether it’s offering the same services in new ways, or new services to new customers – and that means you need to make some hires.

Given the current second wave and accompanying expanded lockdowns, at least some of these new hires will need to work remotely for the foreseeable future. But how do you onboard new people when you (and the rest of the team) haven’t even had a chance to meet them in person yet?

6 tips for successfully onboarding remote workers

1. It’s okay to over-communicate at first

In normal times, you might interview a new hire a couple of times, then turn their onboarding over to a single junior manager, and assume that they’d get the lay of the land and pick up the rhythms and routines just from sitting with their team members or co-workers. That informal or casual osmosis isn’t going to happen when workers are never in the same room together, so it’s crucial that you schedule some additional ‘interface’ time with you and the team, like:

  • Put together a full schedule for the first couple of days, including video calls with senior managers, direct managers, team members, etc.
  • Assign someone at the new hire’s level to do a live review of things like the employee handbook together. That gives them the opportunity to ask questions of a peer and begin to build collegial relationships
  • Make sure that HR/hiring manager touches base at least 2-3 times in that first week, and at least once a week for the next few weeks

2. Do the same dorky team-building stuff you’d normally do in person

If you’d normally take a new hire out to lunch during the first week, schedule a virtual pizza party for a small group: Everyone can order pizza to their homes (and expense it) and then spend an hour just hanging out – the way they would normally. Sure, there’s a certain goofiness to this kind of thing, but it’s how new hires start to feel like part of a team – and studies suggest that employees need this sort of thing even more now that they’re working at home.

3. Make the IT piece the top priority

Whether you’re providing the new hire with technology (phone, laptop, etc.) or allowing them to use their own, nothing derails an effective onboarding faster than an inability to connect quickly, seamlessly and securely, especially with enterprise applications. Ensure that new hires have the equipment they need before their first day, and allow them to interact with the IT department/resources directly to resolve problems without unnecessary delays.

4. Ensure cybersecurity is part of the onboarding training

Even when everyone’s working together in an office, employee behaviours like accidentally downloading malware or responding to phishing emails are the biggest security threat to your organization. When people are working remotely, and using one or more of their own devices, this problem increases exponentially. So ensure that IT security training is a big part of onboarding activities, and that it’s ongoing, with regular communications and updates.

5. Introduce the new hire to different departments

Most organizations work better when people in different departments know each other and understand how those different departments work together. But it’s hard for a new hire to see – or leverage – that big picture when their interaction is limited to their team members and their manager. So set up introductory meetings in the first few weeks: Allow the finance team to introduce themselves to the new marketing hire, or have the sales team do a presentation to the new accounts receivable manager. This helps the new hire feel like part of the team, and more importantly gives them a frame of reference when they need to gather information or run a project with multiple departments.

6. Keep checking in

Even the most independent self-starter can feel a little isolated and overwhelmed in the first few weeks of working a new job, alone at home. So make sure that their manager (and the person who hired them, if they’re different people) take the time to do some casual check-ins during the first month or two. That doesn’t mean “you should text me as soon as you log on every morning”! It means a warm phone call or Slack message, making it clear that you want the new hire to succeed and are available to help them out. 

Experts are finding that the biggest factor in successfully onboarding remote workers is how quickly new hires feel like part of a supportive team – and sometimes all that takes is a friendly voice.