The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a new culture of remote onboaring and working practices. Two years in, and it looks like they’re here to stay.

But, with the more widespread culture of remote working, HR have been faced with a fresh challenge: successfully onboarding new employees from afar.

To best tackle remote onboarding, businesses need to overcome two distinct challenges: understanding the goals behind their onboarding activities, and how they can fulfil those goals online rather than through traditional face-to-face activities.

remot e onboarding boat

Luckily for most businesses, tools are readily available to help overcome the administrative and psychological challenges of remote working. The best digital HR systems that include dedicated onboarding software can assist in managing onboarding paperwork to avoid full HR inboxes. They’ll also feature a wide array of online communication tools that can help build positive and meaningful connections if face-to-face meetings are not possible.

If you’re exploring how to best onboard remote employees in your organisation, here’s some of our top advice…

Making a job offer

Onboarding, crucially, starts even before a job offer is formally made. It’s the first time your future employee sees themselves as just that – a future employee of your organisation – and begins to engage with your business on a much closer level. As such, there are some fundamental onboarding dos and don’ts you should follow.

When you make an offer to a new employee, give them as much information and clarity as you can about their role and your organisation. Vague offers, disorganisation and mistakes with contracts or new starter admin is poor form at the best of times, but mistakes like this can leave a bad taste for those who’ve otherwise only interacted with your organisation through a screen.

Be personable when making a job offer, and make sure you’re prepared to answer any queries they may have about their role, the offer itself, or the wider company. Remember that an offer of employment likely means a great deal to your new employee. So, give them the chance to be excited, and let them start building a relationship with you and your organisation!

Leading up to day one

As you approach your new employee’s first day, it might be useful to consider induction activities as three distinct areas:

  • Essential paperwork – such as contracts, evidence of right to work, P45s, etc.
  • Tools needed to work remotely – IT equipment, broadband, home office
  • Employee engagement – Introduction to your company’s vision, values and culture.

From a practical standpoint, it’s essential your new starter has all their equipment, software, and logins ready for their first day. Otherwise, apart from any negative first impressions, your new hire simply won’t be able to do their job.

It’s down to HR and line managers to ensure requests for equipment, software access, and any other necessary tools are made as soon as a job offer is accepted. You should also ensure these requests are followed up until you’re confident your new starter will have everything they need to dive into their new role. Ideally, a call should be scheduled with the new employee before day one to check they’ve received everything they need – and that it’s all in working order, too.

When it comes to engagement, make sure your new hire’s start time is clear, and arrange an initial meet and greet on a video call. The person designated to host this call needs to be committed: last-minute cancellations or rescheduling won’t make a good impression, and it’s important your employee knows they’ve joined a reliable, welcoming team – even from afar.

Make sure the new employee’s team knows when they’re starting, too, and be prepared to schedule group or one-on-one introduction calls. If everybody on the team is prepared to welcome them, it can make for a smoother start to some of the most important relationships in their day-to-day work.

Lastly, give your new employee access to HR portals, workspaces or other sources of information about the businesses’ culture and team. With an easy means to learn more about your business in their own time, your new hire can ease in at their own pace – making the initial start just that bit less overwhelming. If they’re starting as part of a larger group of new starters, be sure to arrange group calls and portals/forums for them to ask questions and connect with others.

Managing the first day

If you don’t already have a solid plan for your new starter’s first day, now’s the time to create one. In a digital environment where HR and/or line managers can’t meet a new hire on their first morning and ‘wing it’, it’s important to follow a schedule of pre-planned introduction calls and essential training.

HR and line managers (and other departments as appropriate) should work in partnership to induct a new employee, covering any outstanding HR admin, IT setup, compliance training, and team introductions.

There are bound to be technological hiccups, and this should be openly acknowledged so that nobody feels embarrassed if something goes awry. Don’t assume that everyone is video-native, and understand that, even for proficient users, things can go wrong.

Patience, empathy, and persistence are key when welcoming someone on board. So, if your video link doesn’t work, don’t put off the call to another day – you might leave your new joiner anxious that they’ve done something wrong or are missing important information. If it’s an option, pick up the phone instead!

Some important things to remember that might go unnoticed when you’re onboarding a new starter remotely include:

  • First impressions can be lasting, and
  • First days can be exhausting!

Perhaps one of the hardest parts of remote onboarding is ‘reading’ how a new employee is responding to colleagues – and it’s even trickier to know what impression is being made when your starter is behind a digital wall.

Video calling can help overcome this. Remind line managers not to be shy in using the technology available to them, and to be conscious in their efforts to connect with and gauge how their new starter is doing. If necessary, HR can even support both parties by joining in on initial check-in calls.

It’s also prudent to remember how tiring it can be to start a new job. When an employee is in the same room, you can tell if they’re flagging after a day of meeting new people and absorbing information – which simply isn’t the case for those working remotely. HR and line managers need to empathise, check in, and act accordingly – don’t leave your new hire sitting at their desk until midnight waiting for someone to tell them it’s ‘home time’!

What next?

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

It’s important to remember just how much communication normally happens between a new starter, their manager, and their team when working in the office, and to provide channels for this in a remote working environment. In an employee’s first days and weeks, they’ll have a lot of questions, expectations, and social bonds to form. Each of those ‘across the desk’ conversations still need to happen – even from across a screen.

HR can help by making sure new starters are on all the appropriate email distribution lists from day one. The casual catch-ups HR might typically have with a new starter to keep an eye on their progress will need a remote working equivalent, so they can also schedule check-in calls to ensure induction activities are running smoothly.

The bulk of the communication with new starters, of course, will fall to line managers. They’re your new employee’s primary point of contact, and it’s likely that they’ll rely on their manager far more than in an office environment where they might spot other colleagues to ask for help.

Managers need to be very patient with new employees and committed to dedicating time to their training and queries. Translating an ‘open door’ policy into an ‘open call’ approach will help new starters feel comfortable reaching out for help when needed. A long-term view is essential, so managers need to remember that the time they invest now will hopefully be rewarded later down the line.

Start by delivering the technology and information your new employee requires to perform their role, but always remember that remote onboarding is about far more than this.

When done well, onboarding can be the foundation for a deeper engagement plan: plus, it can ensure a business’ recruitment and training efforts are rewarded with a productive, happy, and loyal employee who will hopefully stick around.


Chloe Turner author image

Chloe Turner

Graduating from the University of South Wales, Chloe is an experienced content marketing manager who's worked across the HR and legal business sectors.

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