Over 43% of American employees report they work remotely at least some of the time. This statistic is growing across the world. In the UK, it’s predicted that 50% of the workforce will telecommute by 2020.
So why is remote work becoming so trendy? Well, it’s mainly thanks to the many benefits it offers both employees and companies, including lower overheads, increased productivity, and flexibility to balance personal and professional interests. Remote work does come with its challenges, though, and these need to be tackled from the very beginning when onboarding remote employees.
The Challenges of a Remote Workforce
While remote work offers many benefits, it does introduce challenges across the board, from upholding high standards of day-to-day people management to training remote employees.
From the organization’s point of view, the main challenges with remote work include:
● Fostering a cohesive company culture
● Keeping communication open and timely
● Managing HR concerns, like leave and special requests
● Communicating priorities and the desired order of tasks to employees clearly
● Managing different employee schedules
The main challenges that remote employees face are:
● A sense of isolation and loneliness
● Communicating with team members and management
● Interruptions in the remote work environment
Many of these challenges can be addressed by sticking to some renowned best practices of employee onboarding. But onboarding is often thought of as “just a tick-box”, and many even consider it a low ROI training activity. Oh, how wrong they can be!
Benefits of Onboarding Remote Employees
Not sure what you stand to gain by investing more in onboarding remote employees? Consider the following quote from the VP of People Operations at Google (yes, Google!), Lazlo Bock: “At Google, we front-load our people investment. This means the majority of our time and money spent on people is invested in attracting, assessing, and cultivating new hires.”
Onboarding is exactly the cultivating of new hires that Lazlo speaks of. It’s the activity that takes an employee from “new hire” to “part of the team”. Done well, onboarding will also supercharge the productivity of new hires by boosting their motivation and job satisfaction from the get-go.
Let’s look at the basic benefits of onboarding remote employees. Successful onboarding helps remote employees to:
● Learn the company’s management style
● Understand their job responsibilities and ‘get to work’ sooner
● Understand the channels for feedback, questions, and concerns in their work
● Adjust to the company’s corporate culture
● Understand what is expected of them in terms of schedule, communication, and day-to-day telecommuting logistics
Best Onboarding Tips for New Employees Who Work Remotely
Many employee onboarding practices can be applied almost directly to remote employees, but some become more important than others when you’re working with a remote team. From paying careful attention to how you manage communication, to taking your time to set goals, the three tips will help you get the most out of your remote employees from day one.
1. Use introductions to get new hires familiar with the company and team
Feelings of isolation can so easily threaten a remote employee’s sense of belonging and productivity. Fight isolation by properly introducing them to the company on their first day of onboarding. If they’re able to come into the office that’ll make things easier, but it’s not the only solution.
If the position is completely remote, set up a short video call between each new hire and their team, and make sure that all team members attend (unless they’re on leave). These introductions are important to communicate team structure, create a sense of shared goals, and build enthusiasm to work together, so they should be taken seriously.
Once remote employees have been introduced to the colleagues they’ll be working with directly, make sure that the rest of the company is also introduced to them. This can be done in a less direct and time-consuming way by simply sending out a weekly company-wide “new hires” email.
What about introducing remote employees to the organizational structure and lines of reporting? This aspect shouldn’t be ignored or rushed when onboarding remote employees. Provide all new remote hires with a user-friendly document (with photos!) that lays out the organizational structure and lines of reporting.
This doc will need to be created in advance and regularly updated. You’ll find that this effort is well worth it when you have several remote team members. You can even include contact details, like Skype addresses, for each person in the organogram.
2. Set up convenient but structured communication channels and remote tools
It’s hardly surprising that remote employees struggle with clogged communication channels – communication is difficult to get right in the office, too!
So take advantage of the technology that makes remote work viable, including the variety of communication channels available for different types of work. This includes mobile communications like SMS, and more traditional channels, like email.
By onboarding remote employees on ways to use just a few channels really well rather than using many channels poorly, it’s possible to create intuitive, uncluttered team communication.
Here’s an example: A development manager is concerned about a looming deadline and doesn’t want to risk waiting for her remote software developer to see her email. She sends him a few messages on WhatsApp. He responds immediately because he understands the urgency, but doesn’t appreciate the intrusion into his “personal communications”.
Because he responds quickly this time, the development manager keeps using WhatsApp to check in on other projects. Soon, their messages become hard to track, instructions start to look less professional, and their conversations are difficult to share with other team members who need to be brought into tasks.
In order to avoid this kind of ineffective communication habit, leverage onboarding to establish clear and upfront expectations and standards for communication via:
● Instant Messaging (e.g. Slack)
● Scheduled video calls (remote group meetings)
● One-on-one video calls
● Phone calls to private cell phones
● Project management tools (e.g. Trello and Asana)
3. Spend time with new hires to set clear onboarding goals
Start by having a clear idea of what you are setting out to accomplish when onboarding remote employees. Then, take the time to sit down (or video call) with new remote hires to ensure that everyone is on the same page about what their onboarding activities need to achieve.
Onboarding goals for the new hire and their direct manager typically include the following:
● Get to know the team
● Complete all onboarding paperwork
● Set up all functional and communication software
● Get introduced to initial projects
● Understand reporting lines
● Understand the use of communication channels
● Set deadlines for the first month
● Specify the performance review period and processes to be followed
Once the manager and employee have set specific goals for the onboarding process, they should discuss the employee’s ongoing development plan. This can address more long-term priorities about the employee’s performance and their interaction with the rest of the organization. For example, this plan may look more closely at how the remote employee can engage in the company culture and solidify their place in the team.
Onboarding Remote Employees: A Worthwhile Investment
When you take your time with onboarding and make sure that expectations, communication channels and the structure of the organization are clear from the start, new remote hires can feel confident in their ability to meet their new responsibilities.
And happy, cohesive and well-equipped remote teams mean better business value.