If you’ve hired anyone recently, I am sure the onboarding process is a bit different from prior to the pandemic. This might sound familiar – most paperwork was emailed ahead of time for the new employee to complete, introducing them to the team was probably done through an online meeting platform, and the building tour could have been a prerecorded video.
While hiring and onboarding are slightly different today, first impressions are not and still matter to new hires. They will remember clearly how they felt that first day – how their manager treated them, whether their team members reached out and if they could find all the information they needed easily. These early impressions have a lasting impact on new employees, and it’s essential that these experiences be positive if you want to set the right tone for engagement. This is especially important when onboarding a new employee from afar. There is a whole new set of impressions that should be made ahead of the start date when the employee won’t physically come into the office.
Building Engagement: We all know engaged employees get more done, remain with their employers longer, build stronger relationships with customers and become enthusiastic brand ambassadors. So how can you ensure that the same level of engagement can be built for remote employees?
During onboarding, you begin building the foundation for these benefits even before your new employees receive their first paycheck, and now you need to make accommodations for these processes to happen virtually. According to SHRM, a strong onboarding program should include:
- Compliance – Complete legal and policy related activities such as signing forms and presenting workplace rules.
- Clarification – Teach new employees the expectations of their new role.
- Culture – Communicate organizational norms within your company.
- Connection – Promote connection with peers and managers.
When these four elements are present, your onboarding process has the power to create engaged, productive workers, reduce turnover, increase job satisfaction and promote long-term retention.
But on a practical level, what steps can you take to achieve those goals, especially as you hire more remote employees?
Here are 5 ways to make the most of the virtual onboarding experience:
1. Start Before Day One – Pre-boarding is a great way to help new hires feel excited about the job they have just accepted and give them the resources they need to hit the ground running. This is very important for remote employees because they may not have the opportunity to visit the facility on their first day. Some activities can include shipping a welcome box with company swag, sending emails that keep your new hire up to date about what is going on and include a training session calendar, scheduling a welcome call with their manager and providing access to benefits information, an orientation video or a PDF version of the employee handbook before their first day.
2. Consider a Phased Approach – While the new hire is getting settled, things may become overwhelming. Conducting your onboarding process in phases will address different needs and questions over time. For example, create 30-, 60-, and 90-day checklists and ask managers to regularly touch base with new employees to answer questions or offer support. Most people learn by doing, so allow them to try out things for themselves. Especially if it’s something they’re familiar with, allowing them to get hands-on with a small project will give them the confidence in what they’re doing and be proud that they joined your company.
3. Assign an Onboarding Buddy or Mentor – Early social connections help new hires feel more comfortable while working at home, and that’s an important step toward engagement. It will also make it easier for them to reach out and ask for help or find answers to questions that may arise as they learn the ropes. Put together a schedule for the new hire and their buddy/mentor to meet daily or every few days until they get comfortable with their new workload and environment.
4. Incorporate Recognition – The goal of recognition is to help employees feel valued, and that starts even before their first day. For example, send a welcome packet to a new employee’s home with a handwritten note from their manager, or have other team members sign a welcome card and include that in the package. Look for ways the employee will contribute to your team and let them know you’re excited to have them.
5. Use Technology Strategically – Task alerts, goal-setting software, mobile apps and social platforms can all make onboarding more efficient and reduce frustrations as you connect with your new hires. Still, don’t expect technology to do all the relationship-building work for you, and you don’t want burnout! Since in-person connections are almost nonexistent at the current moment, connecting on a personal level through video applications is still essential for helping employees feel appreciated and valued.
Recognition and interaction with colleagues are important at every stage of employment, from the candidate experience all the way through onboarding and beyond. When you build these components into your remote hire onboarding process, it extends beyond paperwork and tasks into a foundational strategy that sets your new hires up for long-term engagement and retention.
Authors note: This article is an updated version of our 2019 Creating Engaging New Employee Experiences with These 5 Onboarding Strategies blog.