New employee onboarding has a big impact on productivity and retention. In one study, recruiting and onboarding had the second-highest business impact after controlling for labor costs out of 22 HR practices the researchers studied. These researchers found proficient onboarding can increase productivity and reduce unwanted turnover in the first two years by as much as 50%. Despite how vital the onboarding experience is, less than a third of companies have a formal onboarding program.
Widespread work-from-home for COVID-19 has made the onboarding process all the more challenging. Most companies plan to work fully or partially remote for the foreseeable future. So, it’s helpful to understand how to most effectively onboard new employees remotely. To get prepared, here are five remote onboarding process best practices to implement today.
1. Get new remote hires set up ahead of their first day
You don’t want new hires waiting around for necessary equipment like their computer, headset, external monitor, laptop stand, and anything else they need to work from home. You likely know how long it takes to get set up in an office. But it might take longer to get the right equipment to your new remote hires.
Decide what your process and policy for new equipment will be ahead of time. For example, Clockwise offers all new hires the basics they need to get started. Remote workers also get a $500 work-from-home stipend to put towards upgrading their desk, chair, or anything else that will help them work.
It’s also a good idea to give remote new hires a rundown of their benefits before they start because different states require different forms, etc. to register for benefits. For example, our Office Manager Czar Garcia learned the hard way that workers’ compensation timelines vary by state. “Washington is taking six weeks,” Czar said. Taking care of the logistical stuff like equipment and benefits might not be the most glamorous part of joining a new company, but they are essential to the onboarding process.
2. Prioritize culture during remote onboarding
Once you’ve got new employees set up, it’s time to focus on culture. According to recent research, tech companies onboarding new remote employees tend to focus most heavily on more formal onboarding efforts like training sessions, orientation sessions, one-on-one meetings, and group meetings.
While all this is important, companies should focus on culture too. Company culture refers to the collective beliefs, attitudes, and values that characterize an organization. Getting new hires acquainted with your company’s culture ASAP helps them contribute to your success faster. Onboarding that emphasizes culture can help foster a feeling of belonging and avoid feelings of isolation going forward.
Understandably, it can be more difficult for new hires to become familiar with company culture when they’re onboarded virtually — they can’t see how their co-workers interact with each other, their tones, gestures, and expressions. Here’s where it’s helpful to have a team communication app that allows for real-time communication. Slack is great for bringing someone on remotely because when you add a new member to a channel, previous conversations become visible to them, not just messages from the time they joined.
3. Send swag to remote hires, and do it early
When I accepted my offer to join Clockwise, I got a very thoughtful welcome package in the mail. It included literary-themed wine (I’m a writer), Clockwise swag, and a letter about a donation Clockwise made to my favorite cause.
Czar has kept up and expanded the tradition up over distance. Today he mails all new hires (we’re still hiring!) fun welcome packages.
“Mine had toilet paper in it!” Designer Raph D’amico said. “How COVID!”
“The onboarding gifts and lunch were all thoughtful touches!” Head of Product Marketing Glenwood Barbee said.
Czar recommends sending the swag packs as soon as new hires sign on. That way, they feel welcome and look forward to their first day. The first week is overwhelming. If welcome packages arrive on their first day, they can get lost in the shuffle and become an afterthought. “It’s supposed to be a fun thing,” Czar said. “That way they can wear the swag outside before their start date.”
4. Include new remote hires in team events before they start
Another thing Czar recommends is that companies invite new hires to team events before they officially start. You can start virtual onboarding by inviting them to Demo Days and other team events as soon as they agree to join.
“That way, they don’t lose momentum and excitement,” Czar said. “Don’t put pressure on them to attend if their schedule doesn’t allow for it. The purpose is to make them feel included.” For example, one recent hire signed on to join the team in December when she graduates. Even though she’s going to have to wait to start working, she was able to attend our Q1 celebration and meet the team. Gestures like this may not be part of the formal onboarding process, but they are valuable.
5. Help new remote hires meet the team
Typically, teammates meet new team members on their first day in the office. But remote workers will need a more creative approach. For Clockwise, Czar sets up a welcome lunch over Zoom. We start in one room, then Czar divides us into breakout rooms. The new hire spends a few minutes in each breakout room getting to know the small groups better. Some of us eat during this time. But others are just there to socialize. He’s also testing out meeting pods where the new hire joins two new colleagues for an informal chat. “That way there’s less pressure and more interaction,” Czar explained.
Some companies also establish a buddy-system of sorts, where the new hire links up with an already-existing employee. In large companies especially, many new hires may not know who to contact for what. Their “buddy” can introduce them to people of different departments and do occasional check-ins to make sure that the new hire is getting acclimated.
Going forward with remote onboarding
The onboarding process isn’t merely about the logistics of getting employees all set up; it’s also about setting the tone for their journey with the company. Onboarding new employees well is associated with higher performance and lower turnover — music to any company’s ears. Sure, remote work may require a bit more creativity. While hiring and onboarding remote employees is new for most companies, it doesn’t have to be harder. The key is starting early and being intentional.
Read next: 9 tips for cross-training employees on remote teams