Virtually Onboarding Remote Employees: 6 Steps to Bridge the Distance Gap

Employee onboarding programs aim to establish expectations, immerse new hires in the company culture, while equipping them with the right tools, context and connections to get them started.

But when onboarding remote employees, how do we build immersion and connection when they are not physically present?

Let’s start with some context.

Three things have transformed the nature of work over the last 2 decades: technology, demographics, and customer empowerment.

According to Deloitte’s 2017 Future of Work report, technology has enabled work to “expand beyond a company’s walls and balance sheets”, and this means alternative work arrangements like gig and freelance are on the rise.

If you are already struggling with trying to get your head (and your onboarding arrangements) around these kinds of alternative work, we’ve got bad news: according to Intuit, by 2020, nearly 40 percent of all workers in the US will be engaged in some sort of alternative work arrangement. The rest of the world won’t be too far behind.

Pulitzer-winning New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman describes the process as a disconnection.

“Work is being disconnected from jobs, and jobs and work are being disconnected from companies, which are increasingly becoming platforms. A great example of this is what’s happening in the cab business. Traditional local cab companies own cars and have employees who have a job; they drive those cars. But, now they’re competing with Uber, which owns no cars, has no employees, and just provides a platform of work that brings together ride-needers and ride-providers.”

Thomas Friedman (source)

It’s no wonder that remote or gig workers are more and more disengaged with the organizations they work for. This disengagement has a major impact on productivity and profit.

According to Aberdeen, employee engagement is closely tied to real results, like annual company revenue, revenue from customer referrals, attainment of annual quota, and improvements in annual customer service costs.

6 ways to reconnect remote, freelance and gig workers through onboarding

The onboarding process is your biggest opportunity to establish a connection between remote workers and your organization, and to build a rapport that will bridge the physical gap between the new hire and your company.

1) Welcome employees virtually

Onboarding does not have to be physical! Other effective alternatives include setting up video chats, creating 360 degree office tours, sharing updated lists of team members with photos and bios, plus having a strong set of tech tools to facilitate connectivity and collaboration between employees. We have even seen people folding immersive VR into their onboarding experience.

2) Provide essential tools and equipment

Get them up and running straight away by sending them their tech equipment and tools as part of a welcome package. It’s even possible to reduce shipping costs by ordering the equipment they need from their local technology providers.

And it’s not just hardware like laptops and phones. Ensure your new remote hire is ready to go in all guns blazing by ensuring your IT people have set them up with their individual work email account, as well as the required access to cloud-based storage systems and software platforms.

Finally, don’t discount the importance of swag just because they are working remotely. Include in your welcome pack some branded items such as notepads, pens, t-shirts, and even some snacks to delight and excite your new hire.

3) Use technology to build a culture of immediacy, collaboration and camaraderie

Collaborative platforms such as Asana, Dropbox, DocuSign, and Trello, amongst others, will definitely help you get closer to your new employees, while helping them (and you) manage tasks. A good tip is to have prebuilt templates of tasks that need to be completed for remote onboarding, as well as a library of resources that new remote hires can quickly reference, which will help them get up to speed, and working within your work management platform from day one.

In particular, leverage live chat platforms like Slack and video meeting platforms like GoToMeeting or Zoom. These platforms create a sense of immediacy, helping establish open lines so remote employees will feel comfortable about reaching out with any questions they have. If you are using a live chat platform, establish culture-building channels like celebrations or general-life, and make sure to invite the new starter to them.

4) Set clear expectations before day one: pre-boarding

Do you know that Best-in-Class companies are 53% more likely than others to begin their onboarding process before day one? This demonstrates to new hires that the organization cares about engaging and connecting with them.

Nothing is worse than a new remote employee sitting in digital silence, twiddling their thumbs, and unsure of what needs to be done, or when work starts and when it ends.

Help prepare new remote hires for day one so they can hit the ground running. Prior to day one, share important details and documents like role description, working hours, project expectations, company values, etc. Help them build a picture of what exactly they will be doing on their first day: if there are routine or scheduled meetings, share the calendar with them beforehand.

5) Allocate a buddy or mentor

The buddy system is often associated with on-site work, but it’s possible to still use a similar system by leveraging the technology mentioned in (3). The importance of this is to provide the new hire with someone who isn’t their manager who will support and guide them through their first few months with the company. This one-on-one human connection is especially important to stave off any sense of isolation or lack of support that a remote worker would have.

6) Regularly follow up and pulse check

You might be able to drop by an onsite employee’s desk, or invite them to a coffee to follow up, but for remote workers or gig workers, consistent and regular follow up is even more important. Break the digital silence! Reach out, provide feedback, and take on feedback. If need be, set yourself reminders or tasks to follow up with new remote hires and ensure you block out both your and their times for these sessions. Some onboarding technologies can be programmed to automatically create these follow up sessions at key milestones of a new hire’s onboarding process (e.g.: day one, week one, month one).

Pulse checks can also be conducted manually, or automated via onboarding tech. Be creative: pulse checks can be requested via email and executed via a formal survey, or even gathered from chat platforms.

What is your remote employee onboarding process?

When a new gig worker or remote employee starts with your organisation, are they given the same attention and made to feel valued? How are you helping them feel a connection and engagement with your organisation? Are you leveraging the technology at your disposal to close the geographic distance?

According to Aberdeen, 58% of all companies indicate that their biggest influence on onboarding efforts is the need to engage new hires in the company culture, and new employees want to feel integrated as early as possible.

If you want to learn more about how you can create onboarding experiences that engage your remote workers, book a demo with us, and see just how easy (and fun) it can be.