Challenges of onboarding remote employees

Although there is lots of talk about returning to offices at present, the reality is that for the majority of us who have been working remotely for recent months that is the way it’s going to stay. It’s also the case that for many new starters, their first experience with a new company will continue to be via remote onboarding. For those recruiting and onboarding new employees, this raises a number of new challenges. 

Why employee onboarding is important 

Getting onboarding right is critical, but not all companies invest enough time into this process. A BCG report showed that onboarding is one of the most influential factors when it comes to employee experience. The report highlighted that companies that have effective onboarding processes in place achieve 2.5 times more revenue growth and 1.9 times the profit margin compared to organisations with poor onboarding strategies. It’s clearly worth investing time to get onboarding right.  

From an employee perspective, onboarding is an opportunity to get used to a new environment. For an employer, it’s a valuable time to share all of the elements that will help new team members be successful as they learn more about their role in the company. 

First impressions for a new employee are important and have a direct impact on their initial level of engagement. Getting across the essence of your company culture when you are remote can be difficult. However, the fact that a new starter is remote for some or all of their time makes it even more important that their onboarding gets across how you work together, the types of things you work on and how your employees build relationships. 

“Organizations using effective onboarding have 33% more employees who feel engaged compared to organizations with ineffective onboarding. ” 

* BambooHR The incredible impact of effective onboarding report

Find out how the employee experience has been impacted in today’s remote-working world and how to build a world-class employee experience model for your organisation in our eBook here.

Let’s look at some of the challenges faced when onboarding employees remotely: 

Challenge 01. Building a collaborative culture 

Setting the way of working from the outset is especially important in a remote or hybrid workplace. You may have a complex suite of digital workplace tools already or be navigating your new needs. However, positioning when to use which tool early on will help onboard your new employee quickly. When people understand why we do things the way we do, they are more likely to play an active part in building our culture.  

Plan in advance to ensure everything is in place on day one is critical. An employee handbook, setting out the landscape and expectations, is a basic item of course, but sharing all of this on day one can be overwhelming. Socialising key elements beforehand can help settle any of the first day nerves and make sure the key elements stick. 

Challenge 02. The best tools for remote working  

Giving your new employees the best user experiences is an objective for all organisations, but it can be missed in the melee of everything else involved with remote onboarding. At the minimum, each employee should have basic kit delivered to them before they start, help on hand to get set up, and logins for all the digital workplace tools they need in their inbox.  

A nice touch is to also advise on desk setup, some best practices or recommendations to get them going. If this is their first time working from home, a gentle nudge in the right direction will make them feel settled.  

If you use Microsoft Teams or Workplace from Facebook, why not set up a channel or group with them and provide all the links they will need in one place. Don’t forget to add them to any teams in collaboration tools that they need to be a part of and make them feel included. 

Challenge 03. Creating a sense of belonging 

Isolation can be an issue with working remotely, and when you don’t have pre-existing relationships with any of the team, your first few weeks can be difficult. Add on top of that, a new role and skills to navigate and it can be a stressful time.  

Creating a buddy system, where each new employee is paired up with an existing member of the team will really help. This can combat those moments of bewilderment and ensure onboarding of team members is more effective. Not being able to swing around and ask the person behind you how to process an expense is a real challenge for working remotely. Having a point of contact, who is not your manager, and who you can ask anything without feeling stupid is valuable.   

Organising video calls to introduce new remote employees to other team members they may not come into direct contact with will provide a platform for communication and build stronger relationships with others in different teams and departments. It also encourages a sense of belonging, which is always important, and especially so when working remotely. 

Challenge 04. Meeting the team 

In the office, you have the opportunity to grab coffee with someone or meet them as you fly by their desk. In a virtual remote world, these interactions need to be more deliberate and facilitated by the company.   

One of the first things we recommend to clients at Future Worx is to ensure any new starter has at least one team meeting in their diary every day, with peers, other new starters, their team or cross-functional groups, even if it’s just for saying hi and listening in. These should be supplemented by individual 1-2-1 getting to know you calls, always with the video on!   

It’s important for new starters to dive straight into the weekly reoccurring meetings like stand-ups and squad calls together, so they get to know the flow of their projects and teams and how work gets done. Of course, these are all done virtually on a digital workplace platform and again always with the video on! 

And finally, to provide the environment for social interactions, it’s vital to get teams together virtually to have a chat and laugh at least once a week. No agenda, other than perhaps a group activity or a chance for someone to share their interests or some insight to their life away from work. 

Challenge 05. The day to day expectations 

Onboarding goes far beyond the first few weeks. When it comes to remote working, your actions need to be more deliberate.   

• Create deliberate training moments, this could be through informal peer-led sessions to upskill people on tools or processes, or make them aware of more formal, facilitated sessions available to them.   
• Set time aside for regular 1-2-1s and check-ins. When a team is remote it is difficult to pick up on the subtle cues, so your check-ins need to be much more deliberate to evaluate team health.  Managers may need reskilling and support with this. 
• Capture things early and communicate directly. When you can’t read the subtleties of being in person you cannot make assumptions.  
• Set boundaries and expectations early on. One of the downsides of working remotely can be ‘always on’ work. Create a mutual charter of what you expect from each other in terms of working hours. 

The best remote employee onboarding experience 

Companies will face their own challenges when onboarding employees in a remote way. However, using the collaborative tools that you have available, embracing them as part of your digital workplace, and having a considered approach centred on the new employees’ experience, will create long term advocates. The best remote onboarding practices should ensure smooth transitions for both the employee and employer, whether you’re a remote-first company or are adopting a new remote hybrid model. 

We delve deeper into the employee experience of a remote-working environment and the challenges employers face today in our eBook, Building a World-Class Employee Experience.

How Future Worx can help  

Future Worx specialises in helping companies completely reinvent the way work gets done in a remote hybrid world. We do this by putting your people at the heart of change to create an open, inclusive culture and future-fit digital workplaces. Get in touch today to discuss with one of our experts how we can help you. 

Check out more of our insights