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How to effectively onboard remote employees

Aug 28, 2020 / Company Culture Leadership Onboarding Remote Work

How to effectively onboard remote employees

In response to Covid-19, many companies have now transitioned to work remotely. For companies who have moved forward with hiring plans, remote onboarding becomes a necessary step in the process that helps get an employee engaged and effective in their role, which impacts performance and retention.

Before you read on, bear in mind that:

  • Onboarding remote employees is different from onboarding co-located employees. There is need for a more intentional effort to create opportunities for connection and learning in remote teams.
  • Onboarding should not be mixed up with orientation. Eg. As a new hire on a software development team, you might join other new hires in the organization for a general orientation (a one-time event),¬† but onboarding to your work team is a process customized to your role and takes time (I’m talking weeks to months).
  • Onboarding should be done in partnership with your HR partner (if you have one) and any other teams that might be involved in your new employee’s role.

Experts suggest that onboarding should encompass the 4Cs: Compliance, Clarification, Culture and Connection. Most companies focus most onboarding efforts on compliance and clarification, which helps new employees understand how to do their jobs and equips them with resources needed. However, culture and connection, while tough to achieve especially in a remote setting, are the keys to the ideal onboarding experience as it unlocks greater engagement and ownership from day one, which brings you greater returns to building high performing  teams in the long run.

Some of you know that I also lead software engineering teams at a Fortune 500 company. Well, something new happened recently. We hired a new engineer and I had a chance to reexamine some of the processes involved in onboarding on my team while bringing on the new hire. It’s been almost 2 months since the hire date today and this new hire is already creating value through his work on the team.

Here are some considerations that worked for me where it comes to building culture and connection from day one, which might be helpful for hiring managers and team leaders out there, with a caveat that you need to have hired the right person to begin with:

  • Develop an onboarding plan specific to the new hire
    • Should encompass what they need to be successful in their specific roles (tech set-up, process/systems documentation, introductions etc)
    • Should consider # of meetings and introductions in the first 2 weeks
    • Should consider your team culture
  • Assign more than 1 mentor on the team
    • Gives your new hire a better understanding of other roles on the team, team norms etc
    • You team shares the load of onboarding
    • Don’t pick someone with no interest in training new staff, this benefits no one
    • Sometimes the least tenured employee might be your best bet as they have the freshest memory of what it’s like being new
  • Schedule regular check-ins, not check-outs with the new hire
    • First chat would be a welcome meeting that 1) highlights why you hired him and 2) establishes an open environment for discussion and feedback both ways
    • Sometimes they might feel overqualified and bored, or they might be getting information overload which makes them feel underprepared and overwhelmed. You want to know either way, so you can find the sweet spot to keep them engaged and moving.
    • I actually told my new employee: “If it’s too much to handle, let me know. It you’re bored, let me know.”. True enough, within the first 2 weeks, he was bored. The difference here was that he reached out for a conversation. From there, he learned more about the work processes, the autonomy that was available to him and I learned more about his preferred work and learning styles which gave us a better chance to align so he can be effective in his role.
  • Give feedback (not specific to onboarding, but important nonetheless)
    • Help new hires see their efforts make a difference
    • Give them opportunities to showcase the work the team accomplished (internally within the team or to other teams). The earlier the better, it creates a sense of belonging and inclusion.
  • Treat mentors like junior managers/leaders
    • Help them see the part they play in the new hire’s progress
    • This is a great way to showcase their leadership skills in the office
    • Schedule regular check-ins and provide guidance and support where needed

Pretty sure this list would keep evolving as we hire more employees and as I get more feedback from my new employee. Meanwhile, I hope sharing my thoughts on remote onboarding would be helpful to you as a fellow leader, remote or not.

P.S.: We have more resources for you if you’re thinking about how to effectively manage your newly remote teams.




Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash



Sarah Kim

Sarah Kim

Co-Founder, CEO

Sarah is an entrepreneur, speaker, leadership coach and avid technologist. She positions herself at the intersection of technology, business, and leadership, which allows her to relate and adapt to real business and organizational needs, particularly as those needs relate to the people working in those organizations.

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