In the United States, an estimated 3.7 million people work remotely, and this demographic is projected to include 50 percent of the entire American workforce by 2020, according to Business Insider.
Given this major shift in the way people work, it may be time to look at the way you do business, especially in relation to employee communications and engagement. This starts with the first interaction an employee has with your business: the onboarding experience.
It’s not always efficient or as effective to onboard remote workers using the same process that you do with in-house employees. While you don’t need to do a complete overhaul, you may need to make a few small changes.
Onboarding is a new employee’s first chance to see how you operate and what you have to offer. Use these strategies to make sure the experience matches the culture you’ve created.
Prioritize Face-to-Face Time
Since most of your interactions with remote employees are going to be via email or chat, prioritize face-to-face time with video calls during onboarding. This shows that you’re a company who wants to keep remote employees as involved as possible, despite the nontraditional work setting.
It also makes you more available to new employees who will inevitably have a lot of questions—and likely don’t want to email their manager multiple times throughout the day to ask. Authentic Form and Function, a company that hires remote employees, uses video a lot during the initial onboarding process. They explain why:
“Even though onboarding usually takes ~3 months in total, we’ll generally spend a couple of days with each new hire right away on various video chats to walk each person through the daily processes, their role, and how that flow begins to play out each week. While it would be easy to hand out tasks, we’ve found it paramount to spend that extra time ‘hand holding’ as a new team member gets off the ground. We want to be available and present to answer any questions as that process evolves.”
Improve remote onboarding: Build video calls into your new process wherever you can, especially in the first few weeks, when they’ll have the most questions. This will take more time, but it also ensures your new employee is set up for success.
Define Expectations on the Frontend
One of the main causes of employee disengagement is a lack of definitive expectations, according to Susan Heathfield, co-owner of TechSmith Corporation. For remote employees, with less immediate access to managers and co-workers, expectations allow them to do their best work. Cord Himelstein, of HALO Recognition, suggests using the following to set expectations:
Set remote office hours and email deadlines. Himelstein explains: “Don’t be afraid to set email deadlines and ask them to stay aligned with actual office hours. You’d be surprised at how simple a conversation this is as long as you bring it up beforehand.”
Design an accountability structure. This may include details on what is expected from a production standpoint, daily, weekly and monthly. Also, using the onboarding period to answer questions like, how will we measure success?
Schedule weekly check-ins. Use this time to ask the four questions Himelstein uses:
- What are you working on?
- Are you facing any challenges?
- How can I help?
- How is everything else?
Improve remote onboarding: Create a standard set of expectations that can be used, or modified as necessary, for all remote employees. When you set working hours and email expectations, for example, your in-house employees can do their job better as well.
Make Time for Team Connections
With a staff of people working in different locations, sometimes all around the country, it can be tough to build a sense of community and camaraderie amongst the team. During the onboarding process, which can be stressful and challenging, this is especially important.
Rather than leaving them to acclimate independently, make a point of familiarizing them with the current members of your team. One effective introduction method is to organize a “coffee call” roundup with the entire staff, both existing and onboarding. Remote.com, an online network of telecommuters, describes this as a “video call where you aren’t allowed to talk business. Instead, the conversation has to remain social” and might “include anything from family to travel to hobbies.”
Improve remote onboarding: Use these team meetings as a chance for employees to get to know one another, both personally and professionally. Understanding someone’s personality makes it easier to work together, especially from a distance.
Bring Your Collaborative Culture Into the Process
Bring collaboration, which is likely already critical to your company culture, into the onboarding process. “More and more companies depend on instant team collaboration technology to reduce the induction period and speed up integration for newcomers. Personally, I think the transfer of company knowledge is the biggest gain,” notes Elena Carstoiu, co-founder of Hubgets, a virtual interfacing platform.
She continues, “New employees can learn the ropes of their new job faster because the technology provides them with instant access to work information, while helping them bond with the team. For companies, this means a minimized induction effort and a faster, cost-effective onboarding process.”
You have access to a variety of collaborative tools to make this possible, like online chat software and project management tools. Don’t forget about resources like Google Drive, where you can store all documents the new employees may need to access.
Improve remote onboarding: If possible, keep the new employee on a video call near their team so they can ask for help at any time of day, just like any other employee.
Improve Your Remote Onboarding
Remote employees are beneficial to your business in many ways. Bringing them onto your team may require some modifications to your onboarding process, however. Use these strategies to make changes where needed and ensure your new, excited employees are set up for success from day one.
BIO: Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years and is currently a full-time writer and business owner. She’s worked from home for more than 4 years and has hired and managed a number of remote contractors in that time. Her work has been featured in Forbes and Business Insider and she’s written for Glassdoor, Salesforce and more. Follow her on Twitter @JThiefels and connect LinkedIn.