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How to Onboard (Remote Employees)

How to Onboard (Remote Employees)

How to Onboard (Remote Employees)

By Catherine Stewart


Why is this an important competency?

  • Onboarding is one of the more critical moments when you are introducing an employee to the company and the company to that employee to make sure they are set up for success.

  • It is harder in a remote environment to onboard, and we are moving into a world where remote is not just common but often the default, and it's here to stay. 

  • A remote environment complicates onboarding and requires much tighter processes for successful onboarding. 

What's the problem? 

  • Managers struggle to ensure their teams build the right social connections early enough, meet the right people, and learn how things get done in the company.

  • Onboarding typically is where you connect with colleagues, bond with the team, and get a feel for the company & culture → it is now often threatened. 

The goal of onboarding:

  • Goal: Human and tight of a process as possible → make sure employees don't feel lonely and disconnected and drift in the wrong direction.

  • New employees have a lot to learn: who the key players are and how things get done; they may also be new to the industry & tools used. 

  • Managers must ensure they are set up to quickly learn as much as possible. 

How remote is different: 

  • Typically natural interactions don't happen (e.g., shadow, observe, pop over to someone's desk) 

  • Remote onboarding requires more communication and intentionality.

  • Employees can struggle in a few ways, e.g., (1) in knowing who to meet, (2) may not know what is expected of them or how to prioritize their time; they don't know how they are doing b/c there is less non-verbal feedback; (3) more likely to veer off course b/c will take a longer time for their manager to notice 

  • Many employees feel disconnected and lonely → identify if other employees live near them that you can introduce them; consider who might be social/good at slack who can become a buddy at work (e.g., "cultural warriors") 

Tactics to support onboarding:

  • Overcommunication - everything in a single one-stop shop manual (prepare far in advance, ideally once they accept the offer, expect to spend at least a few hours on it) – projects, information, background reading (more detail below)

  • Structural support with the team (e.g., first project paired with someone who has been at the company for a while) → creates incentives for them to help one another. It also generates natural information sharing. 

  • Higher-than-typical velocity of check-ins and 1:1s (e.g., 2-3x/week for the first few weeks) 

  • Shadow calls & meetings (to give guidance and feedback) → sets the stage for the future flow of feedback. 

  • Ensure you understand their needs (e.g., training in Slack or Google docs) → can get support lined up if possible (e.g., training with HR) 

  • Team connection → helpful to have a mix of team calls and 1:1s across the team. Ideally, have work-related reasons that tie the team together. Virtual coffee/beer is not the same as in-person. Good to have some sort of team meetup, even if just a few members. 

Onboarding Document - what to include: 

*Note: As you build your team, you can re-use portions of this document with future hires. It's helpful to invest time upfront. 

  1. Prioritized list of who the new hire should meet with and why (next level here includes scheduling these meetings in advance of Day 1); 

  2. (If possible) list of people who live nearby who they could meet

  3. List of slack groups to join and how to engage with each (e.g., which ones to pay most attention to vs. which ones are more for social/passive monitoring) 

  4. Links to the doc for 1:1s (so they can drop in questions as they come up during onboarding) 

  5. Key reading & context for why it matters (e.g., company OKRs, strategy, board docs, past projects) 

  6. Link to doc describing the first project (including scope, who they will be working with, and what success looks like) 

  7. FAQs: names of people on exec team (or board if applicable for their role); common challenges specific to the company culture and how to handle them (sometimes better for a conversation); date of first performance review, what process will look like and if they'll qualify for a pay increase; the cadence of feedback/PDs (professional development conversations) 

Team integration:

  • Best to have a new team norms conversation each time a new member joins 

  • Team norms doc: can include things like preferred methods of communication, working hours, personality type (e.g., Myers Briggs or Enneagram) 

  • Can share as a manager what is essential to you (e.g., ideal advanced notice for a planned vacation, expectations around working hours/facetime) 

Final words of wisdom:

  • As a manager, it's important to think about how you can give your employees what they need to succeed (e.g., quick wins, visibility, coverage)  

💬 Discussion Questions:

  1. Think back to a time when you started a job

    • How did you feel in the days leading up to your first day? Did you have contact with your manager or the company? How did the contact (or lack thereof) make you feel? 

    • In the first few days after starting, what did your manager do that helped you feel more comfortable? Inspired? 

    • What do you wish you had received that you didn’t? 

    • When did you feel fully “onboarded” or “ramped”? Looking back, is there anything your manager could have done to help you ramp & integrate faster? 

  2. When onboarding a new hire, what should be the goal(s)? How do you know if you have succeeded? 

  1. What can you do to make onboarding a more scalable and easy-to-replicate process? How can you leverage resources that already exist? Is there anything you can share from your onboarding process with other managers? 

  2. Will you have any new hires starting in the next six months? If so, what is your plan to onboard them?

✏️ Did we miss something? Any other tips or tricks you’d like to share? Leave a comment below.

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