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Remote Onboarding – best practices to retain and engage team members

Remote onboarding may be the new norm, but conveying all of what you used to do in-person through a screen can still be challenging. At Charlie, we’ve been hybrid working since 2020, and that’s why we’d like to share how we do remote onboarding and what we learned from it.

What is remote onboarding for new employees?

Remote onboarding is when new workers start their role from another location than the office – onboarding is a process used within their first weeks to get them familiar with their job, the company’s policies and ways of working so they’re off to a great start. All of it is done online and through video or phone calls.

The concept has become increasingly popular in the last few years, and it’s essential to make sure your remote employees can efficiently and easily settle into their roles.

Many companies now choose to either have no office at all or an office that team members can use at their leisure, making a great remote onboarding process essential.

In a few words, here’s what remote onboarding entails for new starters:

  • Getting the right equipment and tools to set them up for success
  • Completing paperwork and signing contracts online and on time
  • Having a clear understanding of what business output is expected of them despite not being in the office
  • Feeling part of the team by sharing the same company values and creating connections
  • Successfully passing probation at the end of the onboarding process

And if you want to find out more about onboarding, check out our best onboarding practices guide.

Why is remote onboarding crucial for your small business or startup?

Remote onboarding (and onboarding itself) is one of the most crucial aspects of your employer's strategy for retention and for attracting new hires. That’s why you should carefully craft your remote onboarding process and review it regularly as your company grows.

At Charlie, we’ve refined every onboarding step of our remote onboarding process over and over, gathering feedback from new starters as well as leavers to build a truly effective experience.

But first, let’s see why remote onboarding matters and what we learned about its importance:

  • It makes team members feel valued and confident they’ve made the right decision by choosing to work for your company
  • It sparks engagement by getting your team inspired by the work they do, why they do it and who they do it with
  • It optimises productivity and performance with clear expectations to progress and tackle challenges when they arise

7 best practices for a flawless remote onboarding process

Prepare well in advance of your new hire’s start date

Doing everything at the last minute will only set you up for failure, and that’s why you should ensure you have everything set up at least two weeks in advance to remotely onboard your new hire.

The first task you should complete is getting their employment contract signed. That should be done soon after they’ve accepted the offer (no more than two days, or they’ll start wondering what has happened).

Once that first step is done, you should think about preparing a checklist for each person involved in the remote onboarding process:

  • The line manager
  • The operations team
  • Any other relevant employee

If you need a checklist, perhaps you can have a look and download ours here. Otherwise, you can also use an onboarding software or HR software to create them: tag the relevant people in it and send automatic reminders to remove some of your workloads.

Checklists in CharliehR for remote onboarding

You can also create different onboarding checklist templates and re-use them as you please every time a new team member joins the company, making it easy to scale the process.

Once your checklist is done, go through each element and make sure they’re relevant to the new hire. It might need some tweaking depending on which role you hired for, but some of the tasks will pretty much always be the same as below:

  • Order laptop and equipment to their house to make sure it arrives on time (perhaps get in touch with them to double check if they need other equipment)
  • Create a company email address, logins and access to any software or platform they need to use
  • Write a welcome email and send it to their inbox along with all the relevant communication

This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget things when you’re not working face-to-face, so keep to your checklist and you won’t have any surprises on their first day.

Onboard remote employees by giving them a proper welcome

Since your new hire is not sitting right next to you, it’ll be harder to connect with them. You won’t get the opportunity to go for lunch or have coffee, so you’ll have to think of alternatives.

It’s not because they’re starting online that you’re going to ignore them, so first things first, book a video-call welcome chat in their calendar first thing in the morning (perhaps give them a nudge so they know it’s coming).

In the welcome chat, feel free to tell them to get a coffee and expense it, and perhaps start giving them some context:

  • Talk to them about the welcome emails you sent and ask them to do their reading
  • Ask whether they got access to the platforms and if they’re experiencing any problems logging in
  • Make sure they have access to Slack first thing so they can communicate with everyone
  • Point them towards the onboarding checklist template you created so they can work through it
  • Explain what every meeting you’ve invited them to is about
  • Leave room for any questions they might have and tell them you’ll check again with them by the end of the day

Once that’s done, invite them to any company-wide meetings you have. At Charlie, for example, we like to have short huddle meetings three times a week so we don’t become complete strangers to one another.

Introduce new remote employees to the team

Once you’ve made sure their tools are up and running, encourage them to post a message on a Slack channel (or send an email) so the rest of the team knows who they are. You’ll, of course, make sure you introduce them during one of the company-wide meetings so everyone has a chance to say hello.

That’s also why you should think about putting together a buddy program – assign a team member to look after your new hire.

The buddy’s role will be simple:

  • Regularly checking in with the new hire during a casual chat
  • Answer any questions that are not directly related to their day-to-day work
  • Be their point of reference and introduce them to other members of the team

It’ll create a warm environment for the new hire and allow them to rely on a familiar face before making their own connections.

Finally, and because getting to know everyone remotely can feel a bit daunting, redirect them to your HR software’s directory – this will be a good way to put a name on every face and understand who does what for more context.

Software directory for remote onboarding

Ensure line managers put together a thorough onboarding plan

Line managers will be the first point of contact for the new hire, and that’s why they should be organised when it comes to welcoming them.

However, it can be difficult for some managers to create an onboarding plan whilst having a heavy workload, especially if they’ve never done it before. That’s where you should chip in for support.

Perhaps create some guidance around what will be useful and what seems like a reasonable plan for the first few weeks of the new hire, and review it with the line manager if necessary,

Here are a few guidelines I usually share with them:

  • Book one-on-ones regularly, especially in the first month. For example, one every day for the first week and twice per week in the following
  • Talk the new hire through their role description so they’re familiar with it and you make sure there’s no confusion as to what’s expected of them
  • Slowly introduce KPIs and company objectives so they can later participate
  • Complete a “manual of me, share it with new hires and ask them to complete one so you can both productively work better together even if remotely
  • Get them involved in day-to-day work, ask them to shadow team members and put them in charge of small projects
  • Have a clear onboarding program so they understand the different touchpoints of the process
  • Give expectations and feedback when it comes to probation and address issues straight away – a new hire should always know whether they’re doing well or if they need to adjust their performance

Maybe you can even schedule extra meetings with line managers through the probation period to talk them through any doubts they’re having and ensure it’s going well.

Make new hires feel part of the company from day one

Fostering connections is never easy in a remote world of work, so perhaps you want to put in some extra effort when it comes to making your team members feel like they belong.

Think about it: it might be the first remote job they’ve ever had, and they’re not sure how to approach team members outside of an office setting.

Apart from the buddy they were assigned, other team members should make an effort to book a coffee and get to know the new hire. New hires will feel comfortable and will be more likely to contribute to making your business a warm and welcoming environment.

You might also create moments of connection yourself: think about social events, outside of work where team members share their own interests: book club, darts, climbing, etc. Let new hires know they can join at any time.

Of course, if everybody is working remotely and from different locations, that can be tougher to solve, so if you’re a small business and can’t afford an away weekend or conference yet, maybe you can organise online events such as pub quizzes or cocktail-making classes for example.

Promote autonomy and optimise performance in the long run

You can share all the written documentation you have, but it won’t always do the trick and you’ll need more than this to retain and engage your new hires.

One thing I’d encourage you to do is to always keep your finger on the pulse and ask them for feedback at different times to understand more about their onboarding experience.

Another aspect you might want to think about is to avoid giving the impression you’re micro-managing them – most people choose remote jobs because they like the sense of autonomy it gives, so give them plenty of space and let them take it at their own pace.

Here’s how you can concretely do this:

  • Investing in the right tools to collect information, store documents and process onboarding swiftly
  • Giving new hires access to one platform where they can look for information by themselves without having to ask for help (think HR policies, processes and information about the company)
  • Schedule regular check-ins where they’ll get the opportunity to speak to you without your presence becoming overbearing

Get a 14 day free trial with CharlieHR and do your remote onboarding

Once that’s done, you’re guaranteed to hire team members that trust your company and want to take that discretionary effort towards the work they’re doing – remember that you can also apply these remote processes to your offboarding process.

Of course, this won't be necessary if you've first made sure your new hires have a great onboarding experience, so perhaps take inspiration from some of the best onboarding experiences out there.

Further reading about onboarding is to be found in our complete guide to understand what is onboarding from A to Z.