April 21, 2023

How to Successfully Onboard Remote Employees

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Tags: HR

Key takeaways:

  • Onboarding remote employees can pose challenges around disjointed communication, training deficiencies, and technical difficulties. 
  • Companies that follow remote onboarding best practices, like preboarding programs, onboarding buddies, and flexible training options, can provide a good first impression of the company and increase the chances of new hire retention.

Apr. 24, 2024: Jessica Dennis added buttons to visit the websites of ClearCompany, TalentLMS, BambooHR, and Sage People. She also added relevant screenshots to demonstrate the product capabilities of BambooHR and Sage People.

Consider the following: 

As a result, more and more companies have to change their onboarding practices to accommodate their increasingly remote workforces. However, traditional onboarding practices do not translate to the remote experience, as they rely heavily on in-person conversations and training.

To prevent this, companies must craft an onboarding program that targets the particular challenges remote workers face. In doing so, companies illustrate their commitment to making their remote employees feel safe and welcomed while setting them up for success.

Check out our Onboarding Software and HR Software guides for solutions to help streamline your onboarding processes.

Challenges of onboarding remote employees

Companies can expect three main challenges when onboarding remote employees: limited social interaction, reliance on individual learning, and technical difficulties. Failing to plan for these challenges results in poor employee onboarding experiences and jeopardizes new hire retention metrics.

Also read: The Future of Remote Work

Limited social interaction

Remote onboarding can feel siloed or rushed, with sporadic meetings, disjointed time zones, and various asynchronous communication methods to juggle. This can dishearten new employees, especially those from traditional in-person workplaces.

In addition, heavy reliance on technology for communication can result in miscommunication or misunderstandings, as employees don’t have the opportunities to gauge company culture from meet-and-greets, office tours, or department lunches from in-person orientation and onboarding events. 

Reliance on individual learning

Businesses expect new remote employees to learn to complete their work tasks through video training, process documents, or virtual meetings with managers and peers. As a result, remote employees lack the hands-on, one-on-one learning that in-person employees receive.

Requiring employees to learn the work of their new positions independently does not accommodate everyone’s learning styles. In fact, it could make remote employees nervous about making mistakes when they don’t have a controlled environment to practice with peers or managers first.

Technical difficulties

New remote employees act as their own IT department. Even if employers provide their remote employees with thorough instructions on setting up their new work equipment, difficult setups can frustrate employees and inhibit time-to-productivity metrics.

Moreover, learning new systems or troubleshooting problems adds a layer of challenges. While onsite employees can consult co-workers for technology help in real time, remote employees must communicate their technical questions or difficulties over the internet. This can cause delays and downtime that slow the pace of onboarding for new remote staff. 

How to onboard remote employees: best practices for success

By integrating the following strategies into virtual onboarding processes, companies can ensure their remote new hires receive the information necessary to succeed without overwhelming them:

  1. Develop a preboarding program
  2. Assign an onboarding buddy
  3. Set realistic goals and expectations
  4. Provide flexible training options
  5. Create informal social opportunities

1. Develop a preboarding program

Preboarding refers to the period between an employee’s acceptance of a job offer and their first day on the job. Companies can use this time to start integrating new employees into the organization, even if they have yet to perform any work for the company.

Preboarding programs help companies complete necessary new hire administrative tasks ahead of time while reducing the anxiety of the new employee before their first day.

Examples of preboarding tasks:

  • Gather new hire paperwork from employees, including I-9s, W-4s, company handbook acknowledgments, and direct deposit information.
  • Provide new employees with informational material on company benefits, perks, and culture.
  • Issue new employees their first day or week onboarding schedules and expectations.
  • Prepare and send company equipment to new hires, including laptops, monitors, cell phones, and any remote working software, ahead of time.
  • Introduce IT or HR staff so new hires know who to contact for support.
  • Welcome the new hire with company swag or personalized messages from team members and executives.

To help with the preboarding experience, companies can leverage the features in their HR software. For example, ClearCompany’s virtual onboarding program automatically sends new hires onboarding packets and information on their new team member after accepting their job offers.

Screenshot of ClearCompany's onboarding portal.
New hires can learn about their new teams, complete onboarding packets, and learn about the company, all from one place with ClearCompany’s virtual onboarding feature. Source: ClearCompany

2. Assign an onboarding buddy

Onboarding buddies are current employees assigned to remote new hires as mentors or guides during onboarding. Onboarding buddies should enjoy helping new employees get acquainted with the less formal side of the team, such as cluing new hires in on unique traditions, communication tool channels to join, or company events.

So there is less stress to impress, onboarding buddies should be someone other than the new employee’s direct manager. Instead, they should be a peer or manager from another department who can provide the new employee a safe space to ask questions and share struggles during onboarding.

Ideally, onboarding buddies should introduce themselves as the new hire’s go-to person before their first day and schedule regular follow-ups to check in. Initiating an onboarding buddy program is a great way to ease the transition for new hires into their new role and provide coaching and mentorship experience for the onboarding buddy.

3. Set realistic goals and expectations

Companies should be thoughtful about the expectations for their remote employees and provide them with plenty of time to make mistakes and grow. It is unrealistic to expect them to be fully trained in the role within a few weeks, let alone one day.

Instead, HR teams and direct managers should avoid providing too much information at once and carefully craft realistic onboarding key performance indicators (KPIs). Involving the new hire in creating these goals can also give them a sense of agency while ensuring their learning is happening at a pace that works well for them.

Examples of reasonable onboarding goals range from training video completion deadlines to healthy work-life balance safeguards. As long as new hires understand their expectations, they are less likely to feel directionless and more likely to acclimate to their new roles sooner.

4. Provide flexible training options

With the loss of traditional, in-person training, companies should provide multiple ways to train their remote employees to accommodate various learning styles. Managers should be intentional about the training they schedule for their new hires, starting with a watch-and-learn session and then additional sessions for the new employees to demonstrate their knowledge in a controlled environment, free for them to make mistakes and learn from them.

Managers should also double up on one-on-ones with their direct reports for the first few weeks as they adjust. Sporadic check-ins, or leaving it up to new hires to reach out for concerns, not only leaves employers in the dark about their new hire’s progress but can also make employees feel uncomfortable reaching out for help.

Additionally, including gamified elements in virtual onboarding programs can make training more engaging and fun for new hires. Many learning management systems (LMS) let businesses customize their gamified learning modules to help new hires get familiar with company culture, core values, benefits packages, health and safety, and other essential onboarding lessons.

For example, TalentLMS includes points, levels, badges, and leaderboards to keep employees motivated and focused on learning. It even integrates with HR software like BambooHR and Sage People to streamline the new hire’s onboarding experience.

5. Create informal social opportunities

It’s hard for companies to replicate the social interactions that are common in person, including the informal opportunities onsite employees have to learn about their employees around water coolers, break rooms, or hallways.

In fact, over 67% of Millennial and Gen Z workers indicated they’ve found it harder to make friends and maintain relationships with coworkers since working from home, according to a 2021 Kadence survey.

Employers, more than ever, must facilitate these meaningful interactions to prevent feelings of loneliness and disengagement in their workforces, especially for their new employees. People managers, for example, can formally create informal activities by putting meetings on the schedule specifically for team-building exercises or laid-back chat sessions.

Teams should also intentionally introduce new team members to colleagues with similar interests, employee resource groups, or fun channels on the company communication tool or HR software. Doing so provides opportunities for new hires to build relationships with folks outside their direct team while fostering a strong, supportive remote working culture.

Effective remote onboarding promotes employee retention

Onboarding is the employee’s first impression of the company. A well-developed virtual onboarding program can set up new employees for success and assure them that they made the right choice in the company and position. Conversely, a bad virtual onboarding experience can push employees away, damage the company’s reputation, and reduce productivity.

However, companies that take the time to live their core values and demonstrate empathy and excitement for their remote new hires through their onboarding process can ensure they retain their new talent and have them contribute to the company for years to come.

If you’re unsure where to start with your remote onboarding program, take a look at our Onboarding Software and HR Software guides for solutions to help.


Jessica Dennis Avatar

About the author


Featured Partners: Onboarding Software

1 Deel

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Onboard in 150 countries, and eliminate hiring hiccups. With Deel, just find your ideal candidate and start scaling your international team. We localize every last detail to keep everything compliant—from minimum wage, to country-specific documentation requests. And onboarding is a snap—under 5 minutes for contractors and employees. Got questions during onboarding? No problem. Your dedicated onboarding manager will answer every question to ensure a smooth process every step of the way.

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2 ClearCompany

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Streamline onboarding and ensure all new hire setup tasks are completed in advance so new employees can hit the ground running on day one. ClearCompany Onboarding enables your company to welcome and impress new team members while simplifying the onboarding process and adding new hires to payroll in seconds. Engage your new hires with a user-friendly onboarding experience while proactively managing compliance, risk, and background checks.

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3 BambooHR

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BambooHR is an award-winning HR platform that helps your growing organizations automate, centralize, and connect your people data all in one place. It gives you a one stop shop to manage data, hire talent, run payroll, and help employees grow.

Learn more about BambooHR

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