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Remote Onboarding: Setting your employees up for success from anywhere

April 1, 2020

Catered lunch, complimentary gym memberships, engaged peer groups and frequent team happy hours are just several things that come to mind when we think of what defines culture and drives retention at tech companies. But, virtually overnight, employers across the globe have mandated remote work as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19, leaving companies everywhere asking: when we strip all of that away, what is it that really drives employee retention and productivity? If you look at the data, it’s a well-executed onboarding plan.

Companies that implement comprehensive onboarding programs have seen a 50% boost in new hire productivity and employees are 70% more likely to stay for at least three years. Companies that don’t risk losing one-quarter of new hires within the first six months and spend three times the amount of time and money to rectify those losses.

Regardless of whether your company currently conducts formal onboarding, shifting to a fully remote work environment is forcing us all to adapt our processes. A great onboarding process should start when an employee accepts the job and integrate into a long-term learning and development program, even if it’s completely virtual and the good news is, we don’t have to sacrifice quality to make it happen. It just requires getting a little creative.

Create trainings that can be consistently reused and revisited

While there are many aspects of onboarding that require hands-on guidance and interaction, the best way to create structure and consistency across remote experiences is to look at the standard elements that require little human explanation or can be put into easy-to-follow docs and interactive presentations. This ensures everyone starts with a solid baseline of information no matter where or when they join the company. Some of the most effective components include:

· Intro to Company Culture: Effective versions can include company history, values, goals and key partnerships. This is also a great place to include photos, important company events/traditions, bios on the leadership team and important company milestones. Companies like Zappos have created colorful, fun visuals that showcase life at the company.

· Finance 101: Put together materials on what can and can’t be expensed, how to expense things, and how to properly file/tag an expense report.

· Software and IT: A quick series of videos can train new hires on the different software used by the company, as well as how to get virtual IT help. This can be distributed quickly, revisited when necessary and will save your IT team a LOT of time with each onboarding cycle.

· Who’s who: A quick overview on team members and key collaborators, policies and processes, who owns what, and tips/tricks for getting up to speed quickly will help new team members familiarize themselves with how to operate without the need for in-person meetings.

· The first email: HR and IT should connect prior to the new hire’s first day and put together a welcome email that includes the employee handbook, compliance paperwork, detailed instructions on how to log into a work laptop and important software to know.

  • HR software like BambooHR, WorkBright, Lessonly, and Workable can help you put all the necessary documents together and send them over to be reviewed and signed prior to the employee’s first day.

Help guide new hires from “Yes to Desk”

It’s normal for employees to feel nervous before their first day, especially when they don’t have a physical office waiting. Coupled with the general uncertainty we’re all experiencing, communication and reinforcement throughout this period are more important than ever. Spending time to prep prior to the new hire’s first day will make the remote onboarding process run smoothly. Here are a few ways to create and special, personalized remote welcome experience:

· Send a welcome package: Make sure that on Day One, new employees have a package show up at their homes that includes a work laptop and related accessories, company swag, and a gift card to the best local delivery service to order lunch on the first day.

· Introduce them: Ask the new hire to send a short bio before the first day. Use this as an opportunity to remind everyone who is a part of the onboarding process what their expectations are.

· Give them a buddy: Assign your new hire an existing employee and introduce them one week before their start date over Slack, email, or text. Missing out on meeting peers face-to-face can make it more difficult to form relationships with coworkers organically, and matching a new hire with someone lets them ask the “silly” questions or learn about company norms best practices. A formal buddy also gives a second touchpoint beyond a manager and a friendly face to see once the team is back the office.

· Set them up for success: Touch base with the new hire one week prior to the first day, using the time to reiterate the expectations of the role and to dive deeper into company culture. This is also an opportunity to set expectations around when to be online on their first day, explain appropriate attire (even when working from home), describe what the first week schedule will look like, and answer any other questions.

Set clear goals, an onboarding timeline, and regular check-ins

Partnering with the hiring manager to create a structured 90-day experience with clear, defined expectations and goals is essential to successful virtual onboarding. Managers should be encouraged to communicate and communicate again. A new hire’s manager should be prepared to be hands-on and supportive in walking through what the first three months should look like, especially without certainty as to when work will return to a shared physical space.

· Check in every day: Managers should consider scheduling morning and end-of-day video check-ins for an employee’s first two weeks. Expect to be on video in meetings even more frequently, but this cadence can be a good baseline to establish.

· Give homework: Any assignments given over the first week should be walked through over a video chat, as should any preparation required for company/team meetings. Make sure to explain why these assignments are important, what tasks will be repeated and give feedback immediately upon receipt to ensure best practices are integrated from day one.

· Establish an onboarding timeline: Create a 30–60–90 plan with clear timelines and measures of success. A good rule of thumb is for a new hire to become comfortable with tools and able to complete small projects by day 30, to take on recurring responsibilities and complete a big project by day 60, and to work independently with other colleagues or teams and complete a large project by day 90.

· Create a shared communication space: Use a collaborative document or a workforce collaboration tool to set clear priorities and deadlines, to track the status of deliverables, and to share questions in real time. Priorities can be set or reiterated each morning, and status of deliverables can be reviewed daily, whereas holistic check-ins can happen at the end of each week when 90-day plan progress is reviewed. Asana and ProofHub are great workforce collaboration tools to try.

Measure Success

This is a strange time to be onboarding and it’s important to be empathetic to unseen challenges that may arise and find ways to measure the success of the new hire experience. While implementing a remote onboarding process is an important step, the process does not need to be static. Your approach can evolve based on feedback from individual employees, a team, and the learnings of the HR and Talent teams. Measuring the success of onboarding helps a company understand how employees feel, identify key trends that relate to retention, and assess what needs to be adjusted with onboarding and people management in the future.

· Formalize feedback: Create an assessment for new hires to complete at the 30- or 60-day mark. This can be a quantitative survey, or a one-on-one session conducted by the hiring manager or HR department. Regardless of the format, questions should assess employee happiness, understanding of the role, whether they have been given clear expectations and fair feedback from their manager, understanding of company mission/vision, knowledge of org structure and key stakeholders, effectiveness of onboarding, and anything else your organization feels is critical to success.

· Have an open door: In addition to a formal survey, welcome informal feedback during regular catch-up meetings with the hiring manager or HR business partner. Use this time to address any overarching feedback you have for your new hire and get a pulse check on how they are integrating into the culture. Ask the new hire’s buddy to help flag any challenges or questions and direct the new hire to a manager or HR business partner for help.

· Measure retention: Track any recent hire departures, who managed the onboarding experience and who acted as hiring manager. Try to identify any common indicators and trends across attrition, including where a first-time manager may need additional coaching and guidance or where a hiring manager repeatedly receives low feedback scores or has poor new hire retention. Get nitty gritty with the details and adjust the onboarding process to address trends you see.

Don’t forget to have fun!

Taking out the in-person element of an onboarding experience doesn’t have to sacrifice any of the things we love about our workplaces, roles and teams. Encourage people across the organization to schedule virtual coffees or lunches with a new employee. Try to plan a virtual team event once a week to keep everyone connected and get your new team member integrated quickly. Creating structure and collaboration within a period of adaptability sets you, your team and your new hire up for a long and successful working relationship and tees up excitement once teams are able to be in the office together again.

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