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How to Create a Remote First Onboarding?

Updated on September 28, 2023By
Remote onboarding

An intentional remote onboarding experience is critical to the success of any remote-first company or team.

Onboarding introduces a new team member to your company, culture, and coworkers. The objectives of an onboarding experience, whether remotely or in person, should be to provide your new employee with:

  1. A clear understanding of their responsibilities/objectives and the tools (people/processes) available to help them execute.
  2. A foundational connection to their teammates.

Anyone who has worked for a co-located company will be familiar with the ‘first day of work’ experience of signing paperwork, HR trainings, and IT setup. In the first week, new employees may be introduced to their responsibilities through a combination of trainings, meetings, and ‘desksides’ (watching someone complete the tasks you will be responsible for going forward).

Many co-located companies take a relaxed approach to onboarding, relying on their ‘friendly team-oriented culture.’ Individual managers are often left to fill in any gaps by being available for questions.

Co-located companies can arguably afford to be more informal about onboarding as employees can observe the physical goings on in the office, easily ask questions/get feedback, and immediately adjust. Conversely, those doing the onboarding can observe the new employee’s body language and reactions to confirm their understanding of new materials.

In a survey of remote companies conducted by, a representative from Bitovi noted, “day one looks quite different being remote vs. being in person.”

Remote companies need to take a more structured approach to onboarding because they cannot rely on friendly coworkers to invite the new team member out to drinks or be synchronously available to answer questions. To minimize attrition rates and maximize employee productivity and satisfaction, companies striving to be remote-first should approach onboarding equipped with intention and clear documentation.

Your employee onboarding experience should be designed before you hit “post” on the job description. If you’ve made the decision to hire for a role, you should have an idea of the tasks, responsibilities, or functions that you’re hoping to transition to your new employee. Take the time to figure out the existing pain points, nuances, and communication channels with your current team members before your new employee arrives. This preparation will benefit both your new employee AND your existing team members by aligning expectations.

At early-stage startups, roles and processes are ever-changing. A new employee may be expected to ‘build out’ a function or a team as part of their job description. Even in this situation, establishing a foundation for new employees to build from enables growth and the ability to take on additional responsibility quickly.


A key element of remote onboarding success is documentation.

As Andreas Klinger (Product Hunt) writes in his Crash Course to Managing Remote Teams: “Remote teams need 5x the process. You need to systemize communication and expectations.”

Remote-first companies make onboarding seamless by developing detailed documentation regarding process, turnaround times, roles, and expectations. Providing your new employee with documentation around the details of their role will allow them to get up to speed more quickly, helping them feel integrated with the team and making them a useful asset to your company more quickly.

Documentation, in this context, is anything that can be communicated asynchronously, from infographics to SOPs to a series of instructional GIFs. While developing and maintaining documentation isn’t a glamorous undertaking, this undertaking saves time and frustration by concretizing the responsibilities, systems, and order of tasks for your role or organization. Outside of onboarding, there’s tremendous organizational value in having clean, updated documentation for re-training, outsourcing, nonprofit fundraising campaign, etc.

The amount of asynchronous communication, written or verbal, is usually much higher with remote teams. Making key information easy to access and reliably accurate will help your team members build the instinct to answer their own questions by referring to documentation before reaching out to any team members. For questions that require outreach, train your employees how to effectively communicate in a standard format (guidelines for which should also be documented) to reduce the need for meetings.

There are few things more frustrating than not having the proper tools or access to complete your job responsibilities. The products and tools that exist to support remote teams grow every year in quality and quantity. A smooth technical onboarding demonstrates to the new employee that you value them and support them in their role.

Technical onboarding should be thought through to a level of detail of a restaurant serving customers: how will this person have the best possible experience, not only acceptable but such that they write a review on TripAdvisor and tell all of their friends.

Consider the options available for each detail of the onboarding process. Is it best to ship a laptop or let employees buy their own? How will programs and licenses be loaded? What are the expense guidelines? What security precautions need to be applied?

Make it explicitly clear which steps in this technical onboarding are the responsibility of the employee vs. that of others in your company and in what order/on what timeline you expect them to be completed. Consider adding an FAQ section to a company wiki that can be updated and contributed to as new employees are brought onboard.


Creating a space for and fostering ‘team bonding’ during onboarding is arguably both the most difficult to achieve and the most impactful for employee retention.

During onboarding, it is important that remote employees meet all team members with whom they will predictably interact over the video-conferencing service of their choice. Opening the door for communication and collaboration will translate into more efficient day-to-day operations and help the new employee feel comfortable and confident reaching out with questions. Proactively schedule 1:1s with the employee’s manager and team members but also with the person approving their expense report and the person to whom they’ll hand off deliverables.

You also want your new employee to gain an understanding of the company’s culture through onboarding and virtual team-building activities. Is it encouraged to reply to an email with a GIF? If you receive a Slack at 9 pm, are you expected to respond that night?

A lot of cultures is understood through social cues and turning to your neighbor’s desk to ask them a question that you wouldn’t feel comfortable putting in writing.

While preparing your onboarding, keep in mind that you may be introducing new employees to the idea and practice of working remotely in general. Balance the cookie-cutter processes and procedures against the background of the individual joining your company — make it personal.

As Remo CEO Ho Yin Cheung and Jeff Robbins discuss on an episode of the podcast Yonder, one strategy for building this culture is by ‘making the formal informal.’ This might mean building a mandatory 5 minutes of ‘small talk’ into all calls to recreate the experience of a co-located office environment. Give employees discussion forums to talk about the typical office banter (sports, news, Game of Thrones).

For inspiration on social integration during onboarding and beyond look at remote work leaders who are writing about it like ZapierBasecamp, and Buffer.

Onboarding is one of a number of areas that remote-first companies need to approach differently than co-located companies. To build a remote-first onboarding experience, start with traditional, co-located best practices and identify the gaps, challenges, and opportunities presented by having a remote team.

Develop creative methods of filling those gaps to transform onboarding from a potential pain point into a differentiator for your remote-first company. A well-designed onboarding experience will have a significant experience on your bottom line by reducing attrition rates and maximizing employee productivity.

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