There’s a night and day difference between onboarding a remote employee and onboarding an in-person employee.
Since in-person new hires establish rapport with staff and coworkers face-to-face, the learning curve is shorter. When they have questions about paperwork or policies, they simply walk over and ask a coworker or manager.
But remote new hires have to deal with time zone differences, communication barriers, and feeling disconnected from company culture.
That’s where a remote employee onboarding process comes into play.
Having a step-by-step process is essential to having a smooth onboarding experience and improving employee retention.
But before we go over the steps you’ll need to onboard remote employees, let’s look at the difference between onboarding and orientation. We’ll also review some challenges of remote employee onboarding and what you’ll need to prepare before you can start.
What’s the difference between onboarding and orientation?
While some organizations use onboarding and orientation interchangeably, the two are actually different.
A job orientation is a new hire welcome event that gives new hires important information about their workspace, equipment, training dates, and points of contact. It’s also an opportunity for new hires to learn about the company’s culture, mission, and future goals.
Onboarding refers to the entire process of bringing on a new employee, starting from the job offer letter and going through orientation and training.
Onboarding processes may be simpler or more complex, depending on the job role. For instance, some processes may include an offer letter, an orientation day, and one week of training. Others may include an offer letter, three days of orientation, six weeks of training, and one month of mentorship.
Challenges of remote employee onboarding
Remote employee onboarding is an entirely different ballgame than in-person onboarding.
From completing virtual paperwork to meeting coworkers through a chat app, remote onboarding comes with more challenges and kinks to iron out.
Here are some challenges to look out for when creating your onboarding process:
- New hire paperwork can get lost in the shuffle, be confusing to fill out, or lack completed fields.
- If new hires live in different time zones, it can be difficult to communicate or complete onboarding tasks on a strict timeline.
- It can be difficult to convey company culture, tone, and morale in a non-traditional setting.
- Training new hires on company policies, procedures, and processes is a challenge if you don’t have fool-proof learning management systems.
How to prepare for remote employee onboarding
You can’t have a smooth onboarding experience if you don’t have a plan and a process before hiring new employees. Not only does this prevent confusion and save time, but it also helps make sure your process is legal, and no important documents slip through the cracks.
Here’s how to prepare a remote employee onboarding process:
Step 1: Organize resources
The first step to preparing your onboarding process is organizing all of the resources and remote work policy you’ll need to onboard an employee.
This includes staff onboarding video resources, technology, policies, employee training tools, computer-based training tools, and anything else you might need.
Here’s a list of questions that will help you organize your resources:
- What staff are you going to use?
- Are you going to use an HR management company?
- Are you going to assign an account manager to the new hire?
- Are you going to use a recruitment software to streamline your hiring process?
- Who’s going to train the new hire?
- Are you going to start a mentorship program? If so, who’s going to mentor?
- What technology and apps do you need?
- What digital workspace will the new hire use?
- What digital apps does the new hire need?
- What home office equipment does the new hire need?
- Are you going to provide home office equipment? If so, what types of equipment and how much will you pay for it?
- What kind of equipment and Wi-Fi connection does the new hire need?
- What’s your communication plan?
- Who’s the new hire’s main point of contact?
- Which team members can the new hire reach out to with questions?
- What communication tools or apps will the new hire use?
- Will you give the new hire a list of company names, roles, and contact information?
- What employee expectations do you have?
- What kind of workload do you expect the new hire to have?
- What hours are they going to work?
- What will their schedule be like?
- Do you expect the new hire to clock in?
- Do you expect the new hire to track or log their work hours?
- What deliverables will the new hire be responsible for?
- What milestone tasks do you expect the new hire to complete? (i.e., design a new logo by week two and design a new website by week five)
- What are your policies and procedures?
- What’s your time off policy for sick days and vacation time?
- What’s your policy on due dates for assignments and project work?
- What are your company rules?
- Do you have or will you make an employee handbook?
- Do you have any well-being resources?
- What paperwork will the new hire need to sign?
- What law firm will you use to make sure all new hire docs are legal and correct?
- What’s your training plan?
- How are you going to conduct training?
- Who’s going to lead training initiatives?
- What tools do you need to conduct training? Are you going to use a training platform?
- How long is training?
- What topics will you cover?
- Can a new hire fail their training? How so?
Step 2: Plan the process from start to finish
The second step is planning the onboarding process from the job offer to document signing, orientation, and beyond. Don’t worry; we’ll show you an example in a bit.
You’ll also need to implement a workforce planning solution and prepare a checklist that includes all onboarding steps from start to finish. This will help you check off items one by one as you go through the onboarding process.
Here’s an example of an onboarding checklist:
- Introduce new hire to their workspace and points of contact
- Establish employee expectations
- Make sure new hire has access to fast Wi-Fi and proper equipment
- Help new hire download additional work apps and extensions
- Manage new hire paperwork
- Schedule orientation and training
- Ensure new hire orientation and training is complete
- Make sure new hire understands all policies and procedures
- Make sure new hire understands who to contact for what
- Plan new hire’s milestone tasks
- Check-in with a video call
In the next section, we’ll break down the onboarding process we recommend step-by-step.
7 steps to onboard remote employees
Here’s the seven-step onboarding process we recommend:
1. Present the job offer
The first step of every onboarding process is presenting the job offer for the candidate. To streamline the process, consider hiring an HR management company or dedicated hiring manager to do it for you.
Inside the offer, you should have the candidate’s:
- Salary and payroll structure (i.e., direct deposit hits every two weeks on Fridays)
- Role description, job expectations, and direct responsibilities
- Work schedule and first assignments (if any)
- Start date plus terms
- Home office requirements
If the job offer details are too in-depth to discuss over email, set up a video call to discuss them.
If the candidate accepts the position, encourage them to ask questions so you can clear up any details and get on the same page.
2. Manage paperwork
Whether it’s a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), work contract, W9, or 1099, make sure an attorney vets all paperwork before you start onboarding.
After the candidate accepts the position, managing their paperwork is the next step.
You can easily create document templates and collect digital signatures with electronic signature software to authenticate all contracts with your new hires.
If possible, try to complete all necessary employee paperwork during this step. This way, all required documents will be completed and accounted for before orientation and training start.
3. Send a welcome email
Once all paperwork is submitted, send the new hire an official welcome email.
In the welcome email, briefly confirm their job role but keep the main focus on celebrating their new position with your team. You’ll also need to mention their upcoming orientation and training schedule.
For instance, you could say:
Welcome to the team!
We’re so excited to have you on our creative team as a Graphic Designer.
Here are a few details you’ll need to know about the upcoming weeks:
- New hire orientation is this Thursday from 9 am to 12 pm (Zoom link here)
- Meet the team coffee chat is this Friday at 11 am (Zoom link here)
- Training starts next week on Monday and ends on July 25th. Training starts at 10 am and ends at 2 pm every weekday (except holidays). (Training platform link and log in here)
Looking forward to seeing you soon!
Here are some email templates you can use to welcome new employees and keep them updated throughout the onboarding process.
4. Conduct orientation
After you’ve sent the welcome email, your next point of contact with the new hire will be at orientation.
At orientation, make sure the new hire has access to all of the tools they’re going to need to be successful in their role. Consider using a Kanban platform, like Trello, to organize orientation and training information, as Help Scout does.
Orientation should cover:
- All the tech tools the new hire will need: Workspace platform, document sharing, communication app, project management app, video conferencing platform, password management tool, etc.
- A communication plan: Who to go to for what — plus a list of company employees and managers.
- Company culture: From “Margarita Fridays” to your company’s mission statement and charity outreach, give the new hire a taste of what your culture looks like.
- Expectations: Workload, hours, schedule, tasks, assignments, deadlines, etc.
- Training details: What training will cover, who’s leading training, how to use the training platform, etc.
5. Start training
After orientation, the new hire will start training.
While remote training can be challenging, the right systems can help make it a success.
During training, use:
- Screen-sharing features inside your video conferencing software to show the new hire how to use the tech tools and apps they have access to
- Interactive courses, games, and quizzes to keep the new hire engaged
- Videos to share information about sales, content, and customer offers
6. Plan milestone tasks
After training, meet with the new hire to plan milestone tasks they can reach over the next few weeks.
Milestone tasks are a series of small tasks relevant to the new hire’s role. Assigning these small tasks can help the new hire feel more comfortable about settling into their role.
For instance, if your new hire is a Project Manager, their milestone tasks might be:
- Review current projects in the pipeline on Tuesday
- Organize work requests by channel on Wednesday
- Create a project brief for five individual mini-projects on Thursday and Friday
- Get new project manager certifications, if necessary.
If your new hire is a Virtual Assistant, their milestone tasks might be:
- Research travel deals for our upcoming company retreat by next Monday
- Transfer customer data into a new database by next Tuesday
- Respond to six cold emails by the end of the week
7. Arrange a video meeting check-in
Once the new hire has completed their milestone tasks, schedule a video meeting to check-in and discuss feedback.
During your check-in call, you can ask the new hire:
- How they’re settling into their new role
- What they thought about orientation and training
- How difficult it was to complete the milestone tasks on time
- If they have any questions
- If they have any feedback to give about the onboarding process
- What they think about the overall company structure and culture
You can also schedule future check-in calls after their first month, quarter, and year.
Ready to onboard your new remote employees as efficiently as possible? With the right resources, process, and checklist, you’ll be on your way to onboarding remote employees with ease.