Remote Onboarding Tips

The pandemic has shifted SO much of the way we do things (er, understatement of the year?), and the trend that pretty much every hiring manager is talking about these days is what’s called “The Great Resignation”. After more than a year of “sheltering in job”, we’re seeing millions of US-based workers making career moves.

It’s estimated that 1 in 3 Americans have different jobs than they did before the pandemic began, with an additional 4 million Americans leaving their jobs in April, May, and June of 2021. The reasons behind this massive upheaval are layered, but a big part of this shift is that after a year of working from home, Gen Z and Millennial expectations on their ideal workplace have shifted dramatically from the days of office ping-pong tables and catered lunches. All of these stats prove that employers aren’t enjoying the same level of control they once had in attracting, negotiating, and retaining talent – employees are largely calling the shots.

What do employees want, you ask? Money, sure. A sense of belonging? Definitely. But the must-have factor that’s driving workers towards greener pastures are flexible work-from-home policies. It’s not rocket science – people who weathered 2020 (and most of 2021) working from home have figured out how to do so productively, and don’t see a compelling reason to go back to the office full-time. Employers who are demanding their staff return to the office are the ones who are hemorrhaging employees the fastest – proving that flexibility in the workplace isn’t just a nice-to have, it’s a must-have. In an LA Times survey, 60% (!!) of Gen Z and Millenials stated they want to leave their jobs to find news ones that allow them to work remotely.

With so much of the workforce shifting their loyalty towards employers who offer more flexible work-from-home options, the question at hand is twofold:

  • How can company culture thrive when your team is fully remote? (we’ve got some tips on that!)
  • With an influx of new team members, how can companies set their new hires up for success when “onboarding” no longer involves office tours and taking badge photos?

An awesome onboarding experience is essential to establish a positive first impression with your new hires – in many ways, it sets the tone for their entire experience working with you. Truly nimble organizations are quickly realizing that remote onboarding has a whole slew of challenges to solve for, and that a well-designed onboarding process can help their flexible workforce stay ahead of the curve… and stay with them for the long haul.

As in the BeforeTimes, onboarding and training are essential to maintaining and elevating performance over time. This is especially true if you are bringing on new teammates to fill gaps caused by recent turnover: as an employer, how are you going to do a better job setting up your new hires for success and happiness in their role?

“Getting on-boarding right is more important than ever now, with workers starting new jobs from home against the backdrop of COVID-19 without having physically met anyone during the recruiting and hiring process”, said Brent Pearson, the CEO and founder of Enboarder, an onboarding technology company based in Sydney, Australia. “Many managers wing the onboarding normally, doing it on the fly, but with everything being virtual, more structure is needed, meaning manager coaching is more important.” Unfortunately, according to one Harvard Business Review survey, only 17% of organizations are developing systems for on-boarding that account for remote work. This creates an immediately clear opportunity for those willing to adapt: build flexible onboarding options to “walk the walk” of being a flexible employer. It’s what the people want!

Remote onboarding tip #1: Pre-board with the buddy system

20% of new hires leave their organization within 45 days of being hired, Woof.

Being buttoned-up (whether or not you’re wearing a button-down) is important to give new employees confidence in the choice they’ve made to work for you. The “pre-boarding” process is the time in between signing offer letters and Day 1, and it’s your first opportunity to start fostering relationships that will help your new hire feel a sense of connection and belonging well before their first Zoom happy hour.

One way to go about this is to assign your new hire a “Work Buddy”. Match your new hire up with someone that you think they’ll vibe with, but who isn’t their direct manager or report. That “buddy” can help answer questions, introduce them to coworkers, and give them peer-to-peer insights into the daily inner workings of your team so that the new hire can hit the ground running on Day 1. Encourage weekly remote 1:1s between your new hire and their buddy for a month or two, and consider throwing virtual “buddy happy hours” where all new hires (and their “buddies”!) can connect casually and realize they’re not the only newbie on the team.

Remote onboarding tip #2: Structure = Success

Sending your new hire their login credentials and employee handbook is like handing someone the keys to a car. Sure, they might know how to drive themselves, but they need a map (and ideally, a navigator!) to help them get to where they need to go.

Giving your new hires real structure sets them up for success. On Day 1, this could look like an itinerary or agenda for the days and weeks ahead. Within the first week, this could include discussing and setting goals, sharing resources, and setting up a Slack channel and/or shared Google doc where they can get answers to all of their questions.

Sharing a glimpse of the day-to-day workflow and expectations of their role is one of the most straightforward way to build trust with your new hire before they even begin – they’ll know what they’re getting into and what they need to do to succeed right off the bat.

Remote onboarding tip #3: Create (work)space to grow.

The most obvious challenge of working remotely that most people face is the lack of dedicated workspace. When work happens outside of a typical cube (or office, if you’re lucky!), we have to improvise – whether it’s shelling out for an ADU or just repurposing an unused closet. This challenge has created a widening gap in inequality due to unavoidable home circumstances – not everyone has an unused closet (really… WHO has an unused closet?), let alone the space and financial means to kit one out properly. Creating a workspace at home is much more difficult for low-income family members that share a limited space, or working parents with kids who are just starting to return to their normal school schedules.

So what’s the solution? There’s not really a single cut-and-dry answer, but employers can help make new hire’s WFH life a little bit more comfortable by giving them a budget to set up a workspace that will enhance their focus during work hours. It doesn’t have to be much – $500 can go a long way in helping new hires get the right desk, chair, and monitor setup – and pales in comparison to how much most employers were spending in office space and perks pre-pandemic.

Including a work from home stipend not only helps your new hires settle in, it can help them commit in the first place. When you’re interviewing candidates, make sure they know that you WANT them to be comfortable and assure them your company is ready to assist them in getting their home office dialed in. Incentives like this can genuinely make or break job seekers’ final decisions, and thoughtful touches, like sending “Day One” kits filled with office essentials can help create good vibes (er, “employer affinity”) right off the bat.

With the huge and sudden rise of the WFH era, the ways we hire, onboard, and train our teams has to adapt with the times. Flexibility has never been more critical in the effort to secure and retain the best talent out there, and it’s important for hiring managers to remember that “new kid on the block” feeling is exacerbated when we’re all working remotely. Making your candidates – and in turn, new hires – feel comfortable, included and cared for can make all the difference in making sure they aren’t the next to join the Great Resignation. As the adage goes, adapting is necessary for survival. As we adapt to these new ways of working today, we are positively equipping ourselves to face the next wave of change that comes our way.