How to easily onboard your new remote hire9 min read
What does it take to properly onboard your new remote hire? Ben Mulholland of Process Street, an entirely remote company, walks through everything from introductions to embedding new hires into your workplace culture.
Hiring a remote employee comes with many benefits; they have been shown to be happier, more loyal and generally productive — even time zones can be a boon if you cycle them into your customer support process!
Don’t believe me? SmallBizGenius have shown that:
- Team members who work remotely even once per month are 24% more likely to be happy and productive
- Employee turnover is 25% lower in companies that allow remote work
- 86% of people think that working remotely helps to lower stress levels
However, there are certain drawbacks which, if not addressed early in your employee onboarding process, can stop any benefits from coming to fruition.
Compared to office workers, managers of remote employees need to put a heavier focus on communicating effectively and making them feel included to avoid the high risk of isolation setting in. Not only that, but it’s more important than ever to get the entire team talking to your new hire from day one so that they feel that everyone is approachable should they need help.
Back at Process Street we run an entirely remote ship, with employees spanning from the US to the UK, the Philippines, Spain, and many, many more.
We’ve been through the trials and challenges that come with hiring remote employees, and thanks to a little experimentation (with a healthy dose of culture) we’ve come up smelling of roses. It’s all thanks to the following methods:
- Thoroughly introduce your new hire to the team
- Set expectations from early
- Communicate early and often
- Grow your culture with them
Thoroughly introduce your new hire to the team
In an office, a new hire will physically meet their team. With very little effort on your part they’ll be naturally linking faces, voices, personalities and names to start building relationships and integrate with the rest of the team.
Remote employees, who are faced with nothing more than a name in your company chat app, do not have this easy introduction.
You need to make the extra effort during your onboarding process to (preferably first thing) introduce them to the rest of your team, highlight who everyone is and expand on what their responsibilities are. Ideally, you should encourage your employees to interact with the new hire on their own accord (forced responses are not a good idea). You can help spark these conversations by suggesting fun and personal things that your team can share with your new hire, including:
- Where they like to work and why
- How and when they like to work
- What their favourite TV show or movie is
- What their favourite cuisine is
Doing this will help the new hire feel more connected to the people behind the IM name; they will feel like they’re part of a linked team, rather than an isolated worker thrown in the deep end with (for all they know) a bunch of bots under human pseudonyms.
For example, at Process Street we introduce any new hires on the group Slack channel, to which they are greeted by a slew of random gifs. Nothing says “welcome to a team of real people” like rolling the dice on Slack’s giphy integration.
Outside of being added to any relevant team meetings, another way that new hires get to know their colleagues better is through one-off welcome calls. The first thing our new hires are asked to do is to schedule a welcome call with every member of their team individually, in which they can talk about pretty much anything. Of course, some work-related topics will be covered in these calls to give them a sense of how their new team works. However, I’ve had plenty of welcome calls that started with discussions about writing and eventually turned to shared interests.
It’s all about giving them the opportunity to learn more about who they’re working with and showing them that communication is open and encouraged. That way, if they start struggling, there will always be a friendly face that they feel comfortable reaching out to.
Set expectations early
If the new employee isn’t told what is expected of them, or at least given a goal to work towards, they’re going to find it incredibly hard to stay motivated and focused on the task at hand. Not to mention that they won’t be able to organize their time effectively if they aren’t told when their deadlines are.
If you have deadlines for a project, let them know. If they need to be working to a particular standard, tell them as early as possible. Set all of your expectations early and make sure that the hire has a clear understanding of what they are.
Expectations shouldn’t only be about what you expect of your new direct report. Discuss what expectations they have of you and the team. This can be things like:
- What level of support do they expect from you?
- How do they like to give and receive feedback?
- What’s the best place to give feedback?
- How frequently do they expect you to meet, whether for one-on-ones or team meetings?
One way that you can set expectations is to create a manager README, also known as a “How I like to work” document. It outlines things like:
- The goal of the document
- Your principles and values as a manager and human
- How you prefer to run your one-on-ones (however, this should be a joint discussion)
- How you like to communicate and where u prefer to communicate (i.e. slack vs. email)
- What work requires your input (and what doesn’t)
- How you structure your day
Communicate early and often
Any and every remote team lives and dies by its communication skills; if nobody’s talking, the machine isn’t working properly. This is partially to combat the ever-looming threat of feeling isolated as a remote worker, but also to make sure that individual links are formed to the team and company as a whole.
For example, if (as mentioned above) you introduce your new team member on Slack to a rapture of greetings, they are probably going to remember and feel more comfortable than if a single team member said “Hi” and left it at that.
Sadly, this is also an aspect that can’t be forced. A conversation that neither party wants to have is painful for both, and part of your employees’ willingness to reach out and include the latest addition to the workforce is down to the culture you have in place.
Nonetheless, the earlier you break down those communication barriers, the better. Many new remote hires (especially if they haven’t worked remotely before) will be extremely reluctant to reach out of their own accord, on account of not wanting to make a bad impression by bugging anyone with “stupid” questions.
Dispel this notion with your introductions, some casual general chat at the end of the day or ask an icebreaker question at the beginning of your next team meeting, and you’ll find your new team member quickly fitting in.
Failing that, you can always fall back on your new hire checklists (again, like I mentioned earlier).
Grow your culture with them
Any team which hires remotely should be well aware of the importance of a healthy and solid company culture; it’s the glue that holds the entire machine together. In an office, culture can flourish over water cooler chats, shared coffee breaks or even in the lunchroom. Remote locations have no such luxury, and need a little more help to get started and keep going.
This is where your newest hire can help beyond their call of work. Include them in different aspects of your company culture, that way they can begin to adopt and even add to it, evolving it in a way that your existing team couldn’t naturally do.
How do you include them? Hard to say – it depends on your company’s culture. We, for example, have a bit of a nerdy streak which is shared across the whole team. As such, we run a couple of competitions which are perfect for getting new hires involved (although they mainly exist because we just want to do them).
Some things that we like to do include:
- Taking turns to suggest awful films for the team to sit through and rip to shreds
- Hosting a company gaming tournament (Hearthstone and Overwatch are our picks)
- Trying our luck with Slack’s giphy integration, with the aim to get a specific gif from the random selection
Really, just do anything that works for your team!
When we create our standard operating procedures, we try to incorporate our culture and values into these processes. It’s a great way to systemise the growth of our culture and make sure that everyone is included. However, practices like the gaming tournaments and film recommendations can’t be so easily made into a system.
A great way to grow your culture with your team is to continue to discuss your vision, mission and values during one-on-ones and team meetings. This can be as simple as adding in any of the following questions to your next meeting agenda:
- In terms of our strategy and goals, what are you least clear about?
- Are there any aspects of our culture you wish you could change?
- In one sentence or less, how would you describe our workplace culture?
There you have it – none of it is rocket science, but all is vital to properly onboarding your new employee. Although they may need a little help to achieve their full potential in your team, remote workers can prove themselves to be incredibly hard-working and (if you adapt to it) flexible with their work hours to a certain extent. There are boundless benefits, so what are you waiting for?