10 practices our team uses for effective remote employee onboarding

Hiring knowledge-based workers was becoming more widespread during the last 20 years. As tools allowed managers to communicate with teams without having to share physical space, many used the opportunity to expand talent pools, reduce office maintenance costs, and attract talent to the benefit of flexibility. 

In 2020, the COVID-pandemic helped establish remote work as a policy rather than an arbitrary practice. Teams of all sizes had to look for ways to interview, hire, and onboard talent remotely. 

In some ways, remote work improved and optimized human resource management – in others, unseen hurdles emerged: 

Benefits of remote talent managementDrawbacks of remote talent management
Productivity gains: multiple surveys have shown that remote workers are more productive compared to office teamsDecreasing employee trust due to the inability of managers and teammates to connect in person. 
Broader talent pools and associated cost-cutting opportunities: remote organizations can attract talent from across the world, allowing leaders to prioritize other factors than physical proximity, like experience or salary. Fewer opportunities for peer-to-peer knowledge sharing and networking. 
Employer brand improvements: statistically, 94% want to have flexibility over where and how they work. Lower loyalty and higher attrition on the global scale. The universal shift to remote work reduced the sense of attachment employees felt to their organizations and made it easier to switch positions. 
Resilience: companies with a remote workforce are to a lesser extent dependent on external factors. Feeling of isolation and lack of organizational unity: remote employees often struggle to let leaders know about their concerns or can’t decide on a communication channel that would match a specific interaction. 

Notably, a lot of the challenges in managing remote talent are specifically impactful in employee onboarding. 

New remote hires feel more challenged to decide who they should approach for a question or discussion, have a harder time bonding with team members, and can miss out on training and career opportunities. 

Understanding the challenges new hiires are facing during remote onboarding will help leaders restructure their workflows to prioritize the sense of belonging in a remote workplace. 

Two years of the pandemic have also shown that the quality of remote employee onboarding practice sets high-performing teams apart from outliers. 

According to a Glassdoor survey, teams with well-thought-out remote onboarding workflows had 82% higher retention and gained productivity by 70% compared to leaders who did not adapt their onboarding processes to remote work adoption. 

Our experience of managing a remote-first team at oVice also showed the importance of connecting a new hire to the organization as quickly as possible. 

The accumulation of anxiety and stress in the first weeks after joining the company makes it harder for an employee to interact with the team and can culminate in unexpected resignations. 

Making sure that we offer remote employees a platform for networking, career development, and purpose is one of our priorities. That’s why we put a lot of time and effort into organizing a partially autonomous yet heavily team-driven all-remote onboarding process. 

In this post, we will share our insight on the key components of a successful remote talent onboarding workflow and offer actionable tips leaders managing teams of all sizes can use to help new hires feel part of the team. 

10 tips for a successful employee onboarding strategy

oVice was founded by people who enjoy meeting in person and working together. That’s why, to us, the pandemic was no less shocking than was the case for thousands of leaders out there. 

Before oVice became a sustainable product, the founding team realized the importance of rewriting the playbook of employee management and onboarding instead of making incremental changes to old workflows. 

Through trial and error, our team mapped out an onboarding process that gives new hires opportunities for networking, clarifies their responsibilities and performance objectives, and prioritizes culture from Day 1. 

Here’s how we manage our all-remote workflow 

1. Divide the onboarding process into clear-cut phases

To make sure we don’t skip steps and reliably support new remote hires, we organized the onboarding workflow into three stages. 

Stage #1. Before the remote employee joins the company

We try to do everything we can to make sure remote employees are not overwhelmed with the tasks, tools, and people they are introduced to on their first day. That’s why the HR team starts the onboarding process in advance, with the pre-onboarding phase. It includes: 

  • Sharing the paperwork with a hire using digital signature tools like DocuSign. 
  • Discussing the work schedule and setting up kickoff meetings. 
  • Giving new hires the credentials to corporate tools and making sure all accounts are accessible. 

Stage #2. First week of onboarding

The first week of onboarding is usually intense for a newcomer. At oVice, we do our best to give fresh hires an overview of their tasks and create opportunities for connecting with the rest of the team and asking questions. 

Here are the activities we typically plan for the first week of onboarding: 

  • Introduction to the team in our virtual office space
  • A one-on-one call with the manager to discuss tasks and set expectations. 
  • Product orientation supervised by the product team and customer success
  • “Mission-and-vision” meeting that helps a new employee get a better grasp of the organization. 

Stage #3. Post-onboarding support

Here are the talent management practices we keep in place even after the end of the formal onboarding process: 

  • Assessments and feedback sessions
  • Setting long-term career development plans and performance objectives
  • Running surveys about the onboarding process that help the talent team optimize the process

2. Find (or created) technology that met our needs 

Before the pandemic, there was already a wide range of collaboration platforms, both synchronous (Google Meet, Skype, Microsoft Teams) and asynchronous (Slack, messenger platforms, email). 

However, while these tools helped established teams stay afloat and manage day-to-day communication, they did little to cultivate a sense of belonging among new hires. In solving the problem, our team went further than most leaders would – we created a platform that gives remote platforms a space to connect in real-time and feel human presence even at a distance. 

After realizing the potential of the platform, we turned it into a product that helps managers and teammates welcome new employees and get them up to speed. 

Virtual office spaces facilitate remote employee onboarding by 

  • Showing new hires who on the team is available so that they don’t have to worry when it’s a good time to call or text someone. In oVice, leaders use tools like profile icons to show readiness for a conversation. 
  • Facilitating conversations: instead of scheduling calls and meetings in advance, employees could just approach anyone in the space for assistance.
  • Improving the quality of employee training. A virtual space increases the variety of training sessions HR managers and team leaders can hold: one-on-one Q&A sessions, peer-to-peer shadowing, group activities, etc. 

3.  Make organizational structure easy to access 

Even within their immediate team, new hires might get few opportunities to interact with teammates due to time zone differences, language barrier, lack of common projects, or other reasons. 

Also, a freshly onboarded employee might be confused by having to remember a lot of names and job titles. 

To make sure new hires don’t feel the pressure of connecting the dots in the team, we created an easy-to-understand org chart that shows the members and functions of each team, as well as connections between teams in larger-scale departments and divisions (for example, oVice Global, oVice Japan, and oVice Korea). 

It is shared with new hires as a way to quickly understand who they should get in touch with a problem or a question. 

Also, every employee at oVice has a Slack channel for sharing personal updates. It’s a place that connects a teammate with the rest of the company, allowing people from different teams to join in, start discussions, request meetings, or ask questions. 

4. Build unified workflows across the organization

Siloed operations are one of the biggest challenges remote team leaders have to consistently grapple with. In most companies, every team leader is tasked with figuring out the specifics of talent and project management – there are no clear-cut organization-wide policies. 

In our case, remote work was not a temporary shift but a practice we intended to keep after the pandemic. That’s why we created a list of unified policies: 

  • Tools teams use for documentation, communication, and time management
  • Workflows for notifying colleagues about a vacation, a sick leave, or other emergencies.
  • Onboarding workflows across teams (we have an onboarding bot for Slack employees to complete a short organizational checklist). 

5. Identify clear responsibilities for each role

In a startup, the line between job responsibilities is often blurred: in all-hands-on-deck situations, new hires might find themselves thrust into situations they weren’t familiar with. In the earliest stages of operations, we also had employees handling a broad range of tasks – over time, we’ve realized how detrimental this approach was to their focus and well-being. 

In a remote setting, overloading employees with to-dos is especially easy to do since you don’t see the toll being overworked takes on the team’s mental health. 

Unfortunately, remote employees tend to keep their stress, exhaustion, and confusion to themselves – until they can no longer handle intense workloads and burn out. 

That’s why we make sure that new hires have enough time to get comfortable with the key tasks in their positions. Typically, once they are up to speed, employees gradually increase the range of their responsibilities and explore more learning opportunities. 

Also, we set clear expectations and benchmarks so that hires – both seasoned and new, know what defines good performance in the workplace. This way, we protect remote talent from anxiety and the pressure of always having to be online and productive. 

6. Cover our team’s hardware expenses to help teams create environments where they work best

Finally, we have realized that, no matter how hard a leader tries to unify employee onboarding workflows, the one-size-fits-all approach is not applicable to remote work. Some decisions require flexibility and case-by-case consideration. 

This is heavily the case for creating a remote work environment. Here, employees have different views across the board. Some are fans of BYOD (bring your own device) and would rather use their own hardware for work. Others reasonably expect the company to provide them with high-end devices. 

Similarly, while some employees work best from home, others mind need a co-working subscription. 

Asking each new hire about their work environment preferences helps us find a personalized approach to setting up productive workstations. Once they settle in a comfortable environment, remote hires are usually more productive and engaged. 

7. Create context for different interaction types

Compared to in-person onboarding, starting a remote job has less fanfare and excitement. 

While middle and senior employees might not need to feel like joining a new company is a special occasion, fresh graduates might not mind the opportunity to connect with other new hires and managers, as well as explore their work environment. 

Instead, for the most part, they have to do what they have been doing when getting degrees online – stare at Zoom avatars and grapple for ways to interact with their peers. 

To help new hires at oVice overcome this alienation, team leaders are focusing on bringing intentionality into employee cadences. 

We make sure that interactions go beyond daily scrums and give new hires the opportunity to explore all facets of the corporate culture through one-on-one interactions with managers and teammates to all-team happy hours and organization-wide town halls. 

8. Help employees track their progress

Walking the line between micromanagement and indifference is another challenge we had to face when onboarding remote employees. On the one hand, no manager wanted to breathe down their reports’ necks with constant checking or demanding reports. 

On the other hand, if a team leader was too absorbed in his work, the rest of the team would start drifting away from the company. 

Here are the practices we adopted to find a middle ground: 

  • Weekly syncs between teams. Knowledge sharing between related teams helps keep teammates in the loop on the latest updates and keeps them accountable for consistent progress. For new employees, weekly cross-team status updates are an excellent way to build connections across the organization and see how the company works in a big-picture context. 
  • Tracking monthly benchmarks set at the beginning of onboarding. We found weekly reports to be too overwhelming for most teammates who have busy schedules. That’s why most managers request a monthly report that helps highlight trends, pinpoint potential risks and bottlenecks, and track project progress. 
  • Initiating interactions rather than expecting new hires to do so. When our team embraced remote work, we expected that there would be the fourth wall between leaders and teammates. While it’s relatively easy to ask a casual question in person, it’s a lot more difficult remotely. That awareness encouraged managers to restructure dynamics – rather than just “being there” for the team, they had to be the first ones to approach reports and ask them “What are you working on? What problems are you facing? What can I do to help?”. 

9. Encourage the rest of the team to participate in onboarding

In a remote workplace, approaching onboarding as a team sport is crucial. While the manager shoulders a lot of responsibility for a new hire’s success, the rest of the team can be helpful in putting a new hire at ease. 

Here’s how we encourage participation in welcoming new hires: 

  • Ask other team members to be readily available so that the new hire can effortlessly ask questions. 
  • Make sure that people’s profiles in the virtual office platform, Slack, and other tools, state their full name, position, availability, and contact information explicitly to avoid confusion. 
  • Make sure that work communication is happening in publicly accessible threats rather than direct messages – that way new hires can keep tabs on projects and gain situational awareness. 

10. Provide remote employees with ongoing support 

Finally, we noticed that, in remote teams, a lot of “onboarding” practices should be kept up even after a new hire is settled in the team. 

The sense of presence and belonging in a virtual workplace is harder to maintain – that’s why we encourage our remote employees to keep consistent contact with their onboarding mentors and the HR team even after the orientation 

The bottom line

Although onboarding challenges might not seem significant to remote team leaders, failing to set up an effective process will have a long-lasting negative impact on productivity, retention, and engagement. During the first weeks of interacting with teams, new hires set the foundation for their success at the company. 

Finding the right technology to support full-remote onboarding, clearly identifying roles and expectations, building cross-team communications, and helping new hires create a comfortable work environment are the practices we established at oVice. 

Moreover, we have helped over 2,200 organizations worldwide to seamlessly integrate new hires into remote teams through virtual office spaces that facilitate communication and offer an engaging environment for employee training, networking, and peer-to-peer communication. 

To explore the platform and see how it can streamline your all-remote onboarding process, check out or demo space

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