December 1, 2023
The Complete Guide to Remote Onboarding

What is remote onboarding?

Remote onboarding is the process of helping new hires become acclimated to their new role, introducing them to their team, and teaching them about their new responsibilities—virtually.

It’s an important process because it ensures everyone within your remote company feels connected, works well together, and thrives in their roles.

In addition, a solid remote onboarding process can reduce employee turnover, which is a common leadership worry and a threat to your bottom line. A Hubspot report found that lost productivity costs U.S. businesses $1.8 trillion every year.

The most important part of onboarding new employees is the first 45 days, as Michelle Smith, vice president of Marketing for O.C. Tanner tells SHRM:

“Up to 20 percent of turnover takes place in the first 45 days. This number is even higher with ‘emerging adults.’ They define success differently than other generations. If a job isn’t meaningful to them, they aren’t afraid to leave.”

That means, one in every five new hires that start a job today are likely to leave within the next six weeks.

During this time, new employees need to settle in, demonstrate their skills, and begin to contribute value to the team. Otherwise, they could get caught in a “transition trap,” taking more time to improve performance and extending the resources needed to get them up to scratch.

Importantly, team members need time to build relationships, even remotely. In a remote setup, you’ll need to model interpersonal behavior and create social rendezvous points (more on that below).

If you want happy, engaged, and loyal employees, you need to create an effective onboarding process that helps them feel like part of the company culture and sets them up to perform at their best.

The three key dimensions of onboarding

To create a seamless onboarding experience for your new remote workers, focus on three key dimensions: organizational, technical, and social onboarding. 

Honing in on these areas will help you build a successful virtual onboarding program that will ensure employee satisfaction in the long run. But more than that, it also helps ensure seamless remote communication and collaboration—two key elements of a high-performing remote company.

Organizational onboarding

In the organizational onboarding phase, you need to provide access to essential tools, documents, and handbooks to new hires. These will be at the core of your new hire's day-to-day work activities, so help them get familiar with these items as soon as possible.

Part of this phase will be introducing your new hire to how your team communicates and works together (i.e. asynchronously via voice messaging). 

If you've tested and optimized your collaboration, communication, and work expectations, your onboarding process will naturally benefit from the infrastructures you already have in place. 

Your remote organizational onboarding process should cover specifics like:

  • Remote communication guidelines (i.e. not to expect immediate responses, Yac preferred over email, etc.)
  • Meeting guidelines (i.e. when a synchronous meeting might be necessary)
  • Social opportunities (i.e. social discussion groups, virtual coffee meet-ups, etc.)

New team members will likely have many additional questions, from how to use your team’s tools to security requirements to accessing company perks. An organizational onboarding process ensures you provide them with all of this information.

We’ll talk about employee handbooks in more depth shortly. They’re an ideal way to ensure you have answers to common questions in one place. Employees don’t always think of everything during the onboarding period, so it’s handy to have somewhere they can refer when needed.

Technical onboarding

It’s unlikely that everyone you hire will have experience or know-how with all of the tools your team or company uses. That’s where technical onboarding comes in. 

Proper training is essential. You might have someone on staff who can properly train your new hires, or you might keep documentation and tutorials to hand.

Training on the job’s technical aspects helps build confidence so new employees can complete small tasks and achieve quick wins from the get-go.

For example, say you use Yac for your async meetings. You’ll want to make sure your new hire is added to relevant group discussions and that they can successfully record and send audio and screen shares. You might also want to help them set their notification preferences to suit their working needs.

Run technical tests to help new team members get used to their tools. 

Returning to the Yac example, you can have your new hire send a “hello” message to their new team, send an icebreaker message (like asynchronously screen sharing a fun fact about their favorite movie), and reply to others’ messages. 

This is a great way to do several things at once—learning how to use the tool while introducing themselves to their new co-workers and beginning to form relationships.

Social onboarding

Another important part of onboarding is social onboarding, or creating opportunities for informal communication with new colleagues.

Relationships are important to help employees feel included and valued. It’s entirely possible for teams to bond remotely, but it takes some forethought from leaders to set up opportunities and infrastructure.

In other words, you’ll need to formally set up informal social events and settings.

For example, you may implement asynchronous virtual lunch dates because they give employees a place to get to know each other outside of work-related activities. Employees can send messages within a channel during their chosen lunch break and reply when they next get the chance.

You can also set up synchronous activities. Hold team coffee meet-ups with your new hire where other team members can hop on a video call, allowing them to get to know each other in a more informal setting. Here, they can talk about interests outside of work, like their families and hobbies.

This is a great time for new hires to meet leadership, like the executive team. Working remotely means employees are unlikely to run into people from outside their department or hierarchical zone. Including leaders in your social onboarding activities is a good move to build relationships laterally and vertically.

You can also let team members schedule one-to-one virtual coffee chats with onboarding buddies or mentors so they can ask questions and connect more privately.

Job van der Voort, CEO of Remote, recommends, 

"Remote onboarding isn't as different as you might expect — you just have to be more deliberate about things you used to take for granted. Create really good asynchronous onboarding documentation so the new person can self-onboard easily and know where everything is. Make sure they know where to ask questions as well. You can put that in the documentation too. To ensure the person feels welcome, have their manager recommend coffee chats with a few of their new colleagues. That way, the person gets to meet some new people right away, just like in a regular office, and does not feel pressured to create those first few social connections on their own."

How to create an effective remote onboarding process

Now that you know the three major components of a successful remote employee onboarding process, let’s get more granular and discuss how to implement it. 

1. Start with preboarding

Onboarding should begin the second the hiring manager decides to bring on a new employee. From sending the job offer and signing contracts, you should follow a standardized process to ensure nothing falls through the cracks.

First, create a checklist that you can reference each time you bring a new team member on board. This might include things like:

  • Send any employee information to HR
  • Prepare the contracts and paperwork
  • Confirm the start date
  • Setup their email address
  • Create logins for the tools they’ll use
  • Schedule virtual orientation with the team and team leader

Having all of this completed and ready ahead of time helps to create a smooth first day where new hires can jump right into preparing for their new job.

2. Have a process for day one

Kick off the day by providing all of their logins—email address, team communication apps, productivity tools they’ll need to use, etc. This way your new remote employee can immediately start logging in and learning how to use their new tools.

Guide them through a checklist to make sure they complete all necessary steps, such as:

  • Set up your email signature
  • Turn on two-factor authentication
  • Join specified Yac discussion channels
  • Run through a few tasks in the project management tool

This helps your new hire get ready before sending their first voice message or joining their first video call to meet their new team members.

3. Provide a digital employee handbook

Another key element of a successful remote onboarding process is a digital employee handbook. It standardizes company policies and ensures every employee knows about the company’s stance on certain issues, like vacation days and workation days.

Having an employee handbook makes it easy for new hires to get an idea of what to expect, and they’ll know where to find information when they need it. 

It’s also wise to create a digital version. This will allow you to make changes and distribute them quickly.

Using a visual template created with a site like Notion can help you to personalize your employee handbook and onboarding process. You can also base different handbooks on specific roles and departments. 

Almanac have a great example of a team handbook created on their own collaborative document platform:

Almanac's Team Handbook

Or, with a customizable Notion page, you can easily link to different parts of your employee handbook or company wiki, as well as key policies.

Example company employee handbook in Notion
Source: Notion

Like Almanac and Notion, you should outline all of your processes, link to forms that need to be filled out, share access to role-specific documents, and more. Here is a list of some items to include in your team’s handbook:

  • Information about your company, including its purpose, mission, vision, and values
  • Company goals
  • Organizational structure, including positions, names, and contact information
  • Company policies, including vacations, workations, benefits, legal policies (like GDPR precautions), etc.
  • Company culture, including communication expectations (e.g., what should be async vs. what should be a meeting) and diversity and inclusion statements
  • Training basics (e.g., your company’s tried and trusted customer onboarding process)
  • How-to guides for any tools you use (e.g., how to send a private screen share)
  • Handy checklists, including steps to take when onboarding, offboarding, claiming expenses, etc.

Housing all of this in one easy-to-access place helps to reduce information silos and unnecessary email or Slack exchanges when questions come up down the line.

Remember to keep your remote employee handbook up to date, even when you’re not hiring. That way it’s always ready when you begin the onboarding process for a new employee.

4. Set up meetings between team members

16% of remote employees say that loneliness is their biggest struggle with remote work. Creating a work environment that thrives on building connections with co-workers is a great way to combat that. 

The first week for any new remote employee should involve getting to know their new remote team. 

Assess your team's work schedules and time zones and decide how to introduce your new hire. Team members can build relationships synchronously or asynchronously.

You can set up a new employee discussion group where employees can chat when it’s the best time for them. Or, you can schedule one-to-one introductions or “group meets” so that the new hire can meet the team in smaller bursts.

There are several different types of meetings you might want to set up with the new employee, from training sessions to Q&As. Depending on your business’ needs, and the new hire’s needs, you can decide whether these should be face-to-face over Zoom or asynchronous with voice and video sharing tools like Yac.

One onboarding method by MIT Sloan Management Review (MIT SMR), known as personal-identity socialization, invites new team members to frame their new roles in a way that fits their personality and individual skillsets. 

For example, a copywriter with graphic design experience can help with landing page design more easily. Not only can this be a great way to streamline processes in your business, but it can help the copywriter feel more fulfilled in their role as they’re using more of their skills.

When testing personal-identity socialization in a company’s onboarding process, MIT SMR found that employees were 32% less likely to quit than employees who received more traditional onboarding.

5. Incorporate the new hire into your asynchronous communication

The next step is ensuring your new hire has all the information and access they need to communicate with your team. 

Making your communication methods and expectations clear from the outset is key to ensuring new hires understand how your team operates. Without these guidelines, onboarding your new hires could end up disrupting other team members.

A lot of this can also be covered during the onboarding process by dictating which onboarding meetings and conversations should be synchronous vs. asynchronous.

While there are important touchpoints in the onboarding process that should be done in person, such as via video conferencing, many aspects should be done asynchronously. 

This eliminates the need to schedule and make time for video meetings and gives new hires space to digest feedback and send well-considered responses.

Using voice messaging instead of text-based messaging to communicate with new team members adds a human element to the process. It also helps them understand more complex messages and gauge feelings to avoid misinterpretation.

6. Check in regularly

Check-ins are a popular meeting when onboarding remote employees. Checking in regularly to ensure your new employee is acclimating well and feels like a part of the team is key to employee satisfaction and ensuring efficient remote collaboration.

You can do these both synchronously and asynchronously by:

  • Scheduling one-to-one catch-ups at important benchmarks (i.e., 30, 60, 90 days)
  • Creating a “first 90 days” asynchronous discussion group to house questions and feedback in one place

Having an open group for new hires to hop into when they have quick questions helps cut down on real-time meetings while keeping communication open throughout the onboarding process.

If you’re hiring multiple employees at a time, having a group discussion dedicated to their onboarding period can help answer questions that others have.

Additionally, by keeping it all within a group, instead of spread across emails, Slack channels, and more, employees can refer back to the information when they need it down the road.

7. Create a personal growth plan

Where will your new hire ideally be in six months? How will you get them there? 

Preparing for this helps your employee do better work at your company, and also better prepares them for the future. 

Given that employees with a highly effective onboarding process feel more confident in their ability to do their jobs, are quicker to contribute to the team goals, and 18X more committed to the organization, setting new hires up with a personal growth plan is the obvious way forward.

As a team leader, it’s important to be more than just a manager—you should also be a mentor.

Also known as an employee development plan, steps you might include personal growth remote onboarding checklist are:

  • Offer professional development programs like access to online courses, conferences, seminars, and more.
  • Discuss personal growth with employees to pinpoint which skills they want to improve.
  • Set up occasional training sessions and let various employees lead and teach different skills or strategies.
  • Provide tuition reimbursement programs that empower employees to go back to school to improve skill sets.
  • Show hires the power of deep work and how they can make more time for personal development by avoiding distractions.
  • Create a channel or discussion group for team members to share recent things they’ve learned or articles they’ve read.
  • Watch out for previously unnoticed or undisclosed strengths and consider pivoting a new hire’s role within your team if you think they’d thrive elsewhere.

Showing your team that you’re invested in their growth and development helps them feel more loyal to your company, satisfied with you as a manager, and better prepared for their new role.

8. Ask for feedback and adjust

As it goes with any new process, asking for feedback from your new hires is a great way to continuously adjust and improve the overall onboarding process.

While your 90-day check-in should focus on how your new employee is adjusting to their role, reserve a small segment of time for asking if they have any feedback on how this process could have been easier or better for them. 

For example, they may have struggled with some of their tasks and would have benefitted from more comprehensive documentation. 

Onboarding is not just about making sure your employee does a good job for your company. It’s about empowering them to learn and thrive in their role. It’s also about helping them integrate with their new team and encouraging them to feel like a valued member of your company.

Key takeaways

Remote onboarding is an essential part of running a remote-first company, but as long as you put the right tools and processes in place, you’re sure to have employees hit the ground running from day one.

To learn more about how Yac can be instrumental in your remote onboarding and team communication processes. Book a demo today.