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Best Practices for Remote Onboarding and Retention

Jon Conelias - May 3 2021, 2:58:00 PM

Years before a global pandemic forced companies to send employees to work from home, the process of recruiting and onboarding new hires had already started to shift digitally. For more than 20 years, job candidates have been applying on listing boards, recruiter portals, and now LinkedIn. It was common practice to even have the first rounds of interviews over the phone or online. The only difference between a pre- and post-pandemic world? The actual “day one” onboarding process and everything that comes with retaining employees, including fostering a sense of company culture. 

In the before times, the top candidate would eventually meet their hiring manager in person. There would be an in-person onboarding by human resources, and perhaps a traditional new hire welcome lunch. What happens when someone is onboarding remotely from their home? Or, from an assigned coworking space 1,000 miles away from headquarters? For all the benefits of working remotely, HR leaders everywhere are looking to solve the challenges remote onboarding presents.

Remote hiring is different than remote onboarding and company culture

Hiring remotely is one thing; managing remote onboarding and company culture is far different. Even before the pandemic, companies had begun to send new hires “Instagram worthy” offer letter swag kits welcoming them aboard. What used to be just a branded coffee mug or jacket waiting for you at your new cubicle is now viewed as a marketing or recruiting opportunity in a social media–focused world.

Companies of all shapes and sizes are trying to navigate how to replicate the morale and company culture an office used to provide, only virtually. At the same time, companies would be remiss not to acknowledge Zoom fatigue is something more and more employees are struggling with. Even companies that are planning some form of return to the office know that hybrid work and events are here to stay. No matter how many employees they hope come back to the office, virtual processes and policies need to be in place.

How to onboard new hires remotely

There’s no single solution for every organization. Employers know their own company’s culture the best and will ultimately learn what works best for them. However, here are some best practices that have been shared by experts that may help you in planning your strategy.

Power in numbers

While your onboarding process might be virtual, there is still plenty of good reason to schedule multiple employees to onboard together, if at all possible. There is an automatic sense of camaraderie even if they aren’t in the same physical room. New hires that can meet and interact with each other have a tendency to be more engaged and higher performing than those who start a new job by themselves.

Break up the sessions

It might have been second nature to schedule a full first day or two with nothing but onboarding activities, but when you are managing remote onboarding, it's important to break up the various sessions as they will more than likely all be video calls. Back-to-back meetings don't allow time for mental or physical breaks to grab lunch or get some fresh air.

Make it fun

While you are scheduling separate times for remote onboarding sessions, throw a few curveballs in there! Elevent can assist in planning an interactive virtual event for new employees to meet their direct team members. Let the team manager pick from a variety of options, such as virtual paint party, scavenger hunts, even an escape room.

Go all-in

If you are rolling out remote onboarding for a company, go all-in on digital tools. A welcome kit in the mail is a fun surprise, but at least make the paperwork digital. Utilize electronic signature apps, employee portals, and so on. Employees might not have printers or scanners at home, and by shifting all your processes digital, you’ll more than likely also experience some greater efficiencies.

Best practices to retain and keep remote workers engaged

In some ways, keeping existing employees engaged in a new remote work environment can be even harder than remote onboarding. With new hires, you’re managing their one and only experience working for the company. For employees who have been with your company, you’re balancing what they knew with a lot of unknown.

First and foremost, your company needs to have a remote work policy. Even if that policy says “There is no remote work,” you need to communicate the organization’s official standing via updates to your employee handbook or wiki. No different than acknowledging proper attire, an attendance policy, or acceptable behavior, if there aren’t any rules, everyone will make their own. Empower your managers to make team-based decisions that fall within acceptable ranges that the overall company is comfortable with. Besides having a formal policy in place, here are other real-world examples of how companies are working to retain remote workers and keep them engaged.

Provide remote workspace stipend

This can be in either a form of a coworking space membership or a direct payment for the employee to outfit space in their home to work. For those who are lucky enough to have extra space in their home, $500 to $1,000 can go a long way by providing a comfortable work chair, adjustable desk, second monitor, keyboard, or whatever else would make employees feel more comfortable. For those who either can’t work at home or are ready to get out of the house but aren’t close to an office, providing them with access to a flex workspace booking app is a perfectly fine alternative.

Listen more

Be more intentional with what you are asking your employees and how. Adapt what might typically be an annual employee satisfaction survey into short net promoter score (NPS) rating questions. Schedule more town hall or company-wide conversations, but keep them short and focused on specific topics and monthly themes.

Let the employees lead

When it comes to socialization and team building, there has never been a greater need for non-work activities to help coworkers connect and build trust. By turning to the experts at Elevent, you can allow the team to decide from a pre-approved list of virtual events that fit your content desires and budget constraints. 

Head of remote

If your organization doesn’t have the resources for a full-time Head of Remote, then consider promoting someone from within to coordinate the executive team, HR, IT, and managers. Remote work is still so new, that on such a large scale, it only makes sense to have dedicated resources in place to manage and solve for all these changes.

Establish firm boundaries

Employees are reporting that they are working longer and longer hours. Work with your managers on understanding what expectations are and then identify tools that can be used to support those guidelines. It should be encouraged for employees to use “Do Not Disturb” settings for notifications on chat apps, like Slack. They also shouldn’t be fearful for a manager’s watchful eye-tracking whether their status light went from green to red for more than a few minutes.

Originally published at May 3 2021, 2:58:00 PM. Updated on Sep 28 2022.

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