Remote employees are more productive and less costly, and these benefits are vital to organizations in a stressed economy. As your company recognizes the efficiency that a remote workforce offers, it’s likely that you’ll hire and onboard some of your new people at a distance. When you create a strong onboarding process, it sets the tone for the employee’s entire experience with your company. Unfortunately, only 12 percent of employees “strongly agree their organization does a great job of onboarding.” That means that 88 percent of companies are currently falling short when it comes to this essential function. Because onboarding remote employees is so critical, we’ve compiled a list of actionable tips for HR professionals to create a strong onboarding process.
1. Remember that onboarding remote employees is different
This sounds obvious, right? After all, you’re not walking the person around to show them where the snacks are, or handing them a key to the company gym. What’s important to keep in mind is that being on the receiving end of the onboarding process is more challenging when it’s happening remotely. Every employee needs a positive, engaging welcome into your company, and conveying this warmth is tricky to do from a distance. Your awareness of this fact is especially important when you’ve hired someone who hasn’t ever started out as a remote employee before, because they may not even know which questions to ask.
2) Don’t overload people with information
The average new hire has 54 activities to complete during their onboarding experience - which is certainly enough to overwhelm anyone. You will win your employee’s trust if you use effective digital tools to streamline the number of required tasks. In its guidelines for onboarding remote employees, Robert Half lists “Invest in the right technology” as its number one tip. You’ll be much more effective if you maintain a high level of contact over time, because onboarding is not a one-and-done event that you can check off your to-do list. It’s wise to think long-term: Gallup notes that it takes upwards of 12 months in most cases to get new employees up to speed and functioning at peak levels.
3) Set up a buddy program
SHRM urges this practice, pointing out, “The use of a buddy system may accelerate the productivity of new hires and enhance job satisfaction making it easier for employers to retain individuals.” Hanno, a UX design company which has been 100 percent remote since they were founded, has developed a way to onboard people that includes this buddy concept. They state, “That mentoring component has been really important–those first weeks of joining a remote team as a new employee can be a real challenge, so having a buddy to help you out and guide you through all the things you can’t necessarily see is really handy.”
4) Engage managers in the onboarding process
“When managers take an active role in onboarding, employees are 3.4 times as likely to strongly agree that their onboarding experience was exceptional,” according to Gallup. Recognition from managers right from the start is vital in building relationships with remote employees, and a direct supervisor can recognize and reward new employees every time they accomplish a major onboarding milestone. A recent Achievers report found that 90 percent of employees say they’re motivated to work harder when they receive some recognition and 30 percent feel “not very” or “not at all” valued by supervisors. Managers also have a key role in collaborating with HR to nurture a company-wide culture of recognition. When organizations build a culture of recognition, they are 2.5 times more likely to see an increase in employee engagement and 79 percent more likely to give their employer brand a high rating.
5) Prioritize recognition and rewards
In a large Deloitte study, only 11 percent of respondents felt that their company’s reward strategy was highly aligned with organizational goals. Also, Deloitte points out that rewards should be viewed as a route to building relationships, rather than simply as a psychological motivating force. It’s all about creating culture and community within your company. When you treat your remote employees as individuals, with personalized rewards that they really want, it shows them that they are valued for who they are.
Offering rewards during onboarding sets the tone right from the start. A well-crafted new hire kit usually includes a few useful items (an employee handbook, phone or devices the person will need, etc.) and also a few surprises (personalized welcome cards, branded swag, and so on). You are, essentially, showing the new hire that they are valuable to the company. At the same time, you will also want to include the new remote employee in your company-wide recognition program. Remote workers have a strong need to feel like part of the overall employee community, and they need to be recognized and welcomed right from the beginning. Which leads us to the next tip:
6) Nurture relationships
Robert Half notes that 21 percent of professionals say that not being introduced to their colleagues was a challenge they frequently face when starting a new job. This challenge is intensified if your workforce is geographically separated from each other. When you create the opportunity for employees to connect with their colleagues (both remote and non-remote), engagement will increase on both sides. Annie McKee, author of “How To Be Happy At Work,” says, “one of the ways we can make ourselves happy and feel more fulfilled in our workplaces is to build friendships with the people that work with us, work for us and even with our boss.” When onboarding remote employees, make it your priority to provide them a strong sense of belonging and connection.
7) Use employee listening as your guide
Listen to your new remote employees starting from day one, to ensure they have everything they need and that they feel supported throughout their entire experience. Gallup points out the value of listening to employees as a way of improving how you handle onboarding: “Using a systematic approach, organizations can use pulse surveys throughout the onboarding process to identify when new employees are failing to connect with the organization.” Furthermore, when you take action on the feedback you receive from your remote employees, it builds trust across the geographic distance. Listening to everyone on your staff, and responding to their feedback, is one of the most basic ways of empowering them.
Create an exceptional onboarding experience for your remote employees
Onboarding remote employees is new territory for many organizations. Whether you're new to building a remote workforce or already have remote workers in place, don't neglect the onboarding process as it's a crucial first step that organizations need to get right. A recent study tells us, “When employees can strongly agree that their onboarding process was exceptional, they are nearly 2 times more likely to feel fully prepared to excel in their new role and 2.3 times more likely to say their job is as good or better than they expected it to be.” Start engaging your remote employees from day one with a top-level onboarding experience.
To learn more about how to keep your remote employees engaged, listen to our webinar, “Employee Engagement and Working Remotely.”
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