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Best Practices Every Workplace Needs For Onboarding Remote Employees & Contractors 

May 9, 2017 5:59:00 AM / by Riia O'Donnell

onboarding remote workers.pngThe office is changing, and many believe for the better. Workplaces are becoming as much virtual spaces as physical, and the shift to remote workers and working continues to gain momentum.

Driven by millennials, Basecamp (who “wrote the book on remote working”) notes "as this generation rises into leadership roles within organizations, we will understand exactly how silly the ‘butts in seats at the office = work’ mentality is.”

Remote work will continue to grow as companies and workers see its benefits. But employers will need to adapt their view on the workspace. Current practices that aren’t fluid may not fit the shift from traditional to remote. Firms will have to be creative and adjust to their constituencies, rather than the opposite.

One trend gaining momentum is onboarding new employees. Rather than dropping a new hire into the talent pool and waiting to see if they sink or swim, companies are guiding the acclimation process in hopes of increasing retention and productivity metrics. And the statistics bear out the effort:

SHRM reports 25 percent of the US population will have some type of career transition every year. As they shift, half will leave a newly found position within 120 days. For senior level hires, the loss rate hits 50 percent at 18 months. 

But don’t let distance or different time zones fool you. Onboarding today must include employees who are never physically on board. If they represent your company in any way – responding to customers, creating or maintaining your cyber-presence, assisting in-house workers  they need to understand and support the company values and culture as much as in-house employees.

RELATED: Extending Company Culture Beyond Your Walls

Many companies have onboarding protocols in place. With a little creative thinking, most can be adapted to remote workers. Here are some onboarding strategies and how they can be tweaked to fit all new hires.

It’s All in the Prep: Setting Clear Expectations Early On

BambooHR reports 26 percent of new hires quit because the work wasn’t as expected. An accurate job description is a road map to hiring, job satisfaction and more. Before you recruit, make sure your job description is current and isn’t undermining all your hard work.

Expectations should be clear for all hires. If you provide a current job description with each interview invitation, candidates understand the work, and can speak to their strengths in each area outlined. This simple, common sense step can reduce new hire turnover.

Have a Training Plan

Whether you have a structured training program or the new hire will shadow a colleague, training is key: not just for the work, but for the culture of the workplace. Your values are your brand and a new hire, remote or in-house, should represent your brand in the best possible light. Assign a trainer that understands the work and also represents core values.

Introduce the newbie to their coach/trainer before the start date. A “Welcome to the team… ask for me on your first day… here’s what we’ll be doing…” email is a great way to let a new hire know you’re excited to have them on board and ready to bring them into the fold.

Welcome Aboard

In-House

Have a workspace ready with needed supplies and equipment:

  • Set up an email account with a generic password they should change.
    • Populate contact list with emails and extensions.
    • A nice touch – their first email is a Welcome to the Department Announcement asking coworkers to stop by and say hello.
  • Populate calendar with training sessions, meet and greets, lunch dates, casual Fridays, and company activity information.
  • Include an organizational chart if you have one.
  • Swag! Leave a few giveaways – coffee mugs, tote bags, old t-shirts from last year’s picnic, pens, etc. to say “welcome to the team!”

Remote

Obviously you won’t need to set up a workstation, but remote employees need setup as well. If they need a company email account to look official, set it up. If they are contract workers and/or use their own email, provide emails for Accounts Payable (to manage payments), IT (if they need support), and a backup contact in case their main liaison is out of the office.

While you may not need to let them know when pajama day is held, populate timelines, goals and other pertinent information in a shared calendar system.

A delivery of that company coffee cup or other swag is a nice reminder that, although you’re not here in the office, you’re part of the team.

Day 1 and Beyond: Making Connections

In-House

Beyond training, an onboarding goal is to have the new hire make personal connections. Work relationships are powerful motivation and retention drivers. Seventy percent of employees report having friends at work is crucial to a happy working life: 54 percent of men and 74 percent of women would refuse a higher paying job if it meant not getting along with coworkers.

Start their first day with tours and introductions all around. Plan meetings the first day and throughout the first week for more in-depth connections. Training to do the work and understand the culture is only half the purpose of onboarding – creating networks and contacts for the new hire rounds out the welcome.

Lunchables

Nothing says I’m the new kid more than eating alone. Ask volunteers to invite new hires to lunch every day for the first week. The more lunch buddies, the more chances to make a connection.  At the end of the first week, a manager could take them to lunch (on the company if possible) to see how they’re settling in. 

Remote Workers

Virtual tours to meet and greet the team give the remote worker a better sense of the group. Whether you schedule a sit down conference, or a Skype walk through the department, a new hire will feel more connected if they can put faces to the names. If you want to be creative, ask them to sit down with a sandwich and join you or the group for a virtual luncheon. Some companies even send a gift card to pay for the remote worker’s meal.

The challenge for many employers is remembering to include remote workers in spur-of-the-moment meetings. This is important for new hires to stay up to speed as well as assimilate to the group, so be vigilant. Have a checklist of all the in-house and remote workers who should be included in every meeting, at least until inclusion becomes habit. 

Meet and Repeat

For remotes and in-house workers, wrap up day one, (and every day for the first week, if possible) with a manager taking a few minutes to ask how things are going. Plan to meet at least once a week to check in for the remainder of the first month. Now is the time to act on any issues – before they become problems, and before the dreaded 120 day/50 percent drop-off rate kicks in. If issues are so severe they can’t be resolved, at least you’ll minimize your losses and be prepared to address them for the next hire. 

Check in frequently and ask for honest feedback: but don’t penalize if it’s not all positive. Onboarding is a process and adjustments may be necessary. Listening to what the employee has to say and acting on it is critical to optimizing onboarding strategies.

Keeping Remotes Connected

Working with remotes from different time zones? Set up message boards that members of the team can access any time of the day or night to connect, answer questions, or just touch base. 

Long-Range Planning

Meetings scheduled for the months ahead show the new hire you’re planning for their success. Plan time at the 30, 60, 90 day mark, and beyond to talk exclusively about how they’re settling in. Discuss long-range career options, training, mentor or networking programs, tuition reimbursement, or advancement. As you show the new hire, remote or in-house, that you are invested in their success, they will respond with loyalty and productivity.

Is it Worth It?

When you factor the investment in time and resources for every new hire, the case for onboarding is sound: 69 percent of employees are more likely to stay with a company for 3 years if exposed to great onboarding techniques. Even companies that use basic onboarding processes experience 50 percent higher retention and 54 percent higher productivity from new hires.

A few thoughtful onboarding steps help new hires acclimate to the company and connect with colleagues – both critical to employee longevity. More than welcome to the job, onboarding is welcome to the fold – for in-house and remote workers. The payoff can be higher retention and productivity, and a long-term, valued team member.

 

drive employee productivity

Topics: Company Culture

Riia O'Donnell

Written by Riia O'Donnell

Riia O’Donnell has over 20 year’s hands-on experience in all aspects of the Human Resource function. Beginning as a recruiter, she grew to lead in all areas of HR, including employee training and development, legal compliance, benefits administration, compensation evaluation, and staff management. She has been a contributing writer for a wealth of HR, training, and small business websites for the past 7 years.

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