Businesses around the world are in the continuous process of discovering new ways to manage the long-term effects of COVID-19. For many companies, one of the clearest ramifications of the pandemic - particularly where HR is concerned - has been the expansion of the remote workforce.

As the market recovers and businesses return to a new normal, companies are encouraged to continue some of the measures not just to curb future waves of COVID-19, but also to improve work-life balance amongst the workforce. The trend of growth in remote working is eminent in most Asia-Pacific countries and was already evident before COVID-19.

A remote workforce will likely be a familiar concept in the future for our generation. Big companies like Twitter and Slack have said they will give all staff the option to work from home permanently, while Salesforce is set to introduce a hybrid model that will see most of its employees combining remote and office-based working. The CRM software giant declared, 'The 9-to-5 workday is dead'.

It was revealed from the 2021 Randstad Workmonitor survey that many workers enjoy working from home but also want to be able to go back to their offices if needed. The report also identified two work arrangements that had broad appeal for employees during the pandemic:

  • hybrid schedule -  a cross between working at home and working in the office
  • flexible hours - allows employees to choose the times they begin and end their work day

Hybrid work schedules are by far the most preferred arrangement as it enables an easier balance between professional and personal. 

More than 2 out of 5 Singaporean respondents (42%) and 48% of Malaysian respondents said a hybrid schedule would be their ideal arrangement, while 19% and 17% favoured flexible hours respectively. Such sentiments were similar among Hong Kong respondents, where 32% favoured a hybrid schedule and 30% preferred having the flexibility to shift their work hours.

Remote working is very beneficial for businesses too, as companies can cut operational costs with fewer people in the workplace at any one time. There is also evidence to suggest that remote working can improve productivity.

As companies discover new ways to operate in the future, remote working will play a significant role in the employee’s overall experience. For example, how would a manager who is working from home onboard a new employee if the manager? Let’s find out.

how to onboard remote workers effectively
how to onboard remote workers effectively

remote onboarding: what is it and why is it important?

When offices were shut during lockdowns in 2020, new employees would complete their onboarding process digitally, which is otherwise known as remote onboarding. Remote onboarding is the process of completing your company onboarding procedures with new hires through online channels.

As we move forward to live with COVID, some parts of the onboarding process, such as welcome team lunch, will be conducted in-person. However, the majority of the onboarding process can continue to be conducted remotely and digitally for better use of everyone’s time.

remote employee onboarding checklist should include:

  • Signing an employment contract and completing other necessary paperwork
  • Sharing of digital copy of company policies, which will include your rules and guidelines on remote working
  • Virtual meetings with co-workers who are not based in the same city or office
  • Setting up IT equipment and tools, including access to necessary online applications, data and resources
  • Detailed discussions about the role, its responsibilities and expectations

It could be argued that the various processes involved in the onboarding experience have become even more important in a hybrid work environment.

For one, new employees who are being onboarded remotely will not get the same experience. For example, it could be harder for a home-based worker to familiarise themselves with the business, their colleagues and company leaders, your organisation's general ethos, as well as the working atmosphere if they're not physically in the workplace and able to meet people face-to-face.

However, if the virtual process is managed well, it helps to ensure that your journey with a new recruit begins on the right foot and both parties benefit from a positive, productive and meaningful employer-employee relationship.

From a commercial perspective, giving your newbie a good experience at the start of their employment reduces the risk of people leaving shortly after joining. It helps to reduce employee turnover and the financial and operational disruption of rapid staff turnover.

Furthermore, people who enjoy a positive onboarding experience are likely to tell others about it and recommend you to their friends and contacts, which will strengthen your employer brand and improve your ability to attract fresh talent.

Research has shown:

  • 20% of new hires leave a job to pursue a different opportunity within 45 days of starting
  • Companies with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by more than 70%
  • 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding
  • The best-performing businesses are 53% more likely than others to start onboarding before the employee's first day - known as pre-boarding
  • 72% of workers say one-on-one time with their direct manager is the most important part of any pre-boarding or onboarding process
  • 88% of employees believe their employer mismanaged their onboarding

key elements and best practices to a successful remote onboarding

The remote onboarding process can be a challenge for both the worker and manager. A new recruit could find it more difficult to make a positive and confident start to their new job if they're spending a lot of time working on their own. Managers who are not familiar with the virtual onboarding process may similarly feel less confident in their new employees.

A poor onboarding process will only reduce employee morale and confidence. It can lead to a lack of role clarity and expectations. This is why the significance of creating a strong online onboarding experience should not be downplayed.

Considering how important it is to get this aspect of your HR management right, what steps should you be taking to onboard a remote employee effectively and how should an onboarding process look like? Here are the best practices for onboarding remote employees successfully.

1. make a special effort to welcome people

A new employee who is working remotely could miss out on some of the basic benefits of being in the workplace on their first day, such as meeting their co-workers in person and getting used to the general atmosphere and 'vibe' of the company. That is why it's important to make up for a pleasant virtual onboarding programme for new employees.

Managers can address this by taking special measures to welcome remote staff and to make them feel like they're part of the team. There are various ways to go about this, such as sending out a welcome pack with small gifts and company-branded items, like a piece of clothing, a mug or a water bottle.

One employer that uses this approach is Miro, a virtual whiteboarding software provider. AJ Josephson, the firm's head of people, said it's important to provide symbols of company culture and to show remote workers that the business cares and wants to make them feel welcome.

You should also think about the best approach to introducing new hires to their co-workers over time. Bringing everyone together for a single video call could be overwhelming for new joiners - as well as being impractical - so you might want to come up with a plan for arranging virtual meetings with key colleagues and small teams over the course of a week or two. This will help remote workers get to know the rest of the workforce in a relaxed, gradual way, rather than in a hectic rush.

2. take advantage of technology

Modern technology is one of the most valuable assets available to any company making the transition from in-person to remote onboarding. We should leverage digital communication tools as much as possible to help speed up the process.

There are many tools that can help to make this process easier and more efficient. DocuSign, for example, allows you to manage and sign contracts and other key documents electronically, while instant messaging and project management platforms like Slack are designed to facilitate remote collaboration, helping geographically distributed teams to stay in contact and share data in real time.

Another key consideration in the technical aspect of onboarding is making sure remote workers have access to all the equipment and tools they need to do their job properly. That could be anything from delivering a laptop ahead of time so the user can set it up and familiarise themselves with it before starting, to ensuring the employee has full access to any proprietary software or cloud platforms they need. You also need to give remote staff the right training and IT support to make sure they can use their tech tools effectively. This is particularly important if they're using applications or software they're not familiar with.

3. emphasise human interaction

While tech tools have a key role to play in 21st-century business and HR, particularly where remote onboarding is concerned, it's crucial to remember that technology isn't a replacement for human interaction.

Remote workers don’t get the frequent contact and conversation that happens naturally in a physical workplace. On the social aspect of onboarding, HR leaders should think about how they might be able to replicate the typical social workplace interaction in a virtual environment to enrich the online onboarding experience.

Miro encourages its employees to mix and get to know each other by breaking the workforce up into small groups for intimate bonding sessions. The company even invited workers in its Amsterdam office to play a virtual board game together.

Kaelyn Phillips, director of global talent development at Monster, pointed out that the process of introducing a new remote worker to the rest of the team doesn't always have to be focused on work, as Miro's approach shows.

Ms Phillips stressed that the onboarding process - whether it's happening remotely or in-person - should be all about people. "It's about making connections and making sure the person feels that they have joined a place that wants them and a place that welcomes them," she said.

social interaction is emphasised at work
social interaction is emphasised at work

4. use mentoring or a buddy system

If you have a number of remote workers all starting at the same time, you could have a lot to gain from implementing a buddy system.

An onboarding buddy helps new recruits get up to speed much faster. Instead of feeling embarrassed for asking simple questions or guilty of taking up their manager’s time at work, new employees can get dedicated consultative time with the buddy. Engaging a buddy from the same team can also help create a sense of togetherness and camaraderie. This type of engagement is very meaningful for employees who are spending a lot of time working alone.

Another remote onboarding strategy that can prove highly effective is to introduce a mentorship programme that is aimed at coaching new employees. When a new remote employee joins your organisation, assign them a mentor to help them settle into the company as quickly as possible. Not only will this support better remote learning and development, it also increases the likelihood that they will fulfil their potential and become a productive member of the workforce.

Mentoring can also be a good way to pass on the soft skills and knowledge that more experienced employees have accrued over their careers. In brief, an effective mentorship programme is a good overall strategy to provide training for the new employees and is a great way to effectively integrate the employee into the organisation.

The benefits of having good quality mentorship could prove particularly valuable for new staff who are in training and  working remotely as most new employees will likely appreciate the one-to-one engagement and bespoke learning opportunities.

5. create a dedicated virtual onboarding package

One of the biggest mistakes companies make is to just convert their traditional in-person onboarding to a virtual one without making any changes to accommodate the new environment. In the past, the employee may be handed several hard copy books and folders about the company history, HR policies and access guides where they keep at their desks to refer to whenever they need to. 

However, the HR department needs to understand and adapt to the unique demands and requirements of remote working to design a bespoke virtual onboarding package to create a more engaging experience. This would mean creating a digital folder to store all the policies and guides that employees can easily refer to when needed.

The package should include a remote onboarding checklist, guides and organisational chart that new workers need to start their role on the right foot. Most importantly, it should also include your company’s policies, an employee handbook and IT helpdesk details.

This would actually save the HR team a lot of time and money from printing and preparing individual packages for each of the new employees. By having a shared digital folder, the HR team would just need to share the same link with all new employees on their first day with the organisation.

6. follow up

The remote onboarding process doesn't end after a new hire has been with you for a month. Remember, their growth and development will happen throughout their employment with you! While they may have settled into their role at that time, they might still have some concerns to raise or questions they haven't had an opportunity to ask.

It's important to follow up on the earliest stages of onboarding and regularly have regular check-ins with the remote workers during their first three months with you. This will help you gain a clear idea of how they're finding the job, how happy they are and whether they need any specific training or support. That way, you can also keep track of employee progress and get a better measure of their potential.

Some companies might even choose to spread their onboarding procedures over the course of a whole year, depending on the nature and complexity of the role.

As well as helping new recruits make the best possible start to their working life with you, taking a long-term approach can help you gain insights into the effectiveness of your remote onboarding and how it could be improved.

download the free guide on ‘how to onboard new employees while working remotely’

Randstad has created a new guide exploring this subject, which recommends a number of steps you can take to optimise your virtual onboarding methods and get the best results.

The guide highlights key areas and best practices of the onboarding process, like devising a training plan for your remote workforce and maintaining face-to-face interaction between co-workers. Download the guide today to find out more on what makes onboarding successful and how you can create a good remote onboarding experience for your new employees.

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