Remote onboarding — 15 ways to create a great experience

Make no HQ no problem

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Remote work is a topic we nerd out about a lot at Range. It’s deceptively different from onsite work, and getting it right matters for the success of teams, even if only a few people work remotely. To help people understand how to rewire their organizations and teams, we've hosted webinars on remote employee engagement, offered tips for building stronger remote teams, and covered ways to overcome common challenges when managing remote team members.

With so much information out there on best practices for remote teams, it can be a challenge to know where to begin. One of the best places to start is onboarding. When you get onboarding right, it can help not just inform all your remote practices but boost employee commitment and reduced turnover.

So, you may be wondering: that's great, but how do I go about applying this to my team? Below are actions you can take to onboard your remote team members and set them up for success.

When it comes to onboarding, it's about more than just introducing the tools. Often, this conversation only focuses on explaining to new hires what software your team uses: Google Docs is for this, Trello is for that, Range and Asana handle these other things.

Showing remote teammates the lay of the land in terms of tooling is essential. But your main objective should be to go beyond checkboxes and explainers. Here's how.

The first week

If possible, bring the remote employee into HQ for their first week. Having them in the office allows for in-person meetings and gives other team members a chance to make a connection. We know at least seven remote employees who ended up on projects after seven weeks on the job, only to have their teammates ask, who is this person I have never met? Teams need context. It sounds basic, but organizations often miss this step.

If you don't have the budget for this type of travel or have to onboard someone remotely for whatever reason, you can still follow most of the steps above. Most can be done over the phone or by video conference, even a remote happy hour. Try to space it out so that the new remote employee isn't on video calls all day for five days.

Below is a list of activities to have your remote employee do if you can bring them in on their first or second week in their role:

  • 1-on-1: schedule a meeting between the remote team member and their direct manager, connect them with their teammates and relevant project leads, and introduce them to at least one senior leader. Be sure to establish a cadence of 1:1s and stick to it.
  • Happy hour: Set up a happy hour or casual meet-and-greet to allow the remote employee to chat with colleagues in a relaxed environment. Mention in the invite that the new hire will be working remotely and that the happy hour is for them to meet as many people as possible.
  • Office buddy: Offer the new remote employee an in-office buddy. This person will be their go-to for questions about workflow, reporting structure, company culture, etcetera.
  • Workflow walkthrough: Do this with the remote employee's direct team. Be sure to cover communication cadence and current project priorities, video conferencing tools and meeting schedules, and layout any expectations the team has for the remote team member. This exercise will provide everyone with a greater sense of accountability and psychological safety. Be clear about the use case for every comms tool, from email, to Slack, to Range.
  • Non-negotiables: Have the remote employee's manager establish what's essential for team cohesion. They should go over topics like seat time (how accessible should the remote employee be) and communication best practices. Non-negotiables help to avoid murky situations and put in place markers for potential success and failure.

No HQ? No problem.

Here are a few additional things to keep in mind for new remote employees who are unable to get to HQ when they first start.

  • Add them to morning calls and standups and create opportunities for them to showcase their personality.
  • Initiate Friday Wind-Downs. A chance for team members to bring a drink of choice and discuss the week, its pros and cons, and how next week can be better. It's a good idea to encourage everyone to join via video, to make the remote employee feel less isolated.
  • Put together a summary and a few fun facts about the new hire and circulate it with the company. Later, you can also ask the new remote employee to write a first-person essay on how they feel about the company so far. Share this with everyone. It helps others see the perspective of remote colleagues and how team members in the office can be more inclusive.
  • Have the remote team member shadow a few sales calls to better understand how the core product is marketed and sold.
  • Set up office buddy check-ins once a week for the first three months.
  • If the budget permits, fly the remote team member's manager out to spend 1-2 days in a co-working space to understand how the remote team member interacts in their environment.
  • Record everyone doing a song or dance or something fun based on the remote team member's favorite song. Sharing that video will help the remote employee feel included.

These suggestions also work for fully remote and distributed teams.

The next two weeks

Your new remote employee's second and third weeks are just as formative as their first. As they begin to take on projects, more questions may still come up. Try to create time to check up on how they're adjusting and see if any company processes are confusing to them. Ask if they need clarification about relationships or expectations and reassure them you're there to help. A great way to do this is to increase the frequency of your scheduled one-on-ones for the time being. You can always adjust the cadence later.

As the remote employee begins to form working relationships with co-located teams, regular check-ins give them a way to reinforce their connections to the team, to know how their work is impacting others and vice versa. It may seem like overkill initially, but it'll help you address potential pain points early on. Asynchronous check-ins are a great practice to put in place, because it helps reduce meetings and keep everyone in the loop no matter how many time zones away they may be. Your team's long term productivity will thank you later.

Also, sync with team members who work with the new remote employee to get their perspective on how things are going. They'll have personal insights about how the new hire communicates and potential suggestions for improvement. You can also get their take on how often the remote team member should come to town for in-person meetings. Is it once a year or twelve? It will help with planning and will give the remote team member chances to connect.

After 90 days

Two books of note: The Carrot Principle and Hardwiring Excellence highlight four questions you should be asking all employees (remote and on-site) at the 90-day mark.

  • Have we lived up to our promises to you?
  • What do you think we do best?
  • What have you seen in your other jobs that might work here?
  • Have we done anything in 90 days to make you consider leaving?

These four questions are about transparency. They let the remote employee know that feedback is a two-way street. It also helps them feel included in the organizational process and makes them feel like a part of the team, which can go a long way for improving business outcomes.

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Remote onboarding — 15 ways to create a great experience
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