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Remote work is one of the biggest transformations in the workforce in recent years. Regular work-at-home has grown by 140 percent since 2005, nearly 10 times faster than the rest of the workforce or the self-employed. Organizations are seeing many benefits to allowing remote work, including access to a larger talent pool, increased employee productivity, and higher employee engagement. 

Employers are also learning that a remote workforce requires some additional foresight to ensure success, which begins with the employee onboarding process. Many organizations have effective onboarding procedures for their office-based employees, but they don’t often translate well to remote workers—which can cost you talent and productivity. Employees who have a negative new hire onboarding experience are twice as likely to look for new opportunities in the near future. If you want to retain your remote workforce, it’s critical that you translate your employee onboarding program to ensure the success of this unique group of people.

Help them feel like part of the team

While 86 percent of people prefer to work alone to hit maximum productivity, remote work can feel isolating for some. In an office environment, new hires would likely meet colleagues during an office tour on their first day, as well as around the common areas and at employee events over time. This doesn’t translate well for remote workers, who will spend little or no time in your office.

It’s important to find other ways to introduce your remote new hires, beginning when they sign your offer letter. Notify your team when a new hire signs their offer letter, and encourage them to reach out via email, Slack, or LinkedIn to say hi and welcome them to the team. Invite new hires to join you for a virtual coffee or breakfast meeting on their first day to meet their new team via a video conferencing tool like Zoom. Give them a shout out during your all-hands meeting, or in your internal newsletter. This red carpet experience will help your remote workers feel included and like they’re part of the team.

Give them the tools they need to be successful

Employee onboarding has many moving pieces and dependencies, and it’s easy to allow things to slip through the cracks without a consistent and repeatable process. This can be especially problematic for remote workers, who can’t simply walk down the hall and ask for help. For instance, forgetting to ship a computer or failing to show a new hire how to use your video conferencing tool can detract from employee productivity and make your new hire feel forgotten and unimportant.

A remote onboarding process can help ensure your distributed employees have the tools they need to be successful. Send them office equipment and offer a stipend to set up their office. Create an email address, add them to appropriate Slack channels, and grant them access to your internal wiki. Tell them who to contact for equipment or technology problems and show them how to use each tool. Teach them how to work completely remote. Be clear about responsibilities and objectives, and set milestones, goals, and timelines. Schedule check-ins for day 7, 15, 30, 60, and 90. Gather feedback to continually improve your remote onboarding process, leaving no stone unturned. 

Provide them with a remote buddy

Partnering your new hires with a seasoned employee is a great way to help them get acclimated to your organization. Compared to a mentor or a manager, the role of a buddy is far less formal. Office-based employees typically benefit from some guidance around the dress code, great lunch spots, and where to find office supplies. However, distributed employees often have questions around navigating remote work. For instance, they may need guidance on ordering office equipment or some advice on how to separate work from home life.

Whenever possible, partner your remote new hires with fellow remote workers who are better equipped to answer the different types of questions asked. Buddy programs help connect your remote workers to the organization, give them access to inside information, and get comfortable in the workplace. This often equates to a faster ramp for new employees, and higher employee engagement for both the new hire and their buddy.

Conclusion

Onboarding is the first impression a new hire will have into your organization—and you have one opportunity to get it right. Help your remote workers be productive and feel connected to your organization by tailoring an onboarding program to fit their unique needs and challenges. As it stands, 63 percent of employers have remote workers, yet 57 percent lack remote policies. As remote work continues to grow, it will become increasingly important to create playbooks that drive fully engaged employees who are happy to stay and contribute for many years.