I remember my first day as a remote employee. I was nervous that I was going to miss out on a normal onboarding experience…I was right. I had tasks assigned, but I felt like I got off on the wrong foot. 

The most important thing for remote onboarding: Replicate an in-person onboarding experience. This is not a hard concept to grasp, but it can be hard to execute. The secret: be more thoughtful about each step of onboarding. When onboaring in person, some things become second nature. For example, morning stand-up meetings, conversations about a client over lunch, and making sure your new hire is shadowing enough calls. These interactions are extremely valuable and aid in making new employees feel like they are part of the team. They are the exact interactions that you need to consciously manufacture with remote workers.

Bring them into HQ? Mentor?

If you have a brick and mortar location (and money), bring your new hires in for a few weeks. 

If you are fully distributed (no HQ), you don’t have the funds to ship new hires around, or there is some other reason you can’t do onboarding in person, think about assigning a mentor. There are a host of reasons to assign a mentor, but for onboarding purposes, it makes your new hire feel integrated, and they can ask candid questions to their mentor (plus the mentor is now learning a bit about management).

Setup, Tools, and Onboarding Package

Paperwork is easy, just use docusign or pandadoc. Some docs need to be physically signed though, so make sure your new hires receives those (like I9 forms in some states). Check out our other post here about equipment. If you are sending equipment/ HR payroll documents, make sure everything arrives at your new hire’s home office in time for day one.

Trello, Asana, and Basecamp are all great tools for keeping track of onboarding tasks. Asana is a bit more expensive but I personally think it’s more functional and overall better for onboarding. Process documents are hugely helpful for ramping up employees. A master process document or “process backup” is a great idea (lots of upfront work but high return). As an employee at HubSpot I had access to an internal “wiki”. If I had (literally) any questions, I could refer to the wiki and the answer to my question was most likely there.

Set very clear expectations

Don’t think of remote employees as an island. If an in-person employee is expected to attend a meeting, a remote employee should have that expectation as well. If you have performance and promotion standards, they need to be reviewed and fully understood by your remote employee. Make sure to explain the organization structure. As standard practice, I always tell my new remote employees how long the onboarding period is.

Your in person employees can physically see what the organizational structure looks like. They will know how long it takes to get promoted, and how often bosses meet with their reports. Remote workers need a very clear picture of what is expected of them and what to expect from their colleagues and managers. They are not in-office, so as a manager you need to paint the picture for them.

High touch

You can’t buzz by your new remote hire’s desk and ask them how their weekend was, these situations need to be manufactured. Call or instant message your new employee occasionally even if it’s not scheduled. In order to create a cohesive culture for remote workers, they need to feel like they are part of the company as a whole.

Whether this means having onboarding sessions run by members of other teams or setting up training sessions with managers in outside departments, your new remote hires need more than an introduction email. An introduction email is nice (and expected), but fully integrating a new team member requires a bit more face time with their team and other departments.

Some companies take a “trial by fire” approach, which may work in some settings. But if you are trying to scale a company and build a culture where employees volunteer to help each other, I highly suggest building out a structured onboarding process for both in person and remote employees. If you have any other feedback or ideas let me know.