Best Practices for Remote Onboarding

Employee onboarding is an essential process for new hire effectiveness and company growth. According to Glassdoor, organizations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%. Top talent has an abundance of job opportunities in today’s job market, especially with the rise of remote work options, so it’s important that companies engage and retain employees from day one. A quality remote onboarding experience can help companies accomplish that. 

However, Gallup found that only 12% of employees strongly agree that their organization does a great job of onboarding new employees. That means that almost nine out of ten employees believe they don’t have a good onboarding experience! One leading cause of this low score is that most onboarding programs only focus on the first week and are heavily focused on paperwork. When joining a company, there are often 50+ onboarding tasks any new hire must take regardless of their role. The majority of companies handled these tasks manually, and in person. 

The best companies are taking a proactive approach to improving and automating their onboarding experience, with the goal of having engaged and productive employees who know what the company priorities are and what’s expected of them in their new roles. An ideal employee onboarding program focuses on the people, company culture, and strategy — rather than process and paperwork.

Prior to starting my consulting practice, I spent 3.5 years as the Vice President of People Operations at InVision, which was a global, fully-remote company of ~600 employees. In my role there I spent a lot of time thinking about how to create great remote employee experiences at each stage of the employee journey — the most important of which is employee onboarding.  

Develop an Onboarding System

Onboarding new hires can be draining on managers and other support teams, so scalable, automated processes are key to effectively scale and get new hires ramped as quickly as possible. Using automated tools such as Sapling to create a consistent, efficient, and transparent onboarding experience for all parties involved is paramount. Your HRIS or Learning Management System (LMS) can also be used for onboarding automation. 

Using an automated system ensures:

  • There is a smooth hand-off from recruiting to the people team, and that other support teams such as IT, finance, and security are all on the same page
  • Other important stakeholders such as managers and buddies are kept in-the-loop and completing the onboarding tasks they are responsible for

Here are some examples of how the people teams at Compass and Zapier have used an onboarding automation tool to streamline manual processes, saving their team hours in lost productivity and creating great experiences for their new hires.  

Once you have a system in place to facilitate your program, you can begin to build your new hire onboarding experience. 

Company-wide Onboarding Experience

I’m a firm believer that all new hires joining a company should participate in company-wide onboarding, regardless of their role or level. A key component of any successful virtual company is for employees to have a clear understanding of the company values and goals. 

At InVision, the People team designed an unrivaled employee onboarding experience for their fully remote workforce. The team used design thinking principles to create a week-long program that covered such topics as company culture, community & values, industry education and mission. 

Some best practices include:

  • New hire cohorts: Have your new hires join in cohorts, such as every two weeks, to build relationships and streamline the experience for the support teams facilitating behind-the-scenes
  • Make onboarding interactive: Don’t spend your cohort sessions giving one-way presentations as these are less engaging and less collaborative. You should encourage new hires to watch pre-recorded content in advance and use your live sessions to dive deeper into content and a shared understanding
  • Carve out time for creativity: Your program should create time and space for fun and creativity. How might you use your company product or mission to get new hires jumping into using the product or solving problems within their first week? They might surprise you with the diverse ideas they bring to the table! 

In-Role Onboarding

Once company-wide onboarding is complete, onboarding has only just begun. Managers should pre-plan who their new team member needs to meet and what they need to learn in order to guide them towards becoming productive members of the team as quickly as possible. According to Urbanbound, lost productivity due to new hire learning curves can cost from 1% to 2.5% of total business revenue. 

It’s ideal for managers to think through their ideal onboarding experience for their new hire in advance so they aren’t scrambling or missing opportunities to make a great first impression. 

A good format for an in-role onboarding plan can include topics such as:

  • Set up a regular 1:1
  • Managers can create a User Manual so remote employees can more quickly understand their manager’s style and expectations 
  • Key documents, department goals and an updated org chart
  • Department-specific technical tools, access, and training
  • People they should meet within their team and across other cross-functional teams. I recommend having structured agendas for these conversations to accelerate learning. Sample questions/topics from the book The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up To Speed Faster And Smart are:
    • What are the biggest challenges the organization is facing (or will face in the near future)? 
    • Why is the organization facing (or going to face) these challenges? 
    • What are the most promising unexploited opportunities for growth? 
    • What would need to happen for the organization to exploit the potential of these opportunities? 
    • If you were me, what would you focus attention on?
  • Noteworthy meetings to attend
  • 30/60/90 day goals. The first 30 days should likely be focused on learning, which should result in updating the 60/90 day goals based on what was learned and relative priorities. 
  • Communication plan for how this new hire will be introduced to the organization

Document Repeatable Content

Documentation is key in a virtual environment, especially for growing companies who are adding many new hires per month. Remote employees should have access to as much self-serve company information as possible so they can be effective in their roles and you remove information bottlenecks. Some HR teams want to be the gate-keeper to information, but we took a different approach at InVision. The People team worked under the guiding principle that we were doing a good job when no one was coming to us with questions. Over the years, we worked to build a robust intranet of internal documentation so our global workforce could access the information they needed efficiently and effectively. 

Some key artifacts I recommend companies investing in include:

  • Company Culture Handbook: Companies should invest time in developing a company culture handbook that not only shares important company policies but also documents the company history, culture and ways of working. Really good employee handbooks can help employees understand what’s expected of them, the company’s stance on important topics such as diversity, equity & inclusion and the resources they have available when and if they need support. 
  • Centralized Intranet: I also encourage companies to take time to develop a centralized intranet/wiki where company resources can be found all in one place. Some examples of content to include on your intranet are information on your company benefits & perks, past All Hands video recordings, leadership welcome videos and official company goals/OKRs. Having easy access to this information helps new hires and tenures employees alike. 

Gather Feedback & Iterate

Similar to any people program, you cannot “set it and forget it” when it comes to employee onboarding. You should consistently gather feedback from your new hires and managers on the effectiveness of your new hire onboarding program and identify areas for improvement. The content will also get stale as your company evolves, so I recommend allotting time on a quarterly basis to review and revise your onboarding content so it’s accurate and meaningful.