As businesses start to reopen, many HR leaders will be hiring remote workers for the first time. Hiring remote employees offers several advantages — and now that the coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses to do work virtually, they’re poised to make it work. But onboarding a remote employee has its own challenges to address.
If you’re hiring remote workers for the first time, it’s important to think about the unique needs of your employees as they get oriented to your organization. Your current employees who are working from home have established relationships with one another that your new hires won’t have. Not only will they need to understand how to do their job, they’ll need to feel like they belong at the company even without seeing anyone face-to-face.
When the coronavirus hit Michigan, I had just finished creating IDI Academy — our online training platform for remote hires. This spring, IDI hired two classes of new employees and onboarded them completely remotely. We’ve heard from both classes that this was the best onboarding program they’ve ever seen.
Getting ready to hire remote employees at your company? Here are five best practices and lessons learned that we’ve picked up along the way. Use this article as a resource in planning your own remote employee onboarding program.
Related reading: Prepare Your Organization Now for Post-coronavirus Worklife
1) Understand the Unique Needs of Remote Employees
Remote employees have a harder time feeling connected to the people they work with, and it takes much longer to get to know coworkers. You can’t see people’s smiling faces in the hallway, you can’t enjoy small talk in the break room or stop by their desk during the day. That makes it more difficult to develop a sense of camaraderie.
It’s also much more difficult to feel a part of the organization itself. When you aren’t physically “in the room where it happens,” it’s easy to feel disconnected and out of the loop. It’s important to feel that connection as you’re onboarding.
At IDI, overcoming these barriers is a major part of our onboarding process. Not only do we train new remote employees on process and procedure, but we help them foster relationships with veteran staff.
2) Create an Online Training Tool
IDI Academy is built on a simple knowledge base. Articles are organized into topic clusters, which are assigned week-by-week to prevent information overload. There’s a quiz at the end of each article. IDI Academy is divided into All Employee Training and Department-specific Training.
All Employee Training
As the name suggests, every new remote employee goes through the All Employee modules. There’s a welcome letter and an invitation to get familiar with the employee handbook. The handbook includes information such as policies, benefits, and a glossary of IDI terms. It also includes employee roles and responsibilities so that it’s clear who to go to with different questions.
After that, new hires go through a self-guided onboarding program. The training is designed as a six-week curriculum that addresses the four main competencies necessary to succeed at IDI. Each week has its own articles to read and tasks to complete. When you complete all of the tasks, you’re prompted to move on to the next week.
Department-specific training varies from one department to another, because the nature of the work can vary quite a bit. But it always includes mentoring and shadowing. In my department, Marketing and Sales training is very similar to the overall training that all employees receive — there’s reading material for each week, with a quiz.
I meet with the new employees once a week to go over the quiz with them and answer any questions they may have. It’s also a time to check in and see how they’re adjusting to the company. I use these calls to build relationships and get to know each other, because it’s critical to creating a culture where employees collaborate like a well-oiled machine.
You might also like: How to Build a Strong Remote Team from a Company That's Been There
3) Frequent Check-ins
Frequent check-ins are important when you’re onboarding remote employees, because they can’t just stop by somebody’s desk and ask a quick question. Check-ins are also relational, which can’t be overstated. New remote employees aren’t just geographically isolated, but relationally disconnected from others in your organization.
When IDI transitioned to remote work during the pandemic, everyone became a remote employee. But 90 percent of our company already had relational foundations. Our new remote employees don’t have that advantage, so we purposefully foster relationships through check-ins.
4) Provide Profile Pages
Another way we foster connections and collaboration is through an online directory of phone numbers and email info. But it’s more than just a phone list. You can click on a person’s name and go to their profile page. There, you can read their bio to learn about what they do at IDI and discover some fun facts.
You’ll also see the badges they’ve earned for different competencies. It’s a great way to reward people and inspire them to earn their own badges.
IDI staff can earn department-specific badges, based on department training. There are also All Employees badges to earn. Every employee should have a high-level understanding of the company’s products, sales, implementation, and support processes. We want all employees, regardless of their departments, to have a high level of understanding of the way our company runs and how each department services our clients and partners.
5) Throw a Party!
When new remote employees graduate from IDI Academy at the end of their six-week training, we throw them a virtual graduation party. We treat the remote staff to a pizza that’s delivered to their home. We all hop on the House Party app, play games together, and have a ton of fun. You may have seen us blast it out on social media.
The graduation party isn’t just an excuse to have fun during work. It’s an important part of forming collaborative relationships and breaking down the barriers to effective communication. The graduation party helps establish remote employees as vital contributors to IDI, and integral members of our team. It welcomes them into the circle.
Bonus: Lessons Learned at IDI
IDI Academy has been a tremendous success, but we’ve learned a few lessons along the way, too. Here’s a quick list that might be helpful to you:
- Get feedback from the trainees, especially when the online training is still new.
- Think about the timing of your training. We discovered that some of the department training and overall employee training could have been aligned better, sequentially. Be sure to coordinate topics so that overall and departmental approaches to the subject are done at the same time.
- Have a person who is dedicated to employee training. It’s a lot of work, and it needs to feel like one consistent program. While you’ll need many contributors, one person should be ensuring that your training for remote employees is a unified whole.
- Don’t stop the training. Continuing education is incredibly valuable to all of your employees. We used to do lunch-and-learn sessions when we were entirely onsite. I’ve taken those sessions and turned them into articles and videos that can be used for continuing education purposes.
Further reading: Are Your Remote Employees' Timesheets Accurate?
For thirty years, IDI has provided best-of-breed solutions to our customers and payroll partners. As the world of work sees seismic shifts in the way business operates, we’ll be there to help you succeed.