How to effectively onboard staff remotely (from someone who's been there)

Dale Shaw, 4 min read

How to effectively onboard staff remotely (from someone who's been there)

The year is 2050, the entire population barely leaves their homes, we plug into a virtual world and we get all our work done without even stepping outside. Not quite, it’s 2020 and COVID-19 has had an everlasting impact on every aspect of our day to day lives. One of the biggest changes is the amount of people working from home, and what does a remote workforce mean? Remote onboarding!

And who better to share some tips on this than someone who has just been remotely onboarded at Yarno. Surprisingly,  Yarno did pretty well! I know what you are thinking, the newly hired person saying that his company did something well on their first attempt, shocking! But a big part of that was Yarno constantly asking for feedback on how they could improve the process. So allow me to share some of the great things they were already doing and some of the learnings we discovered along the way.

Before the first day

Yes, you read that right, it says before the first day.

Because what is the only thing scarier than meeting a whole bunch of new people on your first day, meeting a whole bunch of new people on your first day, VIRTUALLY!

Before my first day I already had contact with multiple members of Yarno. Before I had received my laptop I knew things like where Joel was from in America and how Lachy was moving up to Newcastle.

All this took was a couple of phone calls, but it made Yarno stand out from the traditional and mundane process of interview, interview, woo acceptance phone call, fill out these forms and come here for your first day. Above all, it made me feel like I was already a part of the team!

Think about who your new employee will be working closely with, give them a reason to preface the call with getting a form signed, some info about remote work (laptop etc..), but use the time to also get to know the person. This may seem like a waste of time for your current employees, but for your new hire it will make a world of difference, especially when they will be working remotely!

Celebrate their first day

The first day of work can be stressful for both the employer and employee, but it doesn’t need to be.

The first day can be used as a celebration, the stressful hiring process is over. So block out a few hours of the day to celebrate your new hire and bring the wider team together.

This is especially relevant in remote work, you’re not going to be in an office so these times together as part of a wider team are even more scarce.

If it’s possible, try and hire a shared office or a venue for part of the first day, or, if the first day will be at home, create a virtual celebration.

An icebreaker activity is a great way to kickoff the celebrations. One that I have found works particularly well both in person and virtually is a quick Kahoot quiz. Try to include one question about each of your staff members. It’s a bit of fun, but also provides great conversation starters for your new hire; it gets those team-bonding juices flowing.

During my onboarding at Yarno we utilised Kahoot even further. After getting a chance to meet everyone, I put together a quiz including a question about every Yarno member. When being onboarded, you learn so much about your co-workers. So I used this to my advantage and created an engaging way to test the team on who knew each other the best, it seemed to go down really well!

Staying connected

I can’t think of anyone who has walked into a role and instantly felt comfortable. It’s very possible that some new roles are more familiar than others, but your employee almost certainly will be overwhelmed by everything from methods of communication to learning how to work remotely.

How can we overcome this?

Here's a couple things I have found useful:

  1. Firstly, keeping communication channels open. The most important aspect of this, which you hopefully have established already, is an online communication application. Email communication does not cut it for remote work and there are numerous applications which can fill this void. At Yarno, we use an application called Slack, which has a variety of different channels. Of course most of these are purely work related, used to provide updates and ask questions of other Yarnoers. But there are also other channels like #random, #learning and #book_club where we update share resources, book reccommendations or just random facts!
  2. Secondly, it’s important to establish a primary contact or mentor for your new employee. It’s so easy to take this aspect of onboarding for granted when you are in an office. Normally, your employee has multiple options if they are stuck, they can just ask anyone who is around. This gets very tricky in a remote working environment. The only way to truly know what blockers are going to pop up for your new employee is to be in their shoes.

Ideally, the mentor should be someone who works very closely with the hire, or as close to them as possible. At the start of the onboarding, they should be catching up almost daily. This is crucial, the more frequent their communication is the more productive the first few weeks and months will be for your new employee.

Asking for feedback

Arguably the most important part. How many organisations exist currently that have found the perfect formula for remote onboarding? None! More than likely, you are just like Yarno and haven’t been remotely onboarding new staff members for very long. It’s also important to note that every organisation is different and every person you hire will be different, making it crucial to listen.

How can you do this?

Keep your ears open, listen to what all of your staff are telling you and try to read between the lines, feedback comes in many forms. Couple this with directly asking your employees involved about some of the pain points they have experienced during onboarding, but it's also just as important to ask what went well.


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