Remote onboarding, the right way

First priority: Helping employees build relationships from day 1

Learn the top missteps to avoid during remote onboarding and how building relationships is key.

As employees at many organizations return to their offices, it’s clear that hybrid and remote working are also here to stay. As HR leaders have learned recently, remote onboarding is a unique challenge.

In this Workflow roundtable, we asked five HR experts to identify top pitfalls to avoid when onboarding remote employees. One consistent insight: Make the effort to ensure that new hires build a relationship with your company.

Their remarks have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Create a connection—early

Darleen DeRosa
Darleen DeRosa

Consultant at Spencer Stuart, co-author of “Leading at a Distance: Practical Lessons for Virtual Success”

You can’t leave the burden of building relationships to the new employee or that person’s manager, and you can’t wait until the start date to start creating a connection to the culture. Y​​ou need to make new employees feel like a part of the family. New employees are often at the peak of emotional openness and feeling of positivity to the company right before they start, so use the opportunity to cement the connection.

It is particularly important in a remote environment to find ways to increase informal interaction for new hires in their first year. You can start by creating a list of key relationships each new hire will need to build, and then scheduling one-on-one coffee or lunch meetings by video.

— Darleen DeRosa, consultant at Spencer Stuart and co-author of “Leading at a Distance: Practical Lessons for Virtual Success”

Anticipate people’s needs

Jacqui Canney
Jacqui Canney

Chief people officer, ServiceNow

The meaning of work has changed, and we need to meet people where they are with flexibility, empathy, and opportunity.

Onboarding remote employees is not just about how they get a laptop or get paid but also what people need to thrive, along with their new manager and team. We want to make sure the transition is seamless and that new employees can find everything they need in one place. When we do this well, a new hire feels a strong sense of belonging right from the start, no matter where they get their work done.

—Jacqui Canney, chief people officer, ServiceNow

Outfit their office on day 1

Stephanie Naznitsky
Stephanie Naznitsky

Executive director, Robert Half

In a remote-first world, you have to make a new hire feel at home. You also have to make sure they have the right technology, that they’re comfortable with it, that they’ve got a good work environment. It’s so important to have the right home-office setup—office supplies, Wi-Fi, ergonomic furniture. Making sure that new hires have everything at home that your admin team would normally set up in the office is really important to getting off on the right foot.

From there, it’s building the culture and making sure the new employee is connected. You need to make sure the teams are communicating often, that you’re helping the new person make connections with other team members, and that expectations are clearly set: “Here are your first 30 days, here’s what you can expect at 90, here’s our plans for this year.”

— Stephanie Naznitsky, executive director, Robert Half

Use the buddy system

Edie Goldberg
Edie Goldberg

President, E.L. Goldberg & Associates

Companies cannot simply get a new employee the technology they need and assign them work without facilitating the connections they need to be successful. Learning about culture and norms is critical. If this was not explicitly part of the in-person onboarding process before, it needs to be now. Assigning new hires an internal “buddy” can be a big help.

For most companies, employee onboarding used to happen in a group on-site. Today, not so much. But exactly because there is so much remote work today, it is more important to intentionally connect new employees with internal buddies to help them learn about the company and give them a place to ask questions about how to get work accomplished.

Managers must also connect new employees with various team members—both on the same team, and with people from other functions they need to collaborate with—to nurture the connections that would happen naturally if they were all working in the same location.

— Edie L. Goldberg, president, E.L. Goldberg & Associates

Keep the connection going

Steve Boese
Steve Boese

Co-founder and president, H3 HR Advisors

You’ve got to keep reaching out to new employees with regular check-ins and surveys to gauge their satisfaction with the onboarding process and to establish how they are adjusting to the role and the team. That means scheduling time to virtually meet with the new manager, team members, and HR reps.

A new employee can feel kind of alone in a virtual onboarding situation, so the organization should take steps to ensure her or his first days and weeks are designed to facilitate making the kinds of personal connections they will need to feel included and engaged, even if virtual. Those contacts can serve as advisors to help the new hire navigate learning their new role and organizational culture.

New employees are often reluctant to speak up or complain even if they are not happy or are struggling. If left unresolved, these problems only get worse, sometimes even resulting in a new employee leaving the company in the first 30 to 60 days.

— Steve Boese, co-founder and president, H3 HR Advisors