How to onboard remote employees

TL;DR: The onboarding journey is a crucial step in the employee lifecycle that directly affects employee retention. Remote onboarding poses its own challenges and will look different based on each company’s size and stage. Still, the process can become a fun, engaging experience by following the steps outlined in this playbook.

What is the purpose of onboarding? How can onboarding be done remotely? How to create an exceptional remote onboarding experience?

Onboarding has always been a critical part of the employee lifecycle and engagement. The value and importance of onboarding are often overlooked. Still, the remote work reality sped up by the COVID-19 pandemic has made many companies pay more attention to these processes — in many cases, for the first time. Without the option of walking to a colleague’s desk or using watercooler conversations to better understand internal operations, new joiners rely more than ever on structured remote onboarding to thrive — and stay — at the organization.

To develop a strategic, effective, and pleasant onboarding experience, it’s worth revisiting the very notion of onboarding. The process is also known as organizational socialization, and it’s easy to understand the reason: besides helping employees gain technical knowledge for their role, onboarding has organizational and social dimensions. It should enable new workers to learn what’s expected of them and function more efficiently in a new space. This includes internal operations, specific knowledge and skills, subtler aspects of company culture, and expectations related to performance and behavior.

Gallup research uncovered that “only 12% of employees strongly agree their organization has a great onboarding process for new employees.” Also, only 29% of new hires feel fully supported and prepared to excel in their new role. This data alone shows that something must change. Besides, those lucky employees who had an outstanding onboarding experience are 2.6 times more likely to be extremely satisfied with the organization (1).

If these weren’t enough reasons for companies to step up their onboarding game — especially in remote settings that are new to many of us —, a negative or subpar onboarding experience is likely to make the new colleague question their decision to join your organization.

Finding, hiring, and onboarding a replacement for a position can cost from one half to two times an employee’s annual salary (2). On top of that, work-life balance tends to get progressively worse during someone’s first year after inadequate onboarding, and you’ve got a recipe for employee burnout and turnover.

Onboarding is your first and perhaps most powerful chance to show collaborators that your company lives by its employee value proposition. Besides pay and benefits, do you also highlight development opportunities and flexibility on your career page? Great! So use onboarding to show your people that you mean it.

Organizational designers understand onboarding as a year-long part of the employee lifecycle, and that’s why you should think of your remote employee onboarding programs as journeys, not tasks. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom. With this play, you’ll know how to onboard remote employees by following best practices and developing onboarding experiences that suit the needs of your company and the roles you’re hiring for.

(1) Gallup’s Perspective on Creating an Exceptional Onboarding Journey for New Employees. Gallup, 2019.

(2) This Fixable Problem Costs U.S. Businesses $1 Trillion. Gallup, 2019.

Orange checkmark icon.

Wann Sie dieses Playbook verwenden sollten

When to use
this playbook

We recommend this playbook to any People Ops leader looking to implement and optimize remote onboarding processes in their organizations.

CEOs and managers can also benefit from the information shared in this playbook. Although we mostly think of onboarding as an HR/People Ops function, a successful experience highly depends on management’s involvement and commitment.

Orange checkmark icon.

Was Sie für dieses Playbook benötigen

What you’ll need for
this playbook

A clear understanding of your company culture

A pillar of onboarding, culture (see FAQs) is more than a flexible or family-friendly environment. 

Teamwork: People Ops + managers

HR and managers must work together to build a remote onboarding journey worth remembering.

An understanding of the role

HR/People Ops can’t know everything about every role. Just keep in mind that the goal of onboarding is to help people fit into their new roles. If their activities aren’t clear to you, have a chat with the hiring manager. This way, you can understand the resources the new joiners may need.

Hinweise & Tipps
  • Train managers to actively engage in employee onboarding.
  • Show your appreciation for new hires by sending a goodie pack along with the hardware. Include branded swag and a welcome note.
  • Double down on transparency and communication. The pandemic has heightened everyone’s anxieties, and companies should be supportive by openly discussing the current situation and what it means for the company.
  • Organize fun virtual experiences for the team. There are many options nowadays, from escape rooms to painting classes. Do it consistently (e.g., monthly or every two months) so that all employees take part shortly after their onboarding.
  • Include the intro sessions (steps 6 and 7) in the onboarding plan. It doesn’t have to be an overly elaborate plan. The idea here is to set expectations.
  • Include “extras” in your onboarding process that speak to particular aspects of your culture. For example, if diversity, equity, and culture are part of your organizational values, include learning material on the topic in your onboarding paths.
  • Think of onboarding as a longer journey and invest in ongoing pulse surveys. After a few months, an employee’s initial excitement may have sunk, and survey insights can help you prevent voluntary turnover.
  • Encourage managers to deepen their relationships with reports by setting up weekly 1:1 meetings where all issues — from task-specific topics to concerns the employee may have about the job — can be addressed.
  • Set up offboarding surveys — those, too, can inform you how to improve your onboarding and improve retention.

How to run this People Ops Playbook:

Wie Sie dieses People Ops Playbook durchführen:

1. Preboarding

Employee onboarding — remote or in-person — starts before your new team member sets up their new business email or joins the company’s communications platform. Preboarding is the period between your new hire’s contract is signed and their first day of work.

Preboarding is an excellent chance to communicate your company’s culture to new workers and help set their expectations. Communicate that you’re available to answer questions they may have and send them an onboarding plan. They’ll feel better prepared and less anxious knowing what to expect on their first days and weeks — which, for some, may be in their first fully remote job.

2. Prepare their tech setup

Don’t leave things to the last minute. Send your new hire their work hardware well in advance to make sure they have it by their first day (e.g., laptop, monitor, keyboard, mouse, headset, etc.). It’s your company’s responsibility to care for your employees’ well-being, so ensure that they have the resources they need for a comfortable home-office setup. If your company offers an allowance for home office equipment, communicate the rules and internal processes to your employee soon.

To avoid a bumpy start, we recommend preinstalling all necessary software on your new team member’s computer. Also, verify that access to all systems is set up before they start — email, chat, learning tool, and whichever software they’ll need to get going. Sometimes these simple processes take longer than expected, making for a frustrating first day of work with unnecessary waiting.

3. Prepare and set up access to documentation and learning material

Like the tech setup, it’s important that things go smoothly with access to internal documentation and learning material.

It’s a great idea to document processes, culture, compliance, history, communication guidelines, and general how-tos in an employee handbook. Creating a handbook can be a lot of legwork at first, but it will save you time in the long run.

It’s also crucial that every department continuously documents processes and that managers are involved in creating onboarding material specific to each role. You may, for instance, share information on data privacy for all new joiners, and managers should help set up their reports to success by also providing educational content.

“When managers are disconnected from onboarding, it also can create a gap between corporate policies and the everyday work experience. Your managers may tell a very different story than employees initially heard about your company culture and expectations. This can cause confusion for new employees who easily notice misalignments and hypocrisy.

They may think: If leaders are unaware of the distance between their organization’s core values and their own behavior, how healthy is this organization anyway? Most importantly, managers must individualize the onboarding program to each employee’s role and strengths.” (Gallup)

You can introduce all learning materials and documentation via a learning path that can be customized to each role while remaining your one-stop shop for onboarding knowledge. Consider prepopulating these paths with videos and articles to make learning more dynamic.

Learning paths make onboarding way more fun and speed up a new employee‘s involvement with a company. If using a platform for learning (like Leapsome), create reminders, follow the onboarding progress, and set up quizzes to assess if the material you provided was efficient at communicating the information your employee needs to know.

4. Introduce them to the team

Hooray, it’s a new team member’s big day! For a remote hire, a warm welcome makes all the difference. Reach out to them directly and make sure managers do the same whenever a new report joins their teams. A first day can be challenging for any person, and they’ll feel more positive knowing that they’re on your mind.

Whatever the new colleague will do, teamwork is likely to be an essential part of it. Nurture team spirit and enthusiasm by introducing the joiner to the rest of the organization (or department, depending on the size of your company) via your chat platform or, even better, during a video standup.

5. Assign an onboarding buddy

Assign someone to show the ropes to the new colleague; they can share experiences and offer practical help and advice. Ideally, the onboarding buddy would be a member of the same team or department (just not the hiring manager). Having someone to talk to who also went through this process will help your new employee establish a good rapport with colleagues and get up and running faster.

6. Schedule an intro session between the new hire and their manager

Your new hires’ satisfaction with the process and how they see your organization largely depends on how supported they feel by direct managers. This means that, although HR and People Ops will deal with or mediate onboarding aspects like tech setup, compliance, as well as documentation and learning that applies to all departments, managers must be actively involved in onboarding and ensure that their reports know what’s expected of them and how they can best work together.

Chances are, your new employee engaged with their manager only during an interview situation up to now — and that can be very different from a day at the job. Ensure their manager schedules an intro session to better present their department, the role, and for them to get to know each other better. Don’t forget to include this and any other intro sessions on the onboarding plans.

7. Schedule intro sessions with different departments

Encourage each department at your company to prepare a brief (max. 1 hour) presentation introducing their activities. These sessions could happen regularly, with the participation of several new joiners. This practice will speed your new employees’ integration at your company and facilitate collaboration between departments.

8. Organize an intro session covering the company’s vision and goals

Prepare sessions in which new hires can get to know more about the company’s story, culture, vision/overall mission, and goals. This is great for alignment.

9. Encourage employees to schedule coffee chats with new hires

Your new hires may not meet their colleagues in person, but that doesn’t mean they can’t build meaningful work relationships. Encourage your team to invite new joiners for virtual coffee (or tea, or juice, or lunch) chats.

Unlike in-person onboarding, interactions won’t happen by accident. Make room for virtual watercooler conversations to happen.

10. Assign the first projects and tasks

Managers should assign initial projects and tasks early on to help new hires get going and experience the contribution they’ll make to the organization.

11. Send out an onboarding survey

Send out onboarding surveys whenever someone new joins the company. With performance management and employee engagement software, you can create onboarding surveys with the help of best-practice templates and automation. This way, all new colleagues will receive an onboarding survey after a certain number of weeks at the company, which you can choose (e.g., every four weeks). You’ll be communicating that you care about your employees and can use survey insights to continuously fine-tune your company’s onboarding experience.

Gallup developed a set of questions to help you assess if your onboarding process is covering all the bases needed to prime your talent for success. These questions are:

  1. “What do we believe in around here?” (company culture)
  2. “What are my strengths?” (learning and development)
  3. “What is my role?” (employee management)
  4. “Who are my partners?” (organizational structure)
  5. “What does my future here look like?” (career development)

Additionally, we prepared some best-practice remote work survey questions for continuous check-ins with your remote employees.

12. Kick off weekly 1:1s between new hires and their managers

Don’t wait to implement 1:1s once the new hire has been at the company for a while. It’s important that they feel supported by their manager and comfortable to address any concerns from the start.

13. Set up their first review 

Like your company’s surveys, you can use performance review software to automate your feedback cycles and automatically send them to your employees (and here’s a free template with best-practice questions to include). For onboarding, considering a six-month probation period, we recommend one review after two months at the job, and another one at five months. This will give your people more resources to excel in their role, and any issue can be addressed early in the employee lifecycle. You’ll also gain performance insights that can help you refine your remote onboarding strategy (e.g., by including more learning content on a specific topic).

Follow-up best practices for remote onboarding

Check in with your new employee

Do this from time to time to find out how they’re doing. We also recommend checking in with them at the end of their first day and week at the company.

Remain available

Make it clear that you’re happy to answer questions and address concerns.

Nurture a culture of continuous feedback and praise

This is an excellent team-building and engagement tool that can be entirely done remotely and from which the company and all employees will benefit.

Make employee engagement a priority beyond the initial onboarding period

Remember, onboarding is a long journey.

💡 Check out these additional ideas to keep your remote team aligned. 😉

Create learning paths for new joiners with Leapsome

Leapsome is the only platform that closes the loop between performance management, employee engagement, and learning. 

Watch this video on creating learning paths with Leapsome — crucial for smooth and instructive onboarding.

Illustration of two people carrying a box over stairs, another two stacking blocks mid-air, and another two working on a board with boxes and scales, transparent background

Frequently Asked Questions

What is company culture?

Company culture, or organizational culture, is about the way things are done in your organization, but many people don’t take the time to reflect upon it; diving into your company’s story and vision is a great exercise to understand, develop, and align culture and processes, externally communicating a more cohesive idea of your brand.

Your culture is a holistic concept and includes how you motivate employees, compensation, career development, office model (e.g., remote-only? remote-first? hybrid?), team structure, decision-making processes, and more. And it should guide your remote onboarding journey. For example, are you a “people-first” company? Way to go! But how will you communicate this throughout your processes?

What are the main challenges of remote onboarding?

The fundamental challenges of remote onboarding — which this People Ops Playbook will help you avoid — are:

  • Lack of communication and workers not knowing what to expect (or having unmet expectations);
  • Lack of support;
  • Feelings of isolation and a lack of connection with colleagues;
  • A lack of engagement with the company;
  • Misalignment with the company culture.

Most of these challenges can also happen in office settings, but tackling them in a remote context requires a different approach.

How to onboard remote employees during COVID-19?

Undeniably, the pandemic has brought an extra set of challenges and insecurities. Besides following the instructions on how to onboard remote employees explained in this People Ops Playbook, evaluate your emergency readiness and how to support your team even more: We’ve gathered plenty of insights for you. Additionally, consider running an employee survey focused on remote work. We’ve created free templates with extended and short versions, as well as German translations. This way, you’ll have all resources and best practices you need on how to onboard remote employees during a pandemic.

Ready for the next step?

Want a personalized walkthrough of our platform? Book a demo and get a 30-min demo with a product expert with live Q&A.

Image of a woman in a circleRequest a DemoImage of a man in a circleImage of a woman in a circle

Explore other playbooks

Erkunden Sie weitere Playbooks

Run smooth operations with our easy-to-follow how-tos and best practices for all things People Ops

Mit unseren leicht verständlichen Anleitungen und Best Practices für People Ops sorgen Sie für reibungslose Abläufe.

No items found.