Over the last 18 months, we’ve seen companies of all shapes and sizes transition to fully or partially remote work. And as the job market becomes more chaotic than ever, remote onboarding has been a huge part of that transition. More and more, HR teams are hiring new employees and helping them get started on the job from their home office.

Whether your workforce is fully remote or a mix of folks who come to the office and work from home, your HR team – along with management and IT – likely faces some challenges in giving remote workers a warm welcome. These remote onboarding best practices will help new hires feel just as welcomed, valued, and ready to hit the ground running as they would if they were working onsite in their first days with the company.

Below we look at three key phases of the onboarding process: Before the first day, the first week, and the first 30 days. We also consider how to help remote employees when they come to the office for the first time.

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Remote onboarding: Before the first day

Send a congratulatory email

As soon as a candidate signs on the dotted line, encourage everyone who was part of the interview process to immediately email a customized note of congratulations. Encourage the team to make it fun and feel special, complete with a welcoming GIF or twoor three. (This is a nice thing to do for employees who will be coming into the office every day, too, by the way.)

Ship a care package

Make sure remote employees receive the same care package full of corporate swag that new hires get when they come to the office. (This is also a good opportunity to give them a hard copy of the company handbook.) When you email their onboarding agenda and other key HR documents, send along a digital gift certificate to a local bakery or online vendor that can deliver a favorite treat or two to their house.

Don’t forget the tech

Work closely with your IT department to make sure that the physical equipment new hires need to do their jobs remotely – not just the computer but peripherals such as a keyboard and mouse, external monitor, good headphones, and even an office chair – arrive in time. Confirm that they have the necessary permissions to access the corporate VPN and intranet, plus any collaboration apps you use.

Schedule permitting, offer remote employees a session with IT before their start date to install software, troubleshoot issues, configure security settings, and answer general questions. Not only does this minimize technical issues, but it also eases first-day jitters and helps new hires hit the ground running on their first day.

Share employee benefits info early

According to our recent onboarding statistics report, 2 in 5 employees don’t receive employee benefits information before their first day. And that’s a huge problem. Why? Because employees also told us they’re incredibly confused about their benefits, and they’re not getting enough information or education from their employers during onboarding.

2 in 5

employees don’t receive employee benefits information before their first day.

So make sure you’re sharing benefits materials early and often, so that employees have time to digest and come prepared with questions on their first day. Extra brownie points go to HR teams who use employee onboarding software to help new hires understand and choose their benefits.

Remote onboarding: The first week

Schedule a manager one-on-one

Typically, on an employee’s first day, it’s a best practice for managers to greet new hires at the door, introduce them to their new co-workers, walk them to their new desk, take them out to lunch, and so on.

Managers can – and should – replicate these moments online. Schedule a one-on-one virtual chat with new hires first thing in the morning, a group chat to introduce them to their closest coworkers and team members soon after, and a virtual “welcome lunch” with the team. (Pro tip on setting up the lunch: email all team members digital gift cards in advance so they can get food delivered on the company’s dime.)

Assign a welcome buddy

While it’s obviously important to connect remote workers with their managers and direct reports, it’s also helpful to assign a “welcome buddy” who can point them to helpful resources and familiarize them with corporate culture norms they may not want to ask their boss (virtual meeting etiquette, dress code, working hours, and so on. Consider asking the buddy to check in with new hires after department or company meetings to answer questions or provide context that existing employees already have.

Beyond mentors and buddies, schedule quick meet-and-greets with the employees the new hire should know, from the people who approve expense reports to the committee that plans the holiday party. Also, make sure that new hires are invited to any Slack channels or Google hangout groups that function as your company’s virtual water cooler. That way, they’re immediately looped into all important team conversations – and know where to share cute photos of their pets and/or children.

Give employees one-on-one benefits support

Ahhh, the benefits onboarding meeting: you know it, you love it, but it might be outdated. Yes, it’s a great first step to gather a group of new hires together and give them an overview of your robust benefits offerings. But it’s not enough.

Why? Because employees recently told us that they’d most prefer one-on-one benefits guidance during onboarding. Who can blame them? Employee benefits are confusing, and they want to make sure they’re enrolling in the right plans for them. But unfortunately, we’re not meeting employees’ needs:

46%

of employees didn’t receive any one-on-one benefits guidance during onboarding

So a white-glove, highly personalized benefits experience during onboarding can go a long way in helping new hires feel supported—and it’ll set them up for success so that they’ll stay longer at your company.

Don’t have time for one-on-one meetings with every new hire? ALEX can help!

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Spread it out

Finally, think about how to spread your onboarding program over a new hire’s first week. Cover only the most important points on the first day, such as team meetings and company overviews (including benefits). Save meetings with other departments, training on non-critical IT systems, and other presentations for later in the week. Consider recorded videos, online scavenger hunts, and quizzes to break up the monotony of meetings.

Download The Ultimate Virtual Onboarding Checklist for a full set of HR tasks and to-dos.

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Remote onboarding: The first 30 days

For the first 30 days (at least), encourage managers to compensate for the lack of in-office and after-work hangouts by regularly touching base with to new hires. This way, managers and employees don’t fall prey to the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. Suggest that managers hold weekly virtual one-on-ones, always with webcams turned on.

HR teams should also check in frequently. Meeting regularly with new hires has a twofold benefit: It makes sure new employees are making progress in their job, and it allows HR teams to gain instant feedback on how well the virtual onboarding process is working. As with check-ins for employees based in the office, share an agenda in advance, stick to it, focus on development and performance, and correct any problems ASAP.

It’s also important to help remote employees bond with their team. Recommend that teams proactively call on new hires to provide input during big virtual group meetings, since it can be hard for them to jump right in unannounced. Schedule virtual team hangouts that have nothing to do with work so everyone gets to know each other. Trivia, “escape the room” challenges, and cooking lessons are just a few options.[BE1] 

Onboarding is a key factor to improving employee retention: Employees who go through a structured onboarding process are 58% more likely to be with the company three years later.

When remote workers visit the mothership

Given the varying timelines for hiring, reopening offices, and traveling safely, it’s entirely possible that remote workers could be employed for close to two years before coming to the physical office. Remember that these employees are still going to need some handholding when they come to visit – even though they’re not technically “new” anymore.

Put time on the calendar for team members to give these employees a tour of the place. Teach them how to use the coffee machine, show them where the secret craft beer fridge is, and all that. Encourage teams to take their new hires out to lunch—like, for real this time, and not just to the corporate cafeteria.

Beyond the usual team-based activities, consider setting up an event where all the employees hired during the pandemic get a chance to meet each other in the flesh and compare notes on how they’re thriving as remote employees. No doubt, they’ll have a lot to talk about.

It’s time for modern employee onboarding software

Companies that succeed in onboarding virtual team members don’t rely on outdated methods of communicating benefits information or completing enrollment. After all, employees can’t attend in-person presentations or hand over signed forms. With the ALEX Benefits Counselor, employees get 24/7 access to benefits information, helping them choose the plans that meet their needs and their budgets. Contact us to learn how ALEX can streamline enrollment, empower employee decision-making, and cut medical costs.

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