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How to Onboard Remote Employees: A Beginners Guide

Onboarding a remote employee

Onboarding is part of the process of hiring new employees. Onboarding works in tandem with training and orientation to help new hires adjust to their new jobs. Sometimes training and new hire orientations are confused for employee onboarding. 

Employee onboarding differs from training in terms of focus. Training is focused on the development of technical work skills. Training is strictly work-related. However, employee onboarding is focused on familiarizing new hires with a broad set of activities. These activities are a mix of work-related and social exchanges. For example, job shadowing during the onboarding process is a work-related activity. However, coffee breaks with coworkers during onboarding are just about creating a sense of connectedness between two parties. 


Onboarding also differs from new hire orientations in several ways. Onboarding covers a broad set of activities that span over a long period. The onboarding process can span over weeks or months. However, new hire orientations are short, one-time events. It only takes a few hours or a maximum of a day to complete new hire orientations. New hire orientations focus on the logistics of work. For example, they cover the history, mission, culture, benefits, and payroll-related topics. Onboarding is about harvesting productivity, while orientation is about figuring out logistics.


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Onboarding, training, and orientations are complementary activities that help new hires to succeed at work. Onboarding is the most complex of the three activities. There are scripts for conducting training and orientation. These are highly tangible activities. However, the success of onboarding depends on a multitude of factors working together. Onboarding involves both tangible and intangible activities. The complexity of onboarding increases when it is conducted remotely versus on-site.


What is Employee Onboarding?

Employee onboarding is the process of introducing new employees to the company culture. The company culture includes group beliefs, group values, and attitudes. Work methods and the tools used to work are also a part of the company culture. Likewise, remote onboarding is the process of introducing newly hired remote workers to the company culture. It is important to note that remote and in-person onboardings are carried over some time. The time frame can range from weeks to months.


New employees are usually onboarded in person. The benefit of onboarding in person is that you get to interact with new hires directly. It is much easier for employers to answer questions from new employees in person. In-person interactions mean that one can answer questions and clarify doubts in real-time. However, onboarding becomes more challenging when it has to be done remotely. Thankfully due to the advances in technology, one can access tools that can make our work easier. Good technology makes the onboarding of new, remote employees as smooth as possible.


Even though onboarding employees remotely comes with its challenges, it is a trend that is here to stay. More people than ever are working remotely today. 


Challenges of Onboarding Remotely

Let us examine the challenges of onboarding new employees remotely. How can these challenges be overcome? From the start, remote onboarding puts new hires in isolated environments. They are not able to have meaningful verbal and nonverbal communication with their team members. Meaningful in-person interactions build rapport between new and seasoned employees. The lack of in-person interactions also makes it challenging for everyone to sense how newly hired employees are feeling during remote onboarding events. It might not be easy to recognize that new workers may feel disengaged and disconnected from the rest of the team.


One of the best ways to spruce up remote onboardings is to make them more lively. Using icebreakers and online social games can add an element of fun to these meetings. Icebreakers and games encourage interaction between veteran employees and new hires. As the orientation process extends over weeks, games and quizzes can be used to assess the progress of the new hires at the workplace.


Onboarding entails tasks being carried out over weeks and months. Some of these tasks are more dry and formal. For example, completing technical tasks on one's own. However, some tasks involve new hires learning by interacting with others, for example, job shadowing. It is a good idea to balance these isolating, technical activities with some interactive ones. This strategy also gives time and opportunity for building rapport between new and seasoned workers. That is an organic way of building trust and connection between employees.


One can also assist with the remote onboarding of new employees by engaging in short, one one one non-work-related video meetings with them. Such meetings have the effect of in-person water-cooler talks. This helps both parties to relax and destress in each other's company. Again, this is an activity that will build rapport between new hires and veteran employees. 


Part of the remote employee onboarding process is about completing new hire paperwork— and let's be honest, new hire paperwork can be a drag to fill out on the first day. Symply offers payroll and HR services that streamline the onboarding process and improve the onboarding experiences of newly hired, remote (or on-site) employees.


Quality of Onboarding Process

Part of an efficient onboarding process is the quality of the onboarding process. Onboarding processes need to meet the needs of new employees. For example, are the introductory meetings, whether prerecorded or live sessions, too long or too short? Being meeting facilitators, employers have to experiment with various formats and lengths of live and prerecorded video meetings. Such exercises help in determining effective ways of engaging new employees.


Ensuring that the actual content of onboarding processes is up to date with the evolving nature of remote work is essential for remote workers. For example, a few years ago, most remote workers were working remotely by choice. Today remote employees might not be working remotely by choice. Remote workers might be stressed out by the pressure to complete professional duties at the same time as domestic duties. Incorporating shorter videos and meetings could help remote new hires stay engaged longer and less distracted by their home environment during onboarding activities.


Try out new icebreakers and social engagement games to keep established employees interested as well. It's very common for tenured employees to become bored with repetitive "get to know you" activities and participate less overtime. 


Remote onboarding needs to be both flexible and direct in order to meet the needs of new employees. For example, some aspects of the onboarding process have to be general enough to accommodate new hires with different job descriptions. Yet, certain aspects of the onboarding process have to be tailored to specific job descriptions. Employers must be aware of these subtleties, especially if they are onboarding multiple remote new employees together.


Clear Messaging

New hires need clear briefings about their job descriptions. There should be no room for ambiguity when it comes to interpreting job descriptions. When new employees clearly understand their responsibilities, then they can grow into their jobs.  A successful onboarding process occurs when new employees feel as though they have been allowed to grow into their jobs.


New employees must also be cognizant about complying with the rules and standards at work. Rules and standards need to be stressed verbally and in writing as well. For example, rules and standards can be articulated during video meetings. Sometimes rules and standards become buried in a mountain of paperwork. It is a pity when new hires adopt poor work habits because good work habits were not stressed during employee onboarding.


Most work environments have distinct cultures. Some rules are written, and others are implied. It is best for everyone's sanity when fellow new workers are briefed on both the written and unwritten norms of the work culture/environment. That can go a long way in preventing unnecessary conflicts and misunderstandings.


A healthy work environment encourages connectedness and cohesiveness between coworkers. Connectedness and cohesiveness promote trust between fellow workers. Therefore, the onboarding process needs to stress the concept of cohesiveness to newly hired workers. United we stand, divided we fall.


Employee Tools

From the moment that the onboarding process begins, new employees need access to all the necessary channels of communication at work. Remote employees rely on different types of tools to communicate effectively. For example, sometimes all an employee needs to do is to send a simple text message to communicate. At other times the same employee might need to engage in hour-long video meetings. Having all the appropriate tools at our disposal helps the remote onboarding process go much smoother.


Besides good communication channels, new hires need access to the appropriate equipment to work productively. For example, a good laptop for heavy computer work. Or headphones for employees who have to listen to and speak to others frequently for work.


A good onboarding process for remote employees will include goals and progress guides. Goals and progress guides provided during onboarding help us as new workers to gauge our progress. When we can visualize our progress, we can focus on the tasks and duties that need more of our attention.



We can improve the process of onboarding remote employees by getting feedback from these new employees. We must get feedback throughout the onboarding process. Feedback helps us to understand the strengths and weaknesses of our onboarding processes. Learning from regular and timely feedback is the best way to harvest any benefits from employee feedback. Long intervals between feedback can mean lost opportunities to help our new employees to clear their doubts or focus on the tasks that they feel least confident about.


We can use feedback from new employees to improve our onboarding processes in the future. Feedbacks are a great way to discern which onboarding processes work and which onboarding processes need to be improved. It is best to obtain feedback by several routes. Verbal feedback and paper surveys are great options for soliciting feedback.


Benefits of Onboarding New Employees

Remotely Onboarding new employees remotely can be quite beneficial for employers. Remote onboarding saves on traveling, accommodation, and food costs. Remote onboarding is also beneficial in that it provides consistency in training. Consistency can set good baseline standards for how onboarding processes are implemented. Remote onboarding processes can be just as lively and engaging as in-person ones. Using icebreakers and social games during remote employee onboardings helps to connect new hires with veteran team members.


Watching pre-recorded videos helps new employees retain the information that they are presented with. It is hard to focus on live speech. It is even harder to retain the information from a live speech. Video conferencing can also be quite helpful in the remote onboarding process. This is because onboarding video meetings are usually focused on the new hires. Focused attention during remote onboarding is good for employee engagement.


Onboarding new employees remotely is becoming increasingly common. Onboarding is the essence of integrating an employee into the fabric of the culture at work. Onboarding in person creates a rich experience for new employees, but it is harder to attain the same results when they are being onboarded remotely.  Thankfully, there is a multitude of online tools that can be used to make the experience of remote onboarding enjoyable. With Symply, you can enhance the employee onboarding experience by streamlining the process for employers and making it enjoyable for new hires. Try out our employee onboarding tool for free!


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