How to onboard remote employees

I like to talk to our new hires after a couple of weeks, and I always ask them the same question: What’s surprised you the most? They’ve gone through the process of searching for a job, they found us, did their research, talked to us, and finally decided to accept an offer.

But do expectations match reality?

Here’s the most common answer I get: The most surprising thing has been how exceptional the onboarding process is.

So, how do we onboard new hires, and how can you implement these ideas in your onboarding process?

Our onboarding approach: Roll out the red carpet

Our main goal with onboarding is to make people feel welcome.

We want people to know right from the start that they are part of this team — they are meant to be here. We make it very clear from day one that we chose them for a reason. We want them on this team, and we prove that by setting them up for success.

One way we do this is by making sure people’s entrance to the company doesn’t go unnoticed. We don’t want it to feel like the first day in a new school: we want to roll out the red carpet.

For example, we have an employee who started as a contractor and later decided to join full-time. He said there was one specific moment when he knew this was the right decision: When people from the whole company started sending him messages and welcoming him to the team. They offered to help out any way they could, or set up a meeting to just chat. That’s when he realized this a group he wanted to be a part of.

But here’s the best part: we don’t actively encourage our team to do this with new hires. It happens naturally.

Mary Harberg, our Director of People Ops, is the driving force behind this welcoming atmosphere. She gives a weekly update to the team, so she’ll let everyone know when we’ve hired a new team member and when they’re starting.

Then, on their first day, she’ll add them to the company chat and send a welcome message. This allows for just the right amount of fanfare over new hires and encourages the rest of the company to be just as welcoming.

So, what are some practical ways we onboard new hires?

The 2 ways we onboard new hires

There are two essential methods for setting up new hires for success:

  • Practical onboarding
  • Cultural onboarding

This is how we do each one:

Practical onboarding

This is the more obvious side of onboarding new hires.

Under this practical setup, Mary handles the company-wide onboarding while the direct manager of this new hire will take care of their job-specific onboarding.

Mary sets up a call with new hires and guides them through the process of getting set up. They’ll have specific expectations of what to do before they start, on their first day, and during their first week.

Of course, practical onboarding involves getting people set up with everything they need to work successfully. Since our company is fully remote, this also means getting them set up with the right tools for remote work.

New hires need to be set up with their email, two-factor authentication, getting the right contacts, and signing up for the right tools to begin their work.

Cultural onboarding

For people to feel welcome and be a part of the team, they need to understand our company, our values, and our culture.

First, these new hires need to get to know the team they’ll be working with. That’s why we start by setting up 1:1 coffee chats for them with the team.

Next, they’ll need to fill out a ‘Guide to You’. This is a quick questionnaire that asks questions about who they are and how they like to work. We want people to tell us things about themselves that we might not know, and thus get to know them on a professional and a personal level.

Once new hires fill out their Guide to You, this is stored in our company wiki. They also have access to everyone else’s Guide to You, meaning they can get to know their team better, as well as the whole company.

Download a free template of our Guide to You here.

wiki-questions copy

Our cultural onboarding also involves providing the right resources to understand our company. For example, we provide recordings of our retreats where we’ve talked about our core values and company vision. New hires also get specific blog posts, articles, and other resources that help them understand our philosophy.

That way, these people are familiar with the company, the people in it, and the mission we’re trying to accomplish.

For many people (especially to young entrepreneurs), this may sound like a lot of work. Maybe you’re wondering, is this really all that important?

Why is active onboarding so important?

Think for a moment about the time you spend looking for and hiring people for your team. You’re looking for the A-listers, the ones that are going to knock the ball out of the park for your company.

So many companies agonize over the hiring process, and when they finally find the right person, they throw them into the deep end without so much as a ‘hello’.

If you spend a great amount of time and effort on hiring the right people, it would be negligent to skip the onboarding process.

Whatever effort you put into hiring people, you should be putting double into onboarding them.

The need for this is especially amplified in a remote environment. When you’re onboarding remote employees, you can’t walk them around the office, show them their desk, and tell them to meet up with a few different people to get started.

In a remote setting, your onboarding process needs to be precise because it’s all done online (and often in different time zones).

To summarize: Double down on the onboarding!

Looking for more advice on remote work and culture? Get our guide to building, managing, and seeing success with a remote sales team.

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