3 tips to help onboard new employees remotely

We’re in the unusual and fortunate position of recruiting at the moment. 

While it’s great to welcome new team members, helping them hit the ground running and feel part of the team can be a challenge. Not least because we’re all working remotely. 

Many aspects of onboarding – clear objectives, reviewing work and regular feedback – are the same whether a new team member is at home or in the office. 

But there are other issues that need some extra care in an all-remote setting. 

Here are three things that have helped us as an agency.  

1. Assign a technology buddy

It’s no surprise that the challenges of the first few days are likely to be technology related. Even after dispatching hardware well in advance and sorting relevant logins and software licences, there will almost certainly be a few teething problems. 

New employees need a go-to person so they can troubleshoot any such issues, including those that stem from a lack of familiarity or digital skills. Most people have a few questions about how to use new systems, and it’s important they have a safe space to ask those questions. At Formative, we like to assign a technology buddy, aside from their line manager, so these teething problems can be swiftly resolved. 

“It can be a bit daunting being introduced to new systems and processes without a team of colleagues around you. Having a buddy who will take the time to video chat and share screens to demonstrate when things aren’t clear creates a much easier onboarding journey,” explains Ethan Payne, one of Formative’s account executives.

2. 15 in 15

How do you replicate the introductory tour of the office, a quick chat in the kitchen, unexpectedly standing next to someone in the coffee queue at the café over the road? 

A small slice of shared human experience goes a long way when feeling your way with a new work relationship. 

We can’t reproduce the spontaneity of natural meetings at the water cooler, but it’s important to make space for human connections. Our new employees are given a challenge – talk to 15 colleagues you don’ t know for 15 minutes. Pop just a quarter of an hour in someone’s diary, introduce yourself, and have a meaningful conversation. 

If may feel forced, or even a little awkward at times, but it’s an investment that will be worth it further down the road.

“The 15×15 challenge allowed me to reach out to colleagues that I may not necessarily be working with on a daily basis and to put names to faces,” says new recruit Ellen O’Dwyer. “It’s been great to learn more about the individual roles within each team and who’s responsible for what. I have definitely felt much more part of the company since reaching out like this.”

For Gay Flashman, Formative’s founder and CEO, the end result is potentially better than if the onboarding process had been happening in more conventional times. 

“It would actually be quite challenging to replicate the 15×15 challenge in an office environment. The need for strong interpersonal relationships built on a foundation of trust and rapport is absolutely key when starting a new role. These quick informal discussions with colleagues really accelerate our team member’s ability to navigate the organisation and build quality connections,” she explains. 

3. Know your culture, processes and purpose

It may sound obvious, but existing employees need to have a clear purpose, know the processes used to achieve that purpose, and the way they are expected to behave. 

Living documents that are regularly updated provide stability and a point of reference, especially when there is inevitably a certain amount of churn. From employee handbooks to the steps needed to commission infographics, having the proper processes laid out clearly is vital. 

When it comes to culture, documents don’t quite cut the mustard. It’s hard to both define and convey. But well-defined values, a sense of the company’s history, and a clear corporate purpose will help. 

For example, our values here at Formative are:

Fast – we deliver outstanding work quickly and efficiently
Meticulous – speed doesn’t lead to sloppiness. We dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’
Entrepreneurial – we are proactive, curious and happy to take the initiative
Straightforward – we are prepared to give and receive honest feedback
Human – we see Formative as more than a place to work: it is a place to belong and flourish

Starting a new job without ever going to a physical office and meeting colleagues in person is likely to be increasingly common this year. There’s no easy solution. We all need to find small ways of making the onboarding process as smooth and human as possible, so it becomes a success for both employee and employer. 

About the author: 

Originally hailing from Canada, Erin leads the People Team at Formative Content, and is committed to building a world class culture, leadership team and employment brand.

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If you would like to know more about Formative Content, please email gay@formativecontent.com

Erin Harris - Director of People & Performance
Author:Erin Harris - Director of People & Performance