How to Create a Successful Remote Onboarding Plan
In more ways than one, employers are struggling to adjust to the current remote work situation. Most notably, talent acquisition teams and recruiters are discovering the challenges of remote onboarding. If you’re currently bringing new employees into the fold and plan to continue hiring during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ll need a remote onboarding plan — stat.
Fortunately, the process of implementing a remote onboarding sequence is not as difficult as you might think. For more insight, we spoke with our Sales Training and Onboarding Manager, Alexander Wayman. For the last five years, Wayman has been training teams and onboarding new hire classes of more than 100 employees. Today, he heads up our entire onboarding program, which we’ve adapted to meet our current remote work needs.
In this article, we’ll explain the eight steps necessary to adjust your existing onboarding strategy into a remote sequence, as well as the tools you need to make a successful transition.
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How to Create a Remote Onboarding Plan
A virtual onboarding sequence is likely not your first choice; you’d much rather get to know your new hires in person, and the same goes for them. However, in the face of challenges, your employees are going to look to you for guidance. This is an unsettling time, particularly for new hires who are joining your team in the midst of a huge transition period, so go out of your way to create a positive experience.
The current situation has forced a majority of organizations to pivot to a remote onboarding program without much notice. While the task may seem daunting, it is possible if you know where to start. We’ve outlined eight steps to ensure your current onboarding process is well adapted for a remote working environment.
Step 1: Evaluate your current onboarding plan
Your current onboarding plan is in place for a reason; don’t toss it to the side when transitioning remote. Start by carefully evaluating your existing onboarding sequence and identifying the value of each component. Focus on the objective, whether that be providing an overview of the industry, product training, practicing objection handling and so on.
“Ask yourself, ‘What are the skills, the knowledge and the processes that the employee has to have locked down to succeed?’” says Wayman. “Onboarding should provide new hires with a pre-flight checklist — all the things they need to accomplish before they can enter their job and take off into their role.”
Be specific with how you define the purpose of each stage in the program. Doing so will help you more effectively transition your plan into a remote onboarding sequence and determine which steps are truly essential — the average onboarding process includes 54 tasks, so aim to consolidate and cut where you can.
Step 2: Find the tools to make it virtual
Once you’ve determined the purpose of each onboarding exercise, carefully rework your plan with those values in mind and identify the tools you need to support them. There are a variety of software options available including video conferencing platforms, learning management systems (LMS) and employee engagement tools. We’ll discuss some of the best available platforms in a later section.
“I challenge talent teams not to think of remote onboarding as a disadvantage, but as simply a different medium,” adds Wayman. “That means you need to be savvy. With remote onboarding, you don't have a classroom where people can learn from each other, so how can you generate cross-communication between peers? Schedule small-group conversations and flipped learning sessions based on compelling questions or homework that you provide.”
Thoroughly test the software prior to implementation and ensure your team members know how to troubleshoot common issues. Being an expert in the software will eliminate additional friction points during an already stressful time for new employees. Also, have a fail-safe in place in case technical issues arise during the onboarding process. It can be as simple as sharing phone numbers amongst team members as an alternate line of communication.
Step 3: Optimize your plan for multiple learning strategies
Keep in mind that every new hire you train will have a slightly different learning style. Roughly 65 percent of the population are visual learners, 30 percent are auditory learners and just five percent are kinesthetic learners. Because you can’t customize the process for every new hire that joins your team, a successful onboarding program caters to each type of learner.
“It’s about maximum impact, minimum footprint,” says Wayman. In the same way you evaluated and identified the importance of each onboarding component, approach training sessions from the perspective of different learning styles. “Ask yourself, ‘How am I engaging somebody visually in this session? How am I engaging somebody auditorily? How am I getting somebody to be active?’”
Leverage your remote platforms and utilize a variety of training exercises to accommodate different learning styles. The more engaged each new hire is, the more successful they’ll be as a group — 55 percent of employees turn to their peers first when learning a new skill.
Step 4: Implement regular skill assessments
Especially when onboarding new hires remotely, measuring and tracking their performance is crucial. Because peer-to-peer interactions are limited in a remote work environment, hiring managers can’t pick up on anecdotal evidence that their direct reports are taking to their roles; the only chance to see new hires in action is during the onboarding process.
“Measure skill, not output,” says Wayman. “We know how crazy outside factors can impact somebody's role right now, so measuring output has almost nothing to do with the real learning impact of onboarding.” Regular skills assessments can be conducted through an LMS, Google Form or over video conference by asking pertinent questions or reviewing a first attempt at a new project. Use these performance indicators to keep track of how the individuals are progressing through the onboarding sequence, not in their role.
“It’s vital that new hires know the value of these assessments and they are not mistaken for exams or reasons to let someone go,” adds Wayman. Explain the intent behind each assessment and checkpoint to mitigate any unnecessary stress. “Your ultimate goal should be to have the individual engage with the material — share their ideas about it, explore it, discuss it and debate it with others. Challenge new hires to engage with the material — if they can, that means they’ve put in the work.”
Step 5: Infuse and emphasize your company culture
The biggest obstacle to a remote onboarding process is introducing a new hire to your company culture. In addition to preparing them to be successful in their role, you must make them feel like a part of the team, which is increasingly difficult when your entire staff is remote. “The human connection element is lost, there's no pretending otherwise,” says Wayman. “The key is to focus on what you do to fill that gap.”
Utilize video conferencing to help new hires put faces to names. Proactively schedule meetings not only with the people the new hire will be working closely with, but also people with whom they may never work with. Introduce them to department heads through lunch-and-learns or informal Q&A sessions. Additionally, instruct new hires in your company core values. Doing so helps them frame your type of organizational culture in the context of your mission, and sets a precedent for how you expect team members to treat customers and each other.
Take the time to highlight your unique committees and initiatives, and encourage new hires to join any they may be interested in. “Invest heavily in your company's social groups and things based around related interests,” says Wayman. “Remind yourself that a lot of these connections happen naturally in an office environment, and think about how you can intentionally create moments that bond people.”
Step 6: Outline an onboarding communication plan
An onboarding process is intended to help a new employee acclimate both to their role and to the company. For your team, that includes enrolling new hires in benefits, setting up accounts, granting access to company services and adding a new head to payroll. While that’s a lot on your plate to coordinate remotely, new hires are going to be just as concerned with getting everything completed.
Give new employees peace of mind by outlining a communication plan for their onboarding process, even if your human capital management (HCM) software can automatically trigger events. Include key tasks to be completed — such as filling out forms or participating in an informational session with the head of HR — and provide points of contact for each item. Additionally, designate a liaison to the finance and tech teams in case new hires have specific questions regarding their onboarding in each department.
Go a step further by implementing a new hire ambassador program. As a kind of buddy system, it ensures new employees have someone to turn to for advice on intangible aspects of onboarding such as insight on committees to join, upcoming events to participate in and Slack channel etiquette. Ambassadors can set up virtual coffee meetings and facilitate introductions with other members of the team. This additional support helps streamline the entire process — 87 percent of companies with an ambassador program say it expedites onboarding.
Step 7: Train and empower your managers
Once you’ve put your remote onboarding plan in place, it’s on the managers to see it through. Again, this is an emotionally challenging time and likely not what new hires had in mind for their first few days on the job. It’s the responsibility of the manager to ensure their direct report is comfortable and cared for throughout the entire process.
In addition to learning styles, every person comes to the table with a unique personality. While their training tracts are specific to their role, they require additional support based on their social, communication and emotional needs. The onboarding process you implement should be a baseline. Encourage direct managers to personalize the experience to the individual, starting by having more of a presence in the process — 72 percent of employees say individual time with their manager is the most important part of onboarding.
“I believe passionately that every manager needs to be the right manager for each of their direct reports,” says Wayman. “They should ask new hires how they prefer to be communicated with, what they’re looking for in their manager and how they learn best prior to the start of the onboarding process.”
This can be done through a simple online survey or form. Direct managers should then use the results to better tailor the remote onboarding experience to the individual’s needs. Are they someone who expects frequent check ins with their manager? Schedule brief, daily one-on-ones. Are they more social or do they learn better discussing ideas with others? Set up 30-minute virtual coffee chats with other new hires and subject matter experts.
“Managers should also set expectations ahead of training sessions,” Wayman adds. New hires don’t know what they don’t know, so it’s up to managers to explain how they want individuals to engage with the materials and then meet them at their level.
Step 8: Collect feedback from new hires
This is an entirely new process and you’ll likely encounter bumps in the road. Collect feedback from your new hires and use their insight to improve your remote onboarding program as you go. Doing so will help you spot issues before they derail the process and enhance the experience for future new hires.
Ask for anonymous feedback via Google Forms or another survey tool, and focus on impact rather than simply likes and dislikes. “Ask, ‘After your onboarding experience, what are you the most confident in? The most excited for? What helped you to feel that way?’” advises Wayman. “Similarly, ask them what they’re nervous about or what they wish they had a better understanding of.” These types of questions will highlight your successes and shortcomings, as well as help direct managers identify areas to increase their training efforts.
Remote Onboarding Toolbox
Technology is the backbone of a successful remote onboarding process and you’ll need a few tools and resources in your arsenal to effectively integrate new hires into your company. To give your employees the best experience possible, invest in a variety of remote work tools and be confident in how to use each. Fortunately, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and global shift to remote work, several software providers are offering their products free of charge.
Here we’ll discuss some of the most important resources to have in your remote onboarding toolbox.
Video conferencing software
This is the single most important software to have. In addition to conducting video interviews and simply working remotely, you need a video conferencing platform to connect with new hires face-to-face during training sessions and introduce them to the rest of the team. Here are some of the top video conferencing tools available:
Document sharing software
Provide your new hires with all the information they’ll need ahead of time and in a neatly organized system. If your human capital management software does not offer document sharing capabilities, consider utilizing one of the following cloud-storage tools to house all your onboarding materials.
Employee engagement survey software
In addition to collecting feedback on your onboarding process, utilize an employee engagement survey to regularly poll your people on how they’re feeling. This is a huge adjustment period, and some folks may be struggling to feel connected — to their work and team members — through social distancing practices. The following tools streamline the process of sending and analyzing pulse surveys.
Project management software
A project management platform helps managers track their direct reports’ progress through the onboarding program. For your talent team, it provides a high-level overview of where new hires are getting stuck so you can optimize the process and smooth out wrinkles. Below are a few of the top project management tools to explore.
Learning and culture management software
One of the biggest advantages to remote onboarding is automation. You can seamlessly implement learning management systems to automate training sessions and foster culture initiatives. Check out the following software options as additional tools to enhance your onboarding process and remote work environment, in general.
Transitioning to a remote onboarding process is an opportunity to carefully evaluate your efforts and identify areas for improvement. While certainly a challenge, it doesn’t have to hold you back; use this as a chance to push boundaries and rethink your existing strategy. Develop innovative ways to foster connections between team members, emphasize your culture and support your people. Who knows, your onboarding sequence may evolve so much that you’re able to hire remote employees on a broader scale.