How to Onboard Remote Employees

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How to onboard remote employees in 2021

Growing your business – especially in new markets – is an exciting but challenging time. You need strategies to onboard remote employees to help you grow because you need to onboard in order to scale. But you still need to retain what makes your organisation a great place to work.

This isn’t easy as the more people are involved the harder it is to cling to the vision and values that made your business successful thus far.

Nailing your hiring and onboarding process during the next stage of your growth will help to retain much of what makes your company unique.

This, of course, starts with the hiring process. Producing job ads that exemplify who you are and what you do. Injecting as much personality as you would find on your website will help you to attract the right people.

After all, if you’re on an adventure of discovery you don’t necessarily want to attract people who like to play it super safe.

Inevitably you will end up onboarding the wrong kind of hires and the company culture will start to split. 

This is especially true if you’re building remote teams, simply because you will need to work harder to induct them into the company culture and buy into its values.

Whether you’re adapting your business to match the shift in working habits or you’re setting up a new team in a new region or country, remote working is an effective way of building your team, providing you hire the right people and get them onboarded properly.

But in any case, before you start onboarding your remote team, you need to recruit them!

Culture first recruitment:

When Sir Ernest Shackleton put together his team to explore the Antarctic he posted an advert in the newspaper which read:

"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success."

Onboard Remote Employees

Sir Ernest set the expectation right from the outset, he knew who he needed for his journey. He also made it clear that the chances of success were not guaranteed. 

Your company is no different when it comes to your recruitment strategy. You not only need the right people but you need them to be invested in your cause. Otherwise, your mission fails.

Communicating your mission and values on your website is a worthwhile exercise as it qualifies out as many potential candidates as it qualifies in.

This is important because you don’t want to hire anyone. You want to hire people who want to be part of your journey, rather than people who are in it solely for the money.

Those people won’t last and you’ll spend exorbitant amounts of your recruitment budget replacing people who shouldn’t have been hired in the first place.

A culture first approach ensures that you can quickly identify who makes a good fit for your business, wherever they are in the world.

This significantly speeds up the recruitment and onboarding processes because your new hires will be motivated and looking forward to their first day.

It’s also worth noting that surveys overwhelmingly point towards the fact that Xennials, Millennials and Gen Z see culture as one of the most important factors when choosing an employer.

Whether you agree with this sentiment or not, they make up the majority of the workforce. Tailor your message so it resonates with your future workforce to ensure you get the right people in the role.

Recruiting internationally

One of the benefits of building remote teams is you are unburdened by distance. If you’ve built your processes from the ground up to onboard remote employees, then you don’t mind if the remote employee is in Plymouth, UK or Plymouth, USA.  Your team can be more or less anywhere in the world, providing you can get them the hardware they need and they’ve got a decent internet connection.

Building remote teams allow you to recruit the very best people, rather than the best people within an hour’s commute. Bringing employees over from other countries to work is complicated and expensive.

Depending on where you’re based it can also be very difficult as there’s often legislation preventing a business from hiring a foreign national if a native-born applicant can do the job. Even if they can’t do it as well.

Hiring internationally but allowing them to work remotely skirts around some of those issues but you may need to set up a business in the new country and there could be tax implications. You will certainly need to speak with a lawyer who is an expert in the laws of the relevant country to understand what’s possible.   

There are disadvantages to recruiting internationally, of course. Casting your net so wide means a lot more applicants. But, once again, if you’ve got your messaging right both on your site and in your job ads, you should deter anyone just looking for a payday.

This means you can focus on building the best team – wherever they are in the world. However, before you post your job ad, there are important things to consider:

Local legislation 

Employment law can vary significantly from one country to the next. Everything from workers’ rights to notice periods can change from one country to the next. 

If you want to recruit in Germany, you will need to have a registered office somewhere in the country. This is because Germany has a very protectionist view of its economy so they try to make it as difficult as possible for foreign businesses to take money and skills out of the country.

One way around this is to hire on a contract basis but be warned, this could fly in the face of your company values and undermine what you’re trying to build.

There’s also nothing stopping your contractors from quitting with a week’s notice and taking work elsewhere. There are also timezone constraints when you are onboard remote employees in a different country. 

It’s also worth checking legislation around things like national insurance, pensions, medical insurance and any other costs you may be expected to payout.

Understand your tax obligations

There is some common ground when it comes to tax laws – such as income tax and sales taxes (VAT). How each company goes about collecting those taxes, and what the liabilities are for a business can be very different.

The UK for example deducts income tax automatically as salaries are paid out. As an employer, you are required to make those payments on your employees’ behalf. This means having a UK bank account, a registered UK address (a PO Box will do) and you need to have an account with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). And preferably a good accountant.

The advantage with the UK system is that once everything is set up the process is partially automated which makes things quicker.

Consider what markets you would be happy to recruit from and then carry out thorough research to make sure it is cost-effective for you to do so. 

Time zones 

With the right information and with readily available technology, laws and distance can be overcome with relative ease. 

However, an important consideration when recruiting overseas is the time difference. Depending on where you’re recruiting this doesn’t have to be a problem.

There will usually be a window either at the beginning or at the end of the day to fit in calls or collaborate on projects. 

The other alternative is to develop a way of working that allows you to hand over projects to the teams who are just starting their day. This allows your business to progress with projects much quicker as you’re producing twice the amount of work within the same 24 hour period.

Timezones can work to your advantage when it comes to delivering for your customers. But you need to plan around them when you think about how to onboard remote employees. 

Remote Work

Remote onboarding

When you onboard remote employees, the challenges aren’t entirely dissimilar from onboarding team members based in your office. The training will be the same, as will all the key information. 

The only real difference is you won’t need to show them around the building. However, it’s for this reason that remote team members can be forgotten about or inadvertently pushed to the side.

Having a process in place so all remote workers get regular calls to check on their progress is essential. As is a call to introduce them to everyone else in the wider team.

While many people thrive in a remote working role, they still need to feel connected to the organisation. As a manager, it is your responsibility to make sure they feel as supported as the person sitting next to you.

Communication

Take advantage of the fact that much of your communication with your remote teams will be via email. Send them information about their new teammates, the projects they’ll be working on and what they can expect as their start draws near. And when they can expect their computer. 

Creating a sense of occasion to any new starter’s first day will make them feel valued but this matters a lot more for remote workers. Because they will miss out on the social aspect, you need to work twice as hard to make them feel included.

Part of this is to make sure a solution is in place that allows them to communicate with any member of their team or department from the first day. 

There are plenty of solutions available ranging from Slack to Google Meet

Use these tools to check in regularly and arrange team stand-ups so the remote team can build a sense of belonging.

Don’t limit this to formal meetings where there’s work to discuss. Schedule online coffee breaks, or similar, so the whole team can get to know each other.

It’s also worth assigning them a buddy or mentor. Ideally, this should be a remote worker who has been with the company for a while.

They will be perfectly placed to help with the challenges that can come from working remotely. This will help to make your new hires feel valued and keep their morale high during those first few nervous weeks.

Tech

This is routinely overlooked when we talk about how to onboard remote employees. Providing your new hires with the right hardware and software is important. 

Most businesses see technology, not as an investment. This often results in businesses buying the cheapest hardware they can get away with and using as many free or freemium apps too. A ‘make do’ attitude is damaging, not least for the business.

Old or poor performing computers make tasks slow and frustrating. This drains morale out of a team as the team is powerless to fix it, all they can do is request better computers.

However, depending on the culture of your organisation, new hires are rarely so brave as to demand a new computer as they won’t feel safe in their position.

This is often due to many businesses having the regrettable habit of effectively punishing the new people simply for being new. In these environments, only the senior people get the best computers. This is despite the junior employees generally needing the processing power as their tasks are more intensive.

Moving away from this mindset and investing in all your employees so they have the tools to succeed will help the entire organisation.

The right hardware means tasks won’t be slow and frustrating. The right software will make those tasks easier because your teams will have the functionality to carry them out effectively. 

Equally, if you expect your teams to be using Zoom or one of the other many video conferencing platforms, they need a computer that can cope without overheating. Or crashing. Or both.

Have the hardware ready

This may seem obvious but one of the most common criticisms among new hires is the business didn’t seem prepared for their arrival. 

Specifically, their computer wasn’t available or wasn’t ready. This can be easily remedied with a robust process, especially if you have an in-house IT department.

When it comes to a remote team you need to decide if any applications are going to be installed ahead of time or by the user once they’ve received them.

You then need to build in either extra time to order the machine, set it up and then ship it on. Or plan the first day so there is adequate time to install any applications they need.

Create a process

Just as you have a process for onboarding office-based employees, you should have a process to onboard remote employees as well. 

This should be parallel to, but separate from, the process for office-based employees. This is because remote employees can’t participate in a lot of the usual rituals that take place when someone starts a new job.

Making them wait around for everyone else to get the tour, eat welcome cake and get shown where the fire exits are is a great way to demotivate your remote hires.

You need to devise an onboarding programme that will engage them, punctuated with calls from you, their new team and anyone else they should be introduced to.

The object of the exercise is for your remote employees to feel as valued and happy in their decision to join you as office-based employees.

You will only achieve this through planning and building a ‘how to onboard remote employees’ standard operating process (SOP).  

In addition to making time to virtually meet key members of the organisation and their team, you will also need to structure the onboarding process. This should include:

  • Relevant processes – whether they’re in sales, marketing or HR, they need to be familiar with the process that their department follows.
  • Compliance – processes are usually underpinned by legal requirements so making sure they understand their responsibilities is important.
  • Software training – if you use software packages beyond the run of the mill Office or G Suite you should allow for adequate training. Not least because it’s a lot harder to ask someone if they get stuck.
  • Support functions – take the time to familiarise your new hires with the IT reporting system and HR so if they have any questions they can go straight to the source.

Delivering effective onboarding

To onboard remote employees effectively you need to distil everything you would tell a new hire in the office, into an online presentation or digital learning experience. 

While you could opt for death by PowerPoint this has two major drawbacks. It’s boring and you’ve got absolutely no way of knowing if the information sticks.

Or if they even paid attention.

This is a problem not least because you could have entire teams of poorly qualified employees working with reduced oversight without a proper understanding of what they should be doing.

While such an issue won’t take long to become apparent, it’s entirely avoidable. It’s also generally better for morale if you’re not sacking entire teams because they couldn’t do their job.

Not least because as their manager you are ultimately responsible for their job performance. So if the training didn’t stick you need to ask why.

The answer is obvious, being talked at while being shown slides is a terrible way to learn. That’s true if you’re in the same room as your audience or talking to them through a screen.

Any onboarding has to be interesting, engaging and aligned with your culture and values.

Bespoke training, tailored to the role (and the individual where possible) will go a long way to making sure your remote teams get the information they need.

Building in exercises or short tests that they have to complete to progress will help them maintain focus. And help them to retain the information too.

You can also see where your new hires are exceeding or struggling. This will help you to tailor future training programmes to help your remote teams succeed or progress within the business.

Make it personal

While it’s tempting to create a training programme that you can mass email to the new team and let them get on with it, that would be a mistake.

It would prevent you from exploring all the uniquely valuable reasons you hired these people in the first place.

Tailoring each onboarding experience to the person, their skills and experience will help you to understand more about them. It will help you to understand how their skills can be put to best use. Or where they might need a little extra support.

Taking time with each of your new hires will help you to build a rapport with them, build bonds of trust and help to solidify the team.

Encourage questioning

No matter how robust you believe your processes to be, or how thorough your training, there are always new approaches.

Encourage your remote workers to ask questions and provide feedback on their experience. Remember, they are effectively isolated on the edge of your organisation so will not have the freedom to ask questions as they go.

Building in time for open forum Q&A sessions either at the end of each training session or at the end of the day will give them the opportunity to get the information they need.

It is also an opportunity for you to improve your training for the next batch of remote workers.

Remember, questions aren’t a challenge to your authority, or an attempt to undermine your efforts. Rather it is a fresh perspective, learning about what you do for the first time. 

Foster this ‘restless questioning’ as it will only improve the onboarding experience and help your team feel heard.

Managing the remote employee onboarding process

Creating a remote onboarding process takes planning and effort. You need to understand your recruitment strategy end to end so you can produce an onboarding process that fits.

You then need to create an onboarding experience that your remote workers will get value out of, feel valued while completing it, and be ready to work by the end of it.

“Off the shelf” training systems aren’t built to help you train remote teams across a variety of roles. They can help with certain generic aspects of onboarding like ‘what is GDPR’ but they don’t help train on what GDPR means for your business or what you sell and how it helps your buyers. Instead, you need a bespoke training regime or a blended approach that uses some off the shelf and some fully custom content. 

Custom digital training experiences offer the best approach because the digital aspect allows for an immersive and interactive approach. To learn more about how training via digital experiences works, download our whitepaper

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