Remote onboarding: how to make it efficient, anywhere and anytime

Onboarding is not a new concept to many of us who’ve worked in more formalized offices. You’re likely to be used to this occurring over the first week or two weeks in a new role within a company, often filled with buzzwords and compliance reminders to ensure that you’re not only better informed about your job but you are also keenly aware of what the company does as well.

But working styles and environments are changing, and you are going to be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't believe that these changes have profound effects on onboarding processes as well. From the introduction and sudden speed-up of remote work within our workspaces to a general shift in culture regarding what kind of work employees find interesting, onboarding’s role now goes beyond introductions and towards a complete holistic overview of your company as well as a pitch towards why the work you do matters.

Since the scope of onboarding has been expanding, it’s important that the practices that surround it expand as well. There are several key practices that have become a standard with onboarding, but even these need to evolve once you factor in the dynamic and distinct environment of remote work. Fortunately, there are ways to translate even some of the most traditional tactics surrounding onboarding towards a distance setting.

Importance of a Successful Onboarding

It can be easy to discount onboarding as just a menial step in one’s journey in a new role. But onboarding, when done right, can better integrate new team members towards their specific responsibilities, tools, and even their own personal goals within the company. There’s also another reason onboarding exists consistently across some of the best businesses in different industries: it provides a good introduction to what the culture will be like.

With a larger percentage of workers now finding it much more of a priority to be in a company that aligns with their values, introducing the company culture early can help you remain competitive in the market by sourcing some of the best talents. But culture can be tricky to establish, let alone cultivate consistently. The onboarding’s role, then, is to represent the company culture, values, mission, and vision in a way that is digestible and interpretable by new hires and role transitioners.

Key for onboarding is setting up the idea that these types of “new hire training” are a continuous process rather than a singular thing you need to do at the start of your career. Indeed, while you may have developed a good understanding of the company through the perspective of a new hire in a specific role, getting promoted or switching departments can likely shift that perspective in a somewhat meaningful way. This also applies to situations such as larger organizational changes, policy updates, and leadership imperatives. As such, good onboarding programs are set up in a way that even current employees are “re-onboarded” with the company’s most pertinent items for their professional needs.

Different Styles of Onboarding

Onboarding, while a standard process for many, takes on many different forms across industries, companies, and even individual departments and teams. Naturally, the onboarding session should cover essential topics like roles and responsibilities, organizational structure, key compliance rules, and the broader culture that the company wishes to integrate into the new hire’s working style.

To do this, companies need to find the best way for their specific contexts to share the information and, almost just as importantly, answer any questions that the new hires might have as part of their onboarding process. With general introductory onboarding sessions like this being a fairly recent development in the workplace environment, managers nevertheless found three useful overarching practices that can provide a useful guiding point to how you should run your onboarding session as well.

Live Sessions

One of the most basic yet admittedly effective ways to conduct an onboarding session is through direct live sessions. These seminar-type training periods can better connect your new hires with all the important information that is part of the company’s onboarding checklist. With that, it’s highly key for the company in question to have a standardized format for doing so, as these sessions will often be repeated multiple times over the different hiring cycles the company will go through.

Smaller companies that might not have the largest pool of resources may find this a particular challenge, but in actual practice, this just necessitates having a set presentation deck that you can update whenever needed to better fit any changes in the organization.

Despite how widespread this practice may be in the general working environment, it does have its drawbacks. Firstly, you’re likely going to need to gather a larger group of people to make this an efficient process, so this means syncing up your hiring cycles to better match when onboarding will occur. You’re also likely going to need the physical or digital space that can manage the capacity of a group of new hires over the course of several hours. Which would mean needing a ready lecture hall at your disposal, or preparing a virtual meeting room in remote or hybrid style. Moreover, the one-way dialogue that usually appears when a facilitator is discussing over a long period of time can hinder engagement and affect how well someone absorbs the information being presented.

Asynchronous Materials

With the above issues commonly occurring in live sessions, it can be hard to properly onboard everyone at the same pace without losing some integral messaging in the noise. One of the simplest ways companies have found a workaround for this is to develop useful asynchronous materials that cover their onboarding for the new hires’ review at their own leisure.

It may seem like an entirely separate endeavour from what trainers are used to, but asynchronous materials can be expressed in simple yet effective ways. For example, having print materials that outline core aspects of the business can be useful in keeping people engaged even after the live aspect of the onboarding process.

Some companies go the extra mile and integrate this thinking into their merchandise. If your company is pushing a specific particular message as part of its overall organizational direction, it can also reinforce this through different office amenities expressing the same. Companies like LinkedIn, Google, and Microsoft are all large enough companies to have developed their own internal line of merchandise that help espouse key values that the company believes in. Even smaller businesses can do this through simple branded office gear, just make sure that whatever you use to represent your business is appropriate and in line with your company’s overall vision.

Hybrid Engagement

With two different ways of going about onboarding, it’s only natural you try and see if you can combine the strengths of each one to mitigate their respective shortcomings. Print materials can help further reinforce teachings that came previously through a live seminar or be sent as a pre-read to better inform new hires of what they would expect.

The key here is to ensure engagement and participation from your new hires as this can help them better “buy in” to the company’s overall culture and goals. So mix things up by including activities and workshops that can help bring in some more involvement from your participants. Often companies will utilize quizzes to test employee absorption of the information while incentivizing them with interesting tokens and merchandise.

The sky is the limit with what you can do, and you’ll want to do this well as this is essentially the first impression you’ll give your employees when they have their first day in the office.

Translating Onboarding for Remote Use

We mentioned earlier that onboarding is likely to become an ongoing process rather than one that is isolated in the first few weeks of any particular role. But planning these updates and executing them can take a toll on resources and team efforts, especially as we consider the three general onboarding styles that were prevalent in the workplace.

But with remote work being less of an exception and more of a standard, onboarding practices have begun changing to better fit these new contexts. What’s interesting to note is that rather than generate even larger costs and strains on your resources, these shifts have actually shown some upside in providing certain efficiencies that in-person onboarding sessions can’t realize.

Whether it’s through the infusion of efficiencies brought about by better technologies or a larger shift in capabilities coupled with very different workplace contexts, the shift to remote onboarding is definitely a move that not only allows you to connect with new hires regardless of territory but to do so in an effective and cost-efficient manner.

Virtual Conferences

With technologies developing at lightning speed, it wasn’t a surprise that the first thing to get adopted by the vast majority of companies was the virtual conference functionalities. Meetings still needed to occur to get things done within an organization, and this extends toward getting employees onboarded and ready to start their journey in the company.

As such, it’s key to adapt your company’s onboarding seminars to a virtual format. This strategy even provides your team with more cost-saving efficiencies as you no longer need to reserve a large enough function room to hold these sessions (as well as avoid additional costs in food and materials). Here, you can utilize all the different learnings above, especially those that focus on engagement through online interactions and smaller items like virtual backgrounds.

Virtual onboarding has become the norm now as companies move towards a largely hybrid system, with both training facilitators and participants enjoying the flexibility of when and where they can attend the orientation properly. Training managers, in particular, have more control as they essentially just need to ensure their online rooms work properly and can even record and share the session with those who are not currently present. These virtual onboarding sessions not only provide better efficiencies but a better sense of inclusivity to participants who may not be able to attend physically for one reason or another.

Online Learning Modules

With live conference seminars being efficient, both in cost and in execution, it still hits some of the same pitfalls that in-person live sessions have, that being the need for them to be synchronous. While print materials and merchandise might be working to better bolster the onboarding experience, today’s remote workplace environment can make it difficult to reach new hires in a prompt and effective way.

But similarly to virtual conferences, technology has found a way to develop asynchronous materials to better share information in an engaging way: learning modules. These simple interactive presentations get your new hires actively involved in the learning process, weaving case studies, question check-ins, and multimedia functionalities into one short training module. The best part is that these live purely asynchronously, meaning your new hires can choose to answer this at the best time that’s convenient for them.

Platform Collaboration

Lastly, given all of what we’ve discussed so far with virtual conferences and online training modules, we understand that technology does indeed play a large part in how your employees can be onboarded in today’s remote work landscape. As such, it’s an opportunity for your company to also evolve past the one-way discussion of how onboarding is managed and move towards a more two-way conversation of what the company expects out of its new hires and what these newcomers want out of the company.

These days, with culture being important and work benefits beyond compensation being a much stronger competitive aspect for companies to leverage, maintaining this two-way dialogue between workers can help you better understand what your company needs to be doing. Utilize online surveys and even launch anonymous polls to collect information securely and efficiently. You can even utilize digital whiteboards to collect feedback visually and have others see their peers’ comments alongside theirs. With these remote onboarding strategies, you can better build a program to introduce your workers to your company (and mould your company to changing talent) quicker, anywhere, and at any time.

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