Remote onboarding isn’t new, but it gained prominence when we were stuck at home during the pandemic. With more of us working from home or from non-office locations around the world, HR leaders and employees have had to quickly adapt to the concept of remote working.

For HR leaders, adopting new onboarding strategies that use technology has presented as many opportunities as challenges. For candidates, a broader landscape awaits, in which their skills aren’t limited to commutable distance. The rewards for both parties lie in how well your onboarding infrastructure works.

Let’s dig deeper into what it takes to help HR professionals and new recruits adapt to an advanced remote onboarding process, so there’s a successful outcome for everybody.

The technical

One way to kickstart a remote onboarding programme is to lay a solid technology foundation. We assume everybody knows how to use cameras and microphones, but it’s a myth we can bust. People need help at home and in the office. As recently as 2018, there were still 5.3 million adults in the UK described as ‘internet non-users’, according to the ONS. To help people connect the dots, break down every facet of your organisation’s technology stack and consider what technology is essential for smooth remote onboarding.

This process for you might include investing in better cameras and microphones for conducting face-to-face conference calls. The platforms we use to connect, collaborate and communicate are nothing without the basics of good audio and video. It also pays to practise as much as possible so that calls are professionally hosted. If your HR team is camera-shy, try to work around it to still be able to provide the confidence and clarity candidates require when they start working at your company. Plus, as Bilal Aijazi says in this Forbes article: ‘More important is being purposeful and intentional, and setting standards for how those tools are used.’

So, be mindful about expectations around how the company uses apps, and how colleagues conduct themselves during calls. Remote onboarding can hugely help in laying foundations for appropriate behaviours.

Invest in online services that handle legal onboarding duties such as contracts, confidentiality documents, and financials. The days of passing paper back and forth by snail mail should be over! And when it comes to plentiful onboarding materials, companies can use videos and podcasts instead of documents, so links provide useful online materials that are clearer and easier to digest. Try to stay out of folder structures, which can be confusing for new recruits who are not used to how materials and assets are organised. It’s ideal if people can access employee handbooks, training materials, guides and templates from a central online hub or wiki. This would make version control a piece of cake, too.

We often throw so many documents their way, it’s easy to forget new hires are fresh and need help. Keep stuff out of emails and use Slack instead, or software such as Notion and Craft, and other non-HR-specific tools.

More complex technology considerations include making sure security training is part of the remote onboarding strategy. When we work from remote locations, we’re not always aware of best practice security hygiene, so make it a priority. The sooner we all know what a virtual private network (VPN) is, the better.

Whatever your plans for using technology, don’t overdo it. A study by Virtira Consulting in 2021 reveals that people get ‘Zoom fatigue’, with 63% of remote workers participating in more meetings online than they would in the office. We may mean well, but people want time to be productive too.

The process

Onboarding can be rigid and process-driven. Remote onboarding ideally follows the structures in place, but be open-minded to new ways of doing things. In time, they may replace those the organisation has spent years honing, but which may have become redundant or old-fashioned.

If remote onboarding has taught us anything, it’s the importance of staying connected to people in faraway places. The golden rule is to never neglect a remote worker. Arrange regular one-to-one meetings in which progress is reviewed, and catch up with how the new employee is doing. This is the perfect opportunity to introduce a digital buddy, who shadows the recruit and frequently checks in with them.

Remote onboarding needs over-communication more than anything. Once the remote worker switches off their video conferencing software, they don’t have a colleague to bounce an idea off, or answer questions. They can’t glance around the office to see how other people react to information, or perform certain tasks. Part of a good remote onboarding strategy is to provide clear messages, then repeat them, and repeat them again in new ways. People may occasionally say they understand something when they actually don’t. Anticipate this and offer clarification.

As with any new HR strategy, ensure everyone knows what’s changing. Include the HR team in the process if you can, and make sure remote onboarding is a smooth and consistent experience for them as well as candidates.

81% of all employees surveyed by Jabra agree that ‘organisations who embrace [a] hybrid model will have a competitive edge in the future’. This is why it’s vital there’s a clearly mapped remote onboarding strategy from the outset, not just for employees, but for the business too.

The personal

The in-person experience is obviously missing, so make up for it with kindness and empathy. There’s always room to go the extra mile to make people feel welcome, even at the end of a camera lens. There are some great ideas for appreciating remote workers once they’re fully onboarded, but try to get a head-start on this with a welcome gift. Along with the laptop you’re sending, why not add a surprise microphone to the parcel, and a basket of goodies to enjoy at home. If you know they have a dog, send a rubber toy. Why? Because it’s fun, and it’s human kindness. Consider this for offering incentives that keep people engaged, too.

Onboarding can last for quite some time, so it’s crucial that people feel aware of and connected to the culture, and are building relationships.

Initial onboarding steps could include a senior manager joining a call to say hello. Introduce the new person to as many colleagues as possible, and keep them busy in the initial few weeks. Don’t be afraid to throw them into a big project if they can handle it. Distance doesn’t have to be an obstacle in getting stuck in.

Onboarding may have changed, yet many of the skills required to be a great HR professional remain. Apply these skills to the new challenges around technology adoption and business processes, and your HR leadership team is good to go.

Add the personal touch to connect better, which promotes engagement. Remote recruits need a helping hand as they get to know you and the business. Help them achieve it.