Onboarding remote employees doesn't have to be hard

Since not all employees return to the office, companies must onboard remote employees effectively

Last month, I noted that staffers work from home just fine. Yes, I know some companies, including Zoom, demand that employees return to the office after making their fortune with remote work. And Congressional Republicans want to turn back the clock with its SHOW UP Act.

So, what? There will always be moronic managers — ignore them. It would be best to focus on getting the most from your remote workers as quickly as possible.

Before diving into that issue, let me give you some facts about labor today. Anthony A. Reynolds, CEO of HR company HireVue, put it this way: "The Great Resignation isn't over. The truth is we've just gotten used to higher quit rates from workers who are unsatisfied and seeking better opportunities."

How much higher? According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are still 9.8 million job openings. Of those, 4 million were from people who quit their jobs. "There aren't signs of this slowing down — we've just gotten used to a baseline of higher quits," Reynolds said.

Why are people quitting? In part, it's because they do not want to return to the office.

A recent study from the Conference Board, a business think tank, found that almost half (48%) of workers still want to work from home. Susanna Mittermaier, clinical psychologist and founder of Pragmatic Psychology, agreed. "To reduce stress, employees need to know that they have choice over their own work conditions, feeling like they are contributing in a meaningful way, and feeling appreciated. Being forced to work in a location that does not suit you, with no meaningful well-being support, is a surefire ticket to psychological difficulties."

Ding! Ding! Ding!

Given the obvious benefits of letting people work remotely, it's important to make sure you set them up to succeed while working from home.

As my friend Inna Kuznetsova, CEO of ToolsGroup, an international supply chain and retail planning company, told me: "We onboard many remote people from juniors to C level, and they deliver results quickly. The key is to ensure that there is a detailed plan besides 'talk to Bob' by the first day — with their calendars filled with meetings, documents being sent in advance, follow-up by management, etc."

Cyndy Bates Finnie, another friend and the vice president of program management at Activate Marketing Services, agreed. "You need a detailed plan, which means you can explain what's expected, train and coach them, and know what success looks like to know when they've achieved it," she said.

Exactly. This is also key to managing remote people. They — and you — need to know exactly what you want them to do.

Personally, I don't care how my employees do their work. I care about the results. So be it if they can produce results by working between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. from their bathroom.

How elaborate should your remote onboarding plans be? Extremely. I really like GitLab's comprehensive remote onboarding approach. This 100% remote company spells out every last detail, and it works.

Another friend, FileZilla Director of Strategy Roberto Galoppini, added, "At FileZilla, we have been remote only from day zero, onboarding people from all over the world, hence managing people working from different time zones. I don't remember any particular issue unless we were trying to onboard the 'wrong' person, but that would have been a problem in person, too."

Galoppini is quite right. Many problems you might think are remote-specific actually aren't.

In a recent Forbes remote onboarding article, Lyssa Hansard, CEO of Cura HR,  argued that "new employees should meet with their manager for week one and then meet with different leaders for the 30-, 60- and 120-day check-ins. This will ensure leadership understands the new employee's work and life goals, plans to achieve them, and what leaders and the organization can do to support their growth."

I'll add this: if there's a disconnect between the employee and what you expect from them, you can spot it early on.

Ann Schlemmer, CEO of open-source database support company Percona, had another useful suggestion in the same piece: "…Provide an onboarding buddy for all new team members. This is someone who is not necessarily on the same team a new starter can turn to for help understanding systems and processes. This makes it clear there is always someone available to help with any questions they might have when they join."

Of course, having a mentor could help, too. But most people at first just need a work buddy to tell them what's what with your company.

As always, clear communications are key for both remote and in-office workers.

As Jacob Kupietzky, president of HCT Executive Interim Management & Consulting, said, "Whether it's through phone calls, meetings, messages or Slack, do whatever it takes to not just onboard and provide new employees with the manual and expectations, but also immerse them in your culture and create camaraderie."

While this won't work for everyone, I'm a big fan of how Amazon Web Services (AWS) does meetings. Instead of showing everyone PowerPoints to get them on board or make decisions, AWS bases its get-togethers virtually via Amazon Chimes and in person by reading a document and then discussing the issues it brings up. (If that sounds confusing, here's a useful demo.)

What I like about this methodology is that it ensures everyone is on the same page. That's especially important when someone is new to a company.

Now, you needn't use AWS's approach. But, if you follow the general course of these suggestions, you and your new remote employees will be happy and do well.


Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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