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Not so long ago it was unthinkable to hire somebody without meeting them in person. But like many things in 2020, things have shifted and many organisations are gradually becoming more comfortable with remote processes for hiring and onboarding new employees through necessity. Moving forward, remote and digital processes will become embedded in the way many organisations engage with people. So how can your onboarding programs evolve and adapt?

There’s only one first impression!

New hire onboarding is a critical process for any organisation. Your new employee’s first impressions of your organisation’s culture and operations will have a lasting impact on their retention, productivity and sense of belonging. Indeed, research shows that organisations with strong onboarding processes can improve new hire retention by 82 percent and productivity by over 70 percent – so investing in good onboarding processes in any setting is worth the effort! 

Our experience tells us that the strongest employee onboarding programs – whether delivered remotely or in person – are those that are structured, strategic and people-focused. The best programs measure their success not just on whether your new employee has completed their paperwork and ‘ticked all the boxes’, but on how smoothly they are integrated into your organisation’s culture and operations. 

Remote onboarding – same, same, but different

If you’ve encountered the challenge of onboarding new staff remotely in 2020, you’re not alone! Many organisations are experiencing growing pains and logistical discomforts as they navigate new ways of working. And while the core purpose of onboarding hasn’t changed, the delivery certainly has. This presents challenges that range from ‘how do we get a laptop from A to B?’ to ‘what can fill the gaps left by the absence of incidental social interaction in the workplace?’; but it also offers an opportunity for your organisation to embrace changes such as digital contract management (through services like DocuSign or or PandaDoc) that can benefit the organisation more broadly.

Existing onboarding practices – such as providing a list of key contacts, outlining a schedule for the first week, and buddy programs – can quickly be adapted to suit remote use. For example, you might add details around the preferred channels of communication for key contacts (mobile, Slack, email, Teams, etc.), include clear guidance around working hours and expectations for taking breaks on the schedule for the first week, and arrange for your new starter’s buddy to get in touch by phone before Day 1. 

Establish an onboarding journey map

So where do you start with remote onboarding? We recommend starting by developing an onboarding journey map. Put your new starter at the centre of your journey map and consider what resources, information or connections they need to be successful at each stage from the point of hire through to the end of their probationary period. Coordinate these stages and needs across all key stakeholders, from hiring manager and HR, to senior leadership, colleagues and buddies. The more responsibility is shared for onboarding, the more opportunities there will be for your new starter to build connections and start contributing to your organisation sooner. 

Your onboarding journey map should provide a clear picture of what the expectations and responsibilities are for both your new starter and each stakeholder at each stage. What does your employee need to be successful and productive on Day 1, Day 30, Day 60, Day 90? Include a communication plan and think explicitly about everything from technology, to training, skill development, culture, and fun! 

Don’t underestimate the power of getting the logistics right

Having a clear onboarding journey map should allow you to identify processes that are likely to be more logistically complex than usual. Something as simple as your new starter having everything they need to hit the ground running from their very first day goes a long way to creating a strong first impression and enabling them to start contributing to the organisation sooner. Make sure any equipment (e.g. a laptop with the right applications, permissions, security and communications software) is prepared and delivered the week prior to Day 1, and consider scheduling a remote orientation with IT to step your new starter through logging in, connecting to your VPN and accessing files and applications. Getting the logistics right means your new starter can spend less time worrying about whether their IT skills are up to scratch, and more time getting started in their new role.

Create connections to build culture

In remote settings, hiring managers need to be more intentional in creating opportunities to share and embed organisational culture and expectations with their new employees. Help your new starter get up to speed on cultural norms by sharing them explicitly – for example, call out your expectations on things like having your video turned on in team Zoom calls, or help them understand the right times to use email or Teams chat functions. Create opportunities with regular check-ins and virtual team coffee-breaks, and explicitly encourage buddies and co-workers to make connections. Buddies, too, should be intentional in their roles; making it clear to their new charge that they are a safe person to come to when they’re having a ‘I have no idea what I’m doing!’ moment!

If your culture is well defined and embraces open questioning and collaboration, give your new starter opportunities to see this in action – perhaps through a daily virtual ‘stand-up’ that encourages all team members to share and seek input from others. Perhaps most importantly, try to make time for something that’s a little bit of fun, so that life for your new starter is not just logistics, Zoom meetings, Teams chats and plans. 

Refine and improve

Onboarding – whether remote or in-person – is much like learning a new skill; it takes good planning, consistent practice, intentional moments of reflection and clear measurements of success. Take the time to reflect on your onboarding processes at each stage, checking in with your new starter and other stakeholders to identify areas for improvement, refinement or celebration. Moving forward – whether a percentage of your workforce is remote or not – it makes sense to have both powerful face-to-face and remote onboarding capabilities in your organisation. 

Keep an eye on the GWG blog for the latest local employment news and advice. And if you need assistance with recruitment or outplacement, don’t hesitate to get in touch to find out how we can help.

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