5 Best Strategies When On-Boarding Remote Employees

Have you recently hired new employees, but aren't sure what comes next in a remote-working world? Read on for best practices from Travis Leone, director of lifecycle marketing at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
remote employees
By Caitlin Wittlif Jul 8, 2020
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After poring over hundreds of resumes, partnering with your recruiters and human resources team, and organizing (and conducting) interviews, you’ve finally found the best fit for your open agency role. Hooray! The offer was made, paperwork was signed, now you can just kick your feet up and watch as your new employee takes off like a rocket. Right?

Not so fast. Once you’ve selected your new hire, it’s time to consider your on-boarding strategy. Sure, you could just forward a bunch of procedural emails to your newbie to study and send them on their way. But according to a report by Digitate, employees who have a negative new hire on boarding experience are twice as likely to look for new opportunities in the near future, and are also less likely to recommend an employer to a friend or family member. So if you want to set your new hire — and yourself — up for success, it’s important to take the on-boarding process seriously.

That’s why we engaged Travis Leone, the director of lifecycle marketing at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and an adjunct professor at the University of South Florida. Travis has been remote for four years, and has performed enough on-boarding of remote employees to have come up with five top tips for doing it well.

Be Prepared

If you’re on-boarding remote employees, it’s essential that you think ahead. “It requires you to have more organization in your on-boarding strategy,” Travis says. “You don’t have the luxury of being face to face, walking the halls with the new hire, chit-chatting at their desk – you have to almost treat on-boarding a new employee as if you were making a presentation to your boss. Have a clear agenda, walk through items step by step, provide them with take-away materials, give them things to follow up on — some self-development by researching things.” By having a thoughtfully constructed on-boarding process planned out, not only will you provide a great experience for your new hire, but you’ll also have a method that is repeatable, and that you can improve upon moving forward.

Buddy System

Even before working from home was a common practice, Travis was working remotely from his employees. “I’d tell a team member who was going to be onsite with an employee to buddy up with them, take them out to lunch with my corporate card, and generally be there as a support,” he says. Even in today’s circumstances, the buddy system is a great idea. By assigning a partner to your new hire, you provide them with a lifeline for questions and issues that naturally arise when someone has just joined a team.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be engaging remote employees. In fact, 72% of new hires said that one-on-one time with their direct manager was the most important part of the on-boarding process. “I’ll ensure that I’m meeting regularly with the new hire a little more heavily up front so I have an opportunity to establish a relationship with them as well,” Travis says. “I might ask [the new hire and their buddy], hey why don’t you go to a conference room and I’ll video chat with you. It can act as an informal meeting as well as a training meeting.”

Get the Right Tools

When it comes to tips for on-boarding remote employees, one of the most important is to ensure you have the right tools for the job. “From a tech perspective, tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack are paramount to accommodating quick communications,” Travis says. Particularly in the beginning of someone’s tenure at your agency, they are likely to run into unfamiliar situations more often at first and will need that ability to quickly connect. “I’d also say some type of project management tool is important. I’ve started to use software that offers a planner. Using a tool like that is very helpful because it allows us to keep track of project statuses.” If you have a great creative collaboration tool that can quickly get a new hire up to speed on who owns what, and how far along they are, it will be much easier for the newbie to add value.

Align With Hot Sheets

When you’re new to a company, you can sometimes feel a little insecure about whether you’re prioritizing tasks correctly, and how best to stay on track with your to-do list. This is where Travis recommends the use of written communication. “I ask new employees to provide a daily hot sheet, with three bullets of what their focus is for the day,” he explains. “It allows you to confirm the new employee is doing things that align to your overall strategic direction. It’s not to micro-manage, but when you are remote, over-communication is necessary. Something as simple as a daily hot sheet helps them stay organized, and you to be a better manager to them.” This is also a great strategy for new employees when they have their first coaching session with you down the line — at a glance, they can quickly remind themselves all they’ve accomplished during their first few weeks of work.

Make Time for Your Team

Ultimately, face-to-face conversation is what helps strengthen bonds more than anything. Loneliness, lack of social connection and difficulty communicating with co-workers are just some of the issues reported by remote workers, so set the tone early for real connection. “Weekly 1x1s are important,” Travis says. “It’s an opportunity for you to make sure [the new employee] understands where the team is headed. It also gives them an opportunity to ask you questions, and for you to make sure that they’re feeling supported and comfortable.”

As whole teams move to remote work, a sense of camaraderie often follows. “It breaks down that barrier of — oh, this is my dog barking, and this is my daughter crying in the background,” Travis says. “It’s that view behind the curtain. It allows you to establish a more personal relationship with your team.”

Welcoming a new team member is an exciting, re-energizing prospect that takes forethought to do well. If you make time for your new hire, and ensure that communication is clear, you’ll find success and satisfaction in on-boarding remote employees.

Want to put a great tool in place before your next round of on-boarding? Try CROOW, a project management application aimed at creative collaboration.