A person holding a card that reads 'I'm new' at an office.
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How to approach and measure successful remote onboarding

28 Apr 2020

Fiona Claridge of Own The Room offers her tips for making new employees feel welcome and comfortable when companies are onboarding remotely.

Employers may be faced with many new challenges as a result of Covid-19 restrictions, including adjusting to remote working and communications, and balancing productivity and wellbeing for staff.

If teams are still hiring, a new set of tasks arise that many businesses won’t have faced before, such as successfully onboarding staff by virtual means. To gain some insights into that process, we spoke to Fiona Claridge, the Ireland country lead of Own The Room, a training platform for leaders that uses virtual and in-person learning methods.

Black and white headshot of Fiona Claridge.

Fiona Claridge. Image: Own The Room

How is remote onboarding different to in-person onboarding?

With remote onboarding, you have to be more thoughtful about how the new team member will make connections to the company and with individuals within the company, as well as how they will be immersed in your culture.

When you do in-person onboarding, these things happen through osmosis and you don’t have to think as much about them. It’s really important to set up regular meetings with the new employee and their manager. I’d recommend daily for the first two weeks, and then down to every other day, then once a week for regular one-to-ones.

In addition, it’s good to have the new employee have a go-to contact for questions who is not their manager. As that manager-employee relationship is developing, it may be easier to pose some questions and get a quicker response from a peer.

Lastly, it’s important to make sure that your checklist of onboarding items is fool-proof and everyone has done their part, so that when the employee receives their laptop in the mail and opens it on day one, it’s all set up with the things they need to get started right away.

What, in your opinion, are the most important things to keep in mind and prioritise with remote onboarding?

A detailed onboarding plan, a traceable and trackable process and feedback loops are crucial. Integration via regular video calls with colleagues (with the camera on) is also crucial. But here’s the secret: your audience will remember only a small part of what they hear.

Research has proven that we learn best by interacting with the subject matter, rather than simply watching or listening. In order to make any message or learning stick, you should talk less and get the new employee involved as much as possible.

How do you do that? Create an atmosphere where participants are encouraged to ask questions and even provide some of the answers themselves.

Not only will it make them feel smart, but it will engage them on a deeper level than simply listening to you explain the facts, allowing them to retain your message much longer.

What skills are important to draw on throughout the process?

This depends on who we are talking about. The HR professional? Colleagues? The new employee?

From the employee’s side, I would say being proactive and self-disciplined is crucial and also feeling comfortable with switching between a variety of topics in a day.

Colleagues from different departments play a crucial and large part in remote onboarding. You need to have a structured approach set out across each department, for example a starter pack from marketing on the essentials, such as email signatures, out of office messages, brand guidelines, the LinkedIn profile and a glossary of terms.

Of course, communicating effectively with remote team members requires a specific set of skills that are essential to ensure individuals understand their goals, objectives and the company mission and ethos. Be clear and concise in all communications whether over email or video, be visual and watch the jargon and acronyms. An accumulation of acronyms and department-specific jargon impedes communication and makes newcomers hesitant to speak up when they don’t understand what is being referenced.

There needs to be a particular focus on managing and connecting with remote individuals virtually. Most importantly, employees need to feel connected and part of both their team and the wider business. As a manager, develop active listening skills, ask short, open questions and learn when to suspend your own agenda to help with building trust and genuine connection from the start. Want to know a great tip for making the new employee think you care? Actually care.

How can you measure whether onboarding was successful or not?

It’s important to establish clear metrics for each position. There’s no one-size-fits-all for measuring success. At Own The Room, we typically establish clear objectives for the new employee for the first week, month and three months. This allows us to quickly see if our onboarding is working and whether the employee is performing at the level they need to.

However, every position will differ in terms of what this looks like. More senior or executive roles, for example, may have a longer onboarding period – as much as a year – before the new employee is expected to be fully up to speed.

What are the major things to avoid, if possible?

Letting go too early. It’s easy to see that the remote employee is chatting on the company intranet and seems to be progressing on things and assume that they’re fully up to speed. You have to be more deliberate about observing them in their daily work habits, even if it’s awkward to do so via video conferencing, so that you can see how they’re doing their work in addition to the fact that things seem to be getting done.

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