A comprehensive guide to onboarding remotely for the first time

Home | Insights | Employers and Hiring Practice | A comprehensive guide to onboarding remotely for the first time
Young woman with dog in office

Onboarding staff is one of the most integral stages to the recruitment process. As you know, carrying out comprehensive and effective onboarding ensures that your employees will have the best possible chance of successfully integrating into their new role, team and company. Conversely, poor onboarding may impact turnover, staff morale and training, which can prove to be a costly exercise.

The recruitment and onboarding process has had to adapt to the growing phenomenon of remote workers on flexible working arrangements, with some virtual employees working far from the company office, or even in another country. Onboarding new staff remotely is therefore a reality that every business should be prepared for.

So, how do employers onboard effectively without meeting new staff in person? These are our top remote onboarding tips.

A guide to onboarding remotely

The pandemic forced businesses around the world to transition to working from home – and  flexible working remain a popular benefit among employees. However, few employers are as well-prepared as they should be to go through the onboarding process remotely. The good news is that, with proper planning and guidance, it can be done well.

Throughout the remote onboarding process, it’s important to remember that new starters may feel an increased level of stress and anxiety. With this in mind, regular check-ins and extra learning time are all the more important for them to learn the ropes.

If you’ve never onboarded remotely before

If, like many businesses, you’ve never onboarded a new starter remotely, there are a few things to prepare before you start. First, decide who’ll lead the onboarding process – typically this will either be a member of HR or the line manager. Whoever it is, they’ll need to be available to be quite hands-on throughout the first month as they’ll be busy facilitating regular video calls and training sessions. They should also create a realistic four-week agenda for the new starter to help structure the process.

Next, IT will need to facilitate the software or technology needed to onboard remotely (including training platforms, video or messaging technology) and the logistics of shipping laptops, computers and other hardware to the employee.

Finally, notify the wider business that you’ll be onboarding remotely and ask for their cooperation. It’s essential to include as many people as possible to the process as this will help create connections and improve your new starters’ integration within the wider team.

Before the new starter starts

Check in with your new starter before their start date to reassure them everything will go ahead as planned, as this will go a long way to alleviate any concerns.

We spoke to one of our personal assistant candidates, Jordan, who was recently onboarded remotely by a global management consultancy firm in London. Jordan explained that, “there’s so much anxiety coming into a new (virtual) workplace, so when HR called to reassure me everything was going ahead and I would have my hardware and agenda by a certain day, it really helped. They really put themselves in my shoes and answered every question that I thought of but was too afraid to ask.”

Sending a starter pack can also go a long way to making new employees feel excited and welcomed. This could include an agenda for the first month, a staff handbook, any applicable handover notes, HR policies, a personalised welcome letter from the owner/CEO/MD, company values and information on annual leave and benefits. If possible, try to be creative – you could include branded merchandise such as a notebook, pen, mug, USB stick and a small pot plant, for example. If you already have a starter pack in place, adapt it to include step-by-step instructions on using the systems and clear contact information for key members of staff.

Download this checklist to help ensure everything is organised before the start date.

First day of remote onboarding

The first day is one of the most important in the remote onboarding process. Start by sending around a company-wide email to introduce the new starter. Next, video call the new starter to run through the agenda for the week. If you’re in the HR team and have set up orientation video calls with the employee’s team and manager, offer to act as a friendly face by sitting in on these initial introductions. These calls should set out the training plan, set expectations and any short- and long-term goals around workload.

Lastly, organise an HR catch up for the first week, which will give them an opportunity to ask about company-specific information like the annual leave policy, benefits, the HR portal and essential contacts for IT and other team members.

Student at a desk at home with papers and a laptop

First week of remote onboarding

For the rest of the first week, organise training sessions with members of their team. If you’ve organised a work buddy, ask them to talk the new starter through company culture and values (including what to expect when everyone returns to the office).

Later in the week, start introducing other managers/key staff in the company to explain what they do and how they’re likely to work with your new recruit. This will help them understand the structure of the company, especially when they can’t see it in-person at the office.

To help foster a sense of camaraderie while onboarding candidates remotely, set up 20-minute social calls with members of the team to learn about each other on a personal level. There’s only one rule – they can’t talk about work!

Finally, organise a debrief at the end of the first week. Go over the agenda to ensure everything has been completed and the new starter is happy with their progress.

Jordan found the main challenge of the first week to be “information overload”, as new employees are left to their “own devices to try and make sense of [new information]”. As such, the person responsible for onboarding should make themselves as available as possible to the new starter so they don’t feel overwhelmed.

It’s a good idea to break up video meetings with training sessions and social calls to prevent them from feeling inundated with information. There’s the possibility the onboarding process will take more time than it would normally in the office, so feel free to space out training sessions as necessary.

Download this sample calendar to help plan the first four weeks of a new starter’s agenda.

Best practice

The agenda for onboarding a candidate remotely will be different for every business. However, employers should always keep in mind the following best-practice tips to ensure a successful remote onboarding process.

Above all, ensure the new starter feels supported by the business by having access to HR, their manager or their work buddy at all times. In her new company, Jordan was assigned a buddy who called her regularly over the first two weeks. She said they “talked about things outside of work, like what we’re watching on Netflix. This was so important because you’ve lost the social interaction you’d normally have in an office.”

Put time aside to introduce the new starter to the company’s values and culture, as this is something they may not absorb by themselves at home. You can do this by encouraging socialising with virtual coffee dates and team building activities to improve collaboration within remote teams. Jordan explained that because “more people have reached out now I’m at home than if we were in the office, I feel a lot happier in my role.” As her company has taken time to include her in social activities like “Friday beers via Zoom and company-wide quizzes to meet people,” she’s been left with a positive impression of the workplace and its culture.

While setting out the agenda before the employee starts is essential, review it on a weekly basis via 1:1 check-ins. Listen to feedback and adapt if necessary. There’s no need to put an excessive amount of pressure on someone starting a new role, as this may foster negative feelings. Jordan reiterates that employers should “think in the shoes of the person who has come on remotely. It’s really, really overwhelming so you need to make time to check in!”

For longer-term performance and training/development goals, aim to review on a monthly and quarterly basis. This will reassure your new starter that you’re invested in their growth within the company.

Remote Onboarding Resources

If you’re onboarding remotely for the first time, you need to prepare the right tools. Below are a few resources that may help.

Essential check-in questions

When conducting regular check-ins, ask the right questions in case you need to adapt the process accordingly. Below are some example questions to ask when onboarding remotely:
How has the onboarding process been for you?
Are you happy in your role?
What’s your favourite part of the role?
What are you finding most challenging?
What do you think of the company culture?
Is there anything you want me to go over again with you?
Is there anything I can do to make this experience easier?
How do you feel about using the system/tech/software?

Virtual training tools

If your company isn’t familiar with virtual training, we’ve compiled a list of tools you can use to onboard the new starter. These include:

If you’re looking for additional hiring advice, read our complete interview and selection guide for employers.

If you’re looking for top talent for your roles, get in touch with your requirements!


Author Rebecca Siciliano Tiger Recruitment Team

Sign up for the latest workplace insights.

Are you: