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5-stage remote onboarding checklist for new hire success

New employees have specific needs during the various phases of onboarding, from pre-onboarding to their first months on the job. Use this checklist to welcome -- and retain -- them.

A well-crafted onboarding process can help set up new employees for success, but HR leaders and their staff may forget to carry out or remind others about key tasks if the new employee is remote. An onboarding checklist can help HR leaders ensure a new employee has the best possible experience during their first few months on the job.

Examples of important items to include on a remote onboarding checklist are assigning the new hire an onboarding buddy and scheduling a session with IT. Here are some other items HR leaders should include on their checklist for remote onboarding.

Before the first day

The time from when a candidate accepts a job until their first day -- often referred to as pre-onboarding -- is a critical phase of the onboarding process. HR leaders should take care of the following onboarding tasks or remind others to do them so the new worker has fewer tasks to do on their first day.

Request IT send needed equipment and login information

HR leaders should work with IT to supply a new employee with all needed equipment.

Tools and instructions that IT should send a new employee include the following, said Lilith Christiansen, senior vice president, chief strategy and product officer at SilkRoad Technology, an HR platform developer headquartered in Chicago:

  • instructions on when they're expected to log in,
  • computer and videoconferencing equipment, and
  • passwords to log into enterprise software.
Getting all those logistics tied up and working efficiently is a really key part of the welcome so that [remote employees] don't [log on] on Day One and [think], 'What do I do now?'
Lilith ChristiansenSenior vice president, chief strategy and product officer at SilkRoad Technology

"Getting all those logistics tied up and working efficiently is a really key part of the welcome so that [remote employees] don't [log on] on Day One and [think], 'What do I do now?'" Christiansen said.

Communicate company practices for virtual meetings

HR leaders or managers should make new employees aware of any rules for virtual meetings before they start, Christiansen said. Potential questions to address include the following:

  • Are employees required to be on camera during all virtual meetings, or are some meetings camera-optional? In some cases, is it preferable to turn the camera off?
  • Is casual dress, such as workout clothing, acceptable?
  • Does the company require more formal business attire for client calls?

"If they're the only one dressed up or the only one dressed down, that's going to bring attention to them that they don't want as they're joining the organization," she said.

Assign a buddy

SilkRoad Technology's Lilith ChristiansenLilith Christiansen

HR leaders should assign a more-experienced co-worker to each new employee. Enlisting a veteran employee as a guide to the organization can significantly enhance the onboarding experience, Christiansen said.

"Everybody has what they think are silly questions," she said. "But we all know there are no silly questions, and the buddy is a great resource to support that with."

Potential buddies should have specific qualities, Christiansen said, such as:

  • a positive attitude toward the organization;
  • a keen understanding of company culture; and
  • a genuine, welcoming spirit.

New hire buddies can also benefit managers, Christiansen said.

"Some organizations use the buddy to help take some of the administrative elements off of the manager so that when the manager and the new hire are connecting, those can be more meaningful, rich conversations," she said.

Buddies can check in daily with the new employee during their first few days or weeks. In addition, HR can create a budget that buddies can use to have a virtual lunch discussion -- with food delivered to each home -- or an in-person lunch.

Establish the first day agenda

Asana Inc.'s Sonja Gittens OttleySonja Gittens Ottley

Setting the agenda for an employee's first day will help things go more smoothly for both the employee and those helping the new worker.

HR leaders should ensure an HR staff member or manager has sent the employee an overview of the day, said Sonja Gittens Ottley, head of diversity and inclusion at Asana Inc., a work management platform developer headquartered in San Francisco. The overview should include the following:

"Giving them that information sets the tone for the experience they're going to have at the organization," Gittens Ottley said.

A new employee will likely receive a more favorable first impression of their new organization if HR and their manager seem prepared.

First day

HR leaders should ensure the employee's first day includes finalizing their tech setup and introducing them to the company.

Have IT meet with the new hire

An IT staff member should walk the new employee through company programs on their first day.

At The Trade Desk, a media buying platform developer located in Ventura, Calif., new employees learn about the company's core applications from an IT staff member on Day One, said Robyn Perry, senior vice president of people operations. This training includes introductions to the organization's enterprise software, internal messaging system and preferred videoconferencing platform.

Provide the employee with a company overview

The Trade Desk's The Trade Desk's Robyn PerryRobyn Perry

HR leaders should ensure Day One onboarding sessions include a company overview.

For example, on a new employee's first or second day at The Trade Desk, they attend a company introduction led by the engagement team, whose primary focus is employee experience, Perry said. This meeting covers the organization's structure, leaders and teams. The engagement team also identifies HR staff members to reach out to if the new employee has questions and gives an overview of the company's employee resource groups.

Employee resource groups can help a new hire build a relationship with co-workers outside their department, Christiansen said.

First week

HR can schedule tasks, such as adding new employees to a virtual space, to occur after more important tasks.

Introduce the new employee to their team

In a remote environment, team introductions don't happen as organically as when workers sit in the same physical work area. HR leaders should encourage managers to set up an introduction with the rest of the team within the first few days.

A video meeting that puts faces to names and provides an overview of everyone's job is likely most valuable. If schedules don't allow for a meeting on an employee's first few days, managers should at a minimum introduce the new hire to the team via the company's instant messaging platform. The new employee can share a few fun facts about themselves to provide fodder for team conversations. For example, if the new employee owns a dog, they can bond with other dog lovers over their pets.

Send the new employee an invite to a "new hire" group or platform

Formal groups for new employees and communication platforms with special channels can help newcomers get acquainted with their co-workers.

Groups for new employees can be virtual, meet in person or combine both approaches, Gittens Ottley said.

"One of the things that's most important, especially when we're onboarding remotely, is creating spaces for connections," she said.

Share benefits information

HR leaders should ensure the employee attends a session about their new benefits during which they can ask questions if needed.

At The Trade Desk, new employees attend a session led by the benefits team on their third or fourth day, Perry said. The team discusses available benefits like medical and wellness benefits, fertility benefits, fitness reimbursements and discounts.

Review a new employee's schedule for overload

HR leaders and managers may feel tempted to fill a new hire's schedule with onboarding and training sessions, but they should be careful not to overwhelm an employee.

Keeping this in mind is especially important for remote employees, Perry said.

"During the first few weeks at any organization, the expression goes that 'You're drinking out of the firehose,'" she said. "[People need] time to absorb and make thoughtful connections."

HR leaders should reschedule less-urgent training if a new employee's schedule is starting to look too full.

The first month

As the new employee adjusts to life at the organization, HR leaders can create further opportunities for employee connection that offer a quick confidence boost.

Schedule opportunities for in-person gatherings

Even though employees work remotely, they may welcome some in-person meetings. Employees may live close to one another and be able to gather in person outside of the office. Seeing co-workers beyond the screen, if possible, could help a new employee during their first few weeks at work.

DigitalOcean's Matt NormanMatt Norman

An organization should schedule in-person events even if workers are primarily or fully remote, said Matt Norman, chief people officer at DigitalOcean LLC, a cloud software developer in New York City. Leaders should structure these events so they include nonwork conversations.

"When you are getting together, mix in opportunities for people to talk about personal things [like] what drives them, what helped them make them who they are today," Norman said. "That helps … people to gain a different level of understanding [of each other]."

Shared interests between co-workers can provide a basis for colleagues meeting outside of work.

"While we might not all be gathering at an office together, there may be opportunities to have [something like] a company softball team, where you're getting folks engaged in that way as well," Christiansen said.

Set up a chance for a quick success

Giving new employees the opportunity to perform a task and succeed at it early on helps them gain confidence.

"Giving [a new worker] the space to succeed at projects, tasks or simple programs that allow them to get comfortable with the organization, build their skill set and leverage their expertise is really useful," Gittens Ottley said.

Providing this opportunity requires buy-in from managers, she added.

"We really set the tone with managers that this is important work [and] this is work that sets employees up for success," she said. "Allowing that to happen is critical to onboarding, whether it's in a hybrid environment, completely remote or a back-in-office experience."

The first few months

HR leaders should remember that the onboarding process continues beyond the first few weeks. Leaders should work to ensure the employee continues to have a positive experience.

Check-in with the new employee periodically

Regular check-ins provide an opportunity to verify whether a new employee is adjusting and having a good experience.

Genesis Advisers' Michael WatkinsMichael Watkins

HR leaders should ask the employee's manager how they are acclimating to the company and their team, said Michael Watkins, co-founder of Genesis Advisers, an onboarding-focused consultancy in Boston.

"There needs to be feedback in the process because otherwise you don't really know, on either side, how people are perceiving what's going on," Watkins said.

Get feedback on the onboarding process from new employees

HR leaders should remember that new employees are their most valuable resource for feedback about the onboarding process.

Doist Inc.'s Andrew GobranAndrew Gobran

Onboarding is a process that requires adjustments on a continual basis, said Andrew Gobran, people operations generalist at Doist Inc., a productivity and collaboration software developer in Palo Alto, Calif. He asks new hires for their general feedback, as well as what they think needs to change.

"[You can ask them,] 'What would you have loved to know a month ago that you just discovered now?'" Gobran said.

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