3 Myths and Solutions for Effectively Onboarding a Remote Workforce
Onboarding sets the tone for success.
Employee onboarding processes are the first opportunity to introduce a new hire to company culture, performance expectations, and how work gets done at your company. Onboarding often gets bogged down in required paperwork, technology and account setups, and varied administrivia. Add the remote nature of having to work through gaps and bottlenecks in an invisible system, you can no longer walk down to a help desk for support.
Now that the modern, remote (or hybrid) workplace is here to stay, it becomes even more challenging to consistently set up all employees for success, when most are remote. It might feel like you have no control over the employee’s experience, but you do. Here are three myths of employee onboarding and a few suggested steps for how to create a modern, remote employee onboarding experience that scales across the organization and sets up an employee for success.
Myth 1: You can't teach company culture remotely.
Company culture exists where work gets done and through how people interact with one another, not as a result of in-office design or face-to-face dynamics. These days, collaborative work happens in a company’s technological systems, both asynchronous and synchronous (real time). People collaborate digitally via Slack, email, Google Docs, whiteboards, and the like. Internal systems like HRIS, Salesforce, and other departmental apps are where work gets done, handed off, and passed to another to ship to a customer.
Culture exists not in the “WHAT” that people do, but in the “HOW” they actually do it. For example, at a previous client, a company value was “Be Bold” but the translation into how that shows up in the way employees worked was nuanced. When this value was misinterpreted by new employees, they failed to integrate into the culture because they were being too loud and bullish, instead of setting bold visions and stretch goals to encourage their teams to reach further. The nuance was in the HOW boldness was done in the organization.
At that client, we set out to help all employees across the global organization really understand what “Be Bold” meant, and more importantly, explicitly clarify how the company expected its employees to do just that. We created a series of short animated explainer videos for each value that the company held, and integrated that into the global onboarding process. Each explainer video told a story of an employee and clearly outlined what each value meant and how it showed up at work.
Once the videos were drafted, we interviewed new employees (after they’d been at the company for 90 days) and asked them what the definition of the value was. Then, we showed the explainer video of the value and asked them to define the value again after watching the video.
We created a rubric to understand how well a new employee understood the value before watching the video, based on their “before” definition, and then measured the “after” definition. Of the 20+ new employees, 100% were unable to explain the nuance of how values like “Be Bold” drives company behavior. After, 97% were able to not only describe how the value should be interpreted, but were able to give an accurate example of how the value showed up in their work. The company integrated the values videos into their onboarding experience globally.
The lesson here is that culture is created implicitly in the “how” of how work gets done. Not only can you teach it remotely, it actually exists remotely now more than ever. The solution for teaching culture is to understand, articulate, and teach the specific, implied meaning that exists in your organization's culture, and share it with new employees in an explicit manner.
You must spell out how culture works here, explicitly and experientially in your onboarding programs. Infographics, explainer video vignettes, breakouts, skits, and scavenger hunts are a few ways to infuse the nuance of culture into remote onboarding experiences.
Myth 2: Relationships and Trust Building Can't Be Done Well Remotely
The first 90 days are key to establishing and forging strong relationships within your organization. Now that teams are not co-located on one side of a building, it is indeed harder for a new employee to understand the organization chart, identify key players and stakeholders that will make or break the success of their role at the company. These connections matter, maybe even more now. Strong relationships build a greater sense of belonging, and enables employees to bring their best contributions in service to a community they feel part of, especially when their team is remote.
Once new employees understand the people ecosystem in which they are operating, it's sometimes easier to build trust with individuals remotely, though it takes more time because it feels incremental. In modern, remote workspaces, people bump into one another through technology - in places like Slack or Teams. Pinging an important stakeholder who used to office on another floor than you and getting on a call is almost easier now, than it used to be in person. Feedback is faster, input is faster. Moments of trustbuilding happen in smaller ways, yet more rapidly over time. We now have access to our colleagues in real-time as well as asynchronous time. Those rapid back and forths are the small but consistent ways that trust is being built remotely.
Instead of overfocusing on the tactical part of onboarding, make sure the employee’s manager outlines a list of key stakeholders, in which the employee should build relationships with. Create a document template for all managers to not only identify the “who” the employee should meet with, as well as the context for “why” that stakeholder is important to the success of the role for which the employee was hired. The contextual prompts will help set up the employee with a learner’s mindset to begin to understand what is important to each of these players in the ecosystem - a first step to building trust.
This connection plan should include key stakeholders, partners, and buddies that will help the new employee navigate their work ecosystem. Walk through the context of why each person is important before kicking off the 1:1’s. The manager should make a warm-handoff introduction, as appropriate and ensure that the new hire has set up 1:1 times to meet and get to know the folks that will be crucial to their success.
Myth 3: Paperwork and Technical Onboarding Takes Too Much Time, Is Complicated and Can't Be Streamlined
For some companies who feel the pressure to onboard and ramp an employee quickly, it feels like there is no time for culture and relationship building, amid the chaos of paperwork, technical systems access, enrollment, and other administrative tasks. Even more so, when done remotely!
The administrative needs of onboarding can feel like it is the most important, and often longest time-suck for a new employee’s ramp. The average new hire is assigned 41 administrative tasks to complete, and often those tasks are given out rapid-fire or all at once. No wonder employees often react to onboarding by saying they’re “drinking from a firehose”. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Instead, use technical systems and work-flow processes to automate and “drip” the administrative requirements across the first few weeks. A great way to identify where those technical bottlenecks and administrative moments of overwhelm are is to map your new hire journey, over the course of the first 30/60/90 days. Start small, and map out the first 2-3 weeks of a new hire’s onboarding journey. That way you can know what the gaps and opportunities are for strengthening onboarding, not just for remote employees, but for everyone. Include all the tasks, systems, process steps, training, registrations, logins, and connections that an average employee undertakes. Use this to guide decisions and advocate for automating technical processes and paperwork completion so that it feels less overwhelming and difficult.
Employee onboarding is a critical part of the employee experience, and it’s especially important for remote workers. A well-executed, automated onboarding process that includes relationship building time and cultural and organizational explanations of “how work gets done here”, will help new hires acclimate quickly, build trust with the right people in the right way, and enable seamless navigation in the world of work that exists inside of your company’s technical systems. Automating your paperwork and technical onboarding processes will create room in the new hire's time so that they may focus on building relationships and acclimating to the culture, creating a much more successful speed-to-ramp process.