For all the benefits that remote workers can bring to your company, onboarding remote employees can be much more difficult than traditional hires. You need to consider everything the usual onboarding process entails and more. To name just two of the issues, human beings in general are harder to motivate when working alone and time zones can cause an even greater gap in communication with the rest of the team.
Now, as Christy Johnson showed us back in April, there are some different ways you can help to ensure that you successfully onboard a remote employee. As a quick summary, you should:
- Search for a good remote fit before hiring
- Spend time with the new hire in person and fast
- Build a community between remote employees
- Encourage team communication
- Measure their progress and engagement
We couldn’t agree more, but what if there was a way to take even more pressure off yourself when onboarding remote employees and actually help your new hire integrate with the rest of your team more effectively from the get-go?
Back at Process Street, we’ve been testing the method to get current employees to help with onboarding new remote employees, and it’s been working like a charm. Not only do our existing team members communicate and collaborate more with the new hires, but new team members are more forthright in stating their problems, which allows us to fix them all the faster.
But what should your existing team members do to alleviate your onboarding headache? Well, the answer may be easier that you think.
Here are four tips for onboarding remote employees:
1. Foster Communication
As Johnson highlighted, one of the biggest hurdles to overcome when running a remote team is encouraging regular communication. This is especially true with new employees and doubly so with new remote employees, as they not only have the dissonance of working in a completely different location, but they’re also unfamiliar with the long list of names in their Slack channel. Rather than becoming your remote watercooler, the new employee could feel more isolated than ever before.
This means they’re getting a double-whammy of isolation; they don’t know their team members and they have pretty much nothing to do to fix that other than taking the plunge and sending a message (which can be more imposing than we’d like to admit).
So, you need to not only introduce them to the rest of the team, but encourage your employees to reach out to the new hire of their own accord. This way you can perform brief introductions whilst ensuring that they have enough rapport to build on in their own time.
2. Encourage Collaboration
Much like communication, collaboration can be a sticky area for many teams, remote or otherwise. A remote team that doesn’t collaborate is neutering its potential, because instead of having several minds who are happy to help out others’ problems, everyone sits on those ideas until they burst in a mess of lackluster productivity. So, rather than brainstorming to get the creative juices flowing, you have the equivalent of office cubicles that are locked from the outside.
Remote workers run the serious risk of not collaborating because of their own hesitance (be it to ask for help or because they see it as a potential bother), and so you need to crush that reluctance. Use tools such as Google Hangouts to encourage free collaboration via drop-in, drop-out virtual office environments, or even have set times every day or two whereby everybody who’s free can drop into the channel and chat to whomever else is online.
Alternatively, you can recommend group projects every so often to ensure that they’re getting exposed to the rest of the team, making them comfortable enough to reach out on their own. Group projects also take some of the strain off your shoulders in encouraging collaboration, as your team can freely communicate and form bonds with the new hire whilst helping them with any issues they encounter in their initial time with the company.
3. Clear Expectations
Next up, you need to make sure that any expectations you have are clear from the get-go. For example, if you have set deadlines or requirements for a particular piece of work, make sure the new employee is crystal clear on them.
Another part of setting your expectations is to provide enough information to the employee so they don’t have to constantly come back to you with questions; this saves you a headache and ensures the new hire is comfortable with what they’re doing.
For example, you should ensure that they know who to ask if they require help on a topic, provide documented processes for anything they will carry out more than once, and say in no uncertain terms what their progress should be after a set amount of time.
Your current team can help with this by either explaining a project’s requirements more thoroughly (especially if it’s a group project) or by reinforcing their areas of expertise and responsibility to the new hire during introductions. If they’re someone who the hire is likely to communicate with on a regular basis, encourage the employee to chat with the new hire beyond work topics, so they’ll feel more at home in their position and be seen as more approachable if help is required.
If you’re struggling to think of team members the remote hire needs to be introduced to in particular, just think about who they would likely speak with if they were in the same office space.
4. Offer Inclusion
Most remote teams should already know about the need for a remote office culture. Not only does it make your new employee form tighter bonds with you, their team, and the company in general, but a happier employee is a more productive one. Everybody wins!
Now, if your team has been communicating and collaborating, then you should be well on your way to having a solid culture forming (or at least integrating the new hire into your existing one). However, a great way to get your new remote worker involved is to do just that: try hosting a good-natured competition and letting the natural banter do the work for you.
Alternatively, you can highlight any upcoming events in either your company or personal calendar (if appropriate) as a rallying point for conversation or team spirit. For example, one of our teams recently took part in a 24-hour gaming marathon raising money for Macmillan; after chatting to the rest of the team about it, those who were free tuned in to the stream and even donated towards the cause. I’d say that’s a pretty successful culture in a nutshell.
There you have it; the perfect ways to spread the onboarding effort around your team and even get the benefit of greater interaction as a result. However, be sure to personally interact with your new remote employee, too. Just because your team is talking to them more doesn’t mean you’re entirely off the hook!
Benjamin Brandall is a British writer living in Latvia. He writes on productivity, startups, and software at Process Street.
By Benjamin Brandall | Categories: Build a Remote Team