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9 Steps to Onboard Remote Employees

White plus signs turn into yellow x's as they are onboarded.

Let’s start this post off with a question: How do you onboard your remote workers?

If you’re looking toward a stack of papers you printed out back in the mid-2000s and starting to feel a slight sense of guilt...that’s okay. We are actually not hiding a shame bell behind our backs. We promise.

You already know how important onboarding is to traditional, office-based employees. How else are you going to introduce new hires to the company and start getting them situated? But so many businesses present their onboarding program in a bunch of dusty three-ring binders, or just don’t have one at all. This way lies ruin, friend, particularly if you’re working with a remote team.

Especially if you’re working with a remote team.

A good onboarding program isn’t just a great way to acclimate new colleagues to a department. It’s also a critical component to building a strong remote culture.

Need more convincing? On average, it costs $400 to onboard someone, yet 50% of employees leave by the time their first four months are up—and often, the reasons they’re leaving are tied directly to a subpar or nonexistent onboarding process. They just weren’t set up for success.

How much does it cost to replace departing employees? Oh, one study says $15,000.

Wow. That’s expensive.

Save your company the effort—and the money—by creating a truly awesome onboarding plan for your remote employees.

Here’s where you probably expect us to unveil some wild, gamified onboarding process (shameless plug in 3...2...1...which you can get by working with Mindspace, of course!). And while we’d absolutely love to work with you to create an interactive adventure your new employees will love, that’s actually not where we’re headed with this advice.

The key to onboarding a remote team—and really, any team—is to make things personal. Get back to the basics. You’re all people, working together. You’ll be spending 40+ hours a week together, so get to know each other and the company you work for.

Interactive bells and whistles are great, but onboarding is always going to come down to the people.

With that in mind, we’ve put together the steps we encourage you to follow below, though some of them can and do overlap.

Ready to turn your new hires into enthusiastic teammates? Let’s go!

1. Start early.

So many companies make the classic mistake of starting their onboarding on the very first day a newbie arrives in the office. Friends, do not go down that dark path. You can start assimilating—er, we mean introducing—your new folks to the company and their role before they turn up in your lobby.

Here are a few things you can wipe out before they even arrive:

  • HR Paperwork They may be able to sign stuff like withholding forms, NDAs, insurance, and the like. At the very least they can start looking at these things, which will make signing them later on go much faster.

  • Review the company materials Send them digitized versions of your handbook and anything about your company culture—start acquainting them with all the things that make your business an awesome place to work.

  • Introduction to their equipment There may be some legal red tape preventing you from adding them to certain systems or platforms until their official first day, but let them start exploring what they’ll be working on.

  • Company swag Want to build some instant goodwill? Send some care packages and show your new employees that you appreciate them already! Put whatever you like in there; company-branded mugs, mousepads, and folders are always nice. We’re big fans of sending snacks (want to be extra cool? Find out any food allergies they have ahead of you can avoid sending allergens in their mail).

  • “Welcome to the team” emails These can take several forms; we’ve seen individual members of a team send emails to the newbie, or department heads compile welcoming messages into one missive. Making this very basic introduction means your employee isn’t coming in totally blind. They already know a little bit about their new coworkers, and will be eager to learn more.

2. Get them the right equipment.

What happens when your remote people can’t keep in touch with the rest of the company?

Hint: They feel neglected and irrelevant.

You don’t want this for anyone. Indifferent employees tend to produce indifferent work.

We’ve repeated this in a few previous blogs because honestly, it bears repeating. As soon as your employee accepts the offer and signs the initial employment paperwork, find out what sort of equipment they’ll need. Does the work they’ll be doing require software like Photoshop or spreadsheets like Excel?

How about office furniture like a desk and a chair? Do you need to set them up with high-speed internet? They’d have this automatically if they were coming to the office. Give your remote workers the same courtesy. If they’ve already worked remotely they may have a desk/chair/Wi-Fi setup they like, but be prepared to step in and provide something if they don’t.

Pro Tip: Have a tech support person standing by the first couple of days so they can troubleshoot with your new teammate.

3. Give them a company overview