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How to successfully onboard remote workers

It’s always challenging for new employees to hit the ground running, and even harder if they work from home. An office environment subtly reveals much about how a company operates, so managers need to provide additional support to recruits who are working remotely.

When staff members retreated to their home office back in March 2020, they took much more than their office chair and a pot plant. They took all the social, non-verbal, intricate learnings and signals that collectively create the company culture: the culture that can’t be learnt from the plaque on the wall that states your Mission Statement and Values.  

But what about new team members who won’t be exposed to how your team works together? It is much harder for them to get to know their colleagues, to understand their job, and to know how it fits into the bigger picture. It’s harder to understand their boss’s foibles and all the other things you may learn during a game of touch footy or drinks at the pub but won’t see on the corporate “About Us” page of the corporate website.

With a minimum 80 per cent of communication being non-verbal, how do you keep new hires productive after the initial excitement wears off? How do you ensure they fit in?

Managers need to be ready – and expect- that without the benefit of office know-how, remote workers’ productivity will be below their peers for a lot longer than is usual with a new hire.  To increase the recruit’s long-term value to the company, you may need to double the time, effort and dollars you invest in the onboarding process when staff are working from home.

Here are strategies to successful onboard remote workers:  

  • Spend more time on the recruitment process than you would with employees working in the office.  The adage, “hire slow, fire fast” has never been more critical than with remote workers.
  • Focus on personality types when interviewing candidates. If people are very outgoing but the job is predominately carried out remotely, ask lots of questions about how they worked during the lockdown. Pose specific questions about how they stayed productive and created social interaction. Regardless of their skills, be honest with yourself about whether particular candidates will be happier and more productive in a company that requires less time working from home. Ask yourself how likely it is that you will end up wasting time and money managing issues down the track.
  • Give newbies extensive training on you ‘team’ platform (Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts etc.) Even if they have previously used the same platform, don’t assume they will understand your modified version.  
  • Remember the zillion ‘Got a minute?’ questions a newbie asks the person in the next cubicle? Create a Chat format to get quick and easy answers to simple questions, so the new person doesn’t feel like they are continually interrupting other people’s workflow.
  • If you have two or more new starters, consider holding back start dates and onboarding them at the same time, so they have each other to rely on and not feel isolated.
  • The technical set up can be a nightmare, so get your IT person on-site to help. Check to see what computer equipment is needed.  Two or three screens?  Better WIFI?  Do it.
  • Create a physical Welcome Pack or upgrade the content of your current one.  Use the benefits of neuroscience to provide gifts that create ‘anchors’ to the brand, and to have an office in people’s home. 
  • To help trigger certain emotions, actions and behaviours:
    • It is better for the person’s manager -or even better the business owner- deliver the Welcome Pack and have a coffee with a recruit, rather than use a courier.  Or meet somewhere in between your homes.
    • Even better, if the employee is comfortable with you going into the home, you can see what challenges the physical workspace presents, such as:
    • Kids and pets.
    • Lots of street noise/construction.
    • A tiny office space or dining table.
    • The chair and computer set up.
    • If they have young kids and will be talking on the phone a lot, ask what you can do to help them with this.
    • Take another team member with you to deliver the Welcome Pack if possible. 
  • Arrive with a new office chair, a bag of fruit and treats, or a branded water jug. If they have children, bring something for them too, or dog treats for the dog.
  • Consider a colourful, fun mat that is placed under their keyboard, so that as they log on, it triggers “this is WORK time now”. 
  • Arrange an online Team Welcome Party, with drinks delivered to everyone’s home, or provide a voucher so team members can buy refreshments.  You can do the same when their three-month trial is up, or to celebrate a new client or milestone.  These parties should have no agenda or outcome – they should be just like drinks at the pub.  This will also help the newbie feel more accepted by the team, which is critical.
  • Give each newbie a ‘Buddy’. This is not a new idea, but making it work remotely needs more thought and structure:
    • Don’t appoint a ‘Buddy’ who quickly disappears.  Instead, document the Buddy process, so each person is aware of what the expectations are/aren’t.
    • Get the couple together physically once a month for at least the first six months, even it’s for just a coffee or a drink.  Give them say a small budget for transport, drinks and food.  
    • You’re bound to end up with one or two people who do more buddying simply because they’re more personable and patient.  Recognise both their value to the business and the time buddying takes away from their workload. This is especially true if they are in sales or on commission.  Don’t set up your best people as Buddies if this results in them missing their own KPIs.  Modify their KPIs during the Buddy timeframe or change their commission if needed.  In fact, consider making Buddying a KPI in itself.
    • Take care when choosing Buddies. Make sure they weren’t the people hanging around the water cooler gossiping pre-COVID-19.  
  • Have fortnightly zoom ‘coffee’ meetings with your new employees, where all you say is, “So what’s happening?” Let the employee talk uninterrupted, encouraging them to share their biggest frustrations and challenges, so you know how to help.
  • Provide small gifts every fortnight for the first two months, accompanied by a hand-written note from the business owner and/or their manager, or just a hand-written mailed card.  NOT an email…they already have to live in that world.  Make it a physical thing.  
  • Virtual and face-to-face team building activities can certainly help but be choosy with virtual options.  If activities don’t allow for chatting amongst the team or mute everyone, move onto another idea.

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Leona Watson

Leona Watson

Leona Watson made the leap from the Corporate world to the successful launch, running and selling of her previous business, Cheeky Food Events. She now writes, speaks and coaches business owners on keeping their businesses (and themselves) afloat and thriving.

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