5 tips for successful remote onboarding in 2023

Remote and hybrid work isn’t going away. Here are five tips to building a stellar remote onboarding experience for your new hires to set your people up for success.

Given the news of so many layoffs coming into the new year, it might seem odd to focus on onboarding. Here are the reasons that it should be your focus, right now.

First, take advantage of a lull to make major improvements. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say something about “overhauling the plane mid-flight” or “building the car while it’s going down the road.” If your business has paused or slowed down on hiring for a moment, you’ve been presented a great opportunity to work on the plane while it’s in the hangar. Use this time to align with your stakeholders, ensure your programs are aligned with the vision of the business and take some deliberate time to prepare for when hiring picks up again.

Secondly, make remote onboarding a stellar experience for your people. You may not be experiencing a lull in hiring and your business is full steam ahead. Remote and hybrid work isn’t going away any time soon, despite some desire to curtail it. If you still need to get a stellar remote onboarding experience for your new hires, now is the time to get on board with the future and set your people up for success.

Several years ago, when I was leading HR/L&D for a high-growth technology company, we hired, on average 30, people per month. It was 100 percent in-person onboarding, no matter where new hires lived. We would fly them from across the country, or even the globe, to meet leaders across the organization and learn about the company they had just joined. While this was an in-person experience, I wanted to dissect it to see what lessons we could convert to a hybrid or fully remote environment.

Tip #1: Onboard in cohorts to build community. 

One of the best parts of this onboarding experience was the community we created with each cohort. I remember seeing groups of people walking into the building together after they’d gone out for lunch on any given day and pinpoint what cohort they were a part of. I’d say to myself, “Oh look, it’s June 2012!” What was fascinating and wonderful was that each month’s cohort bonded as a part of the experience. Regardless of department and role, they maintained communication well after they’d been onboarded.

Some, or most, of your hiring managers might freak out if you say you want to delay a start date for a week or two so that they start the job with other new hires. They’ll claim they need them to start the work right away. However, if you look at the long-term gains of increasing the likelihood that your new hire will stick around longer, a week or two is marginal compared to the long-term payoff.

Once you’ve established this group of new hires, have them convene at least every other day to share what they’ve been learning. This will not only build trust with the group, but also propagate learning across the group. In addition, sharing will help deepen the learning for those who participate by increasing the recall frequency for the information they’ve learned. It allows the person sharing to frame new knowledge in a way that makes sense to others. Everything that happens in that seemingly simple sequence deepens the learning experience for that individual.

“Research shows that it’s more powerful to have a broad network than a deep network.” Building these cross-functional cohorts gets people started on the right foot. If you’ve got sales, engineering and operations all in the same onboarding group and they build tight connections, they can leverage each other’s networks down the road.

Tip #2: Explicitly define culture.

How can you get your new hires to experience culture in their first few days on the job? Culture isn’t ping pong tables and free snacks. Culture is how we work; it’s the often-implicit ways of working. Go beyond sharing your list of values and find ways for your people to live those values from the beginning.

Throughout the first few weeks, find ways to experience the mission, vision and values at work. Think about virtual meetings new employees can attend or ways to participate as a silent observer.  They don’t have to be live; you can record examples of successful internal and external meetings for them to review.

Tip #3: Set clear expectations from the beginning.

Focusing the first week on the company and how we operated, the group then broke apart in the second week and dug into the specifics of their individual roles. This started with a one-on-one meeting with their boss to understand what was expected of them. They’d set 30, 60 and 90-day expectations of what would be accomplished. Additionally, they’d set out a vision of what the day-to-day responsibilities of the role would look like beyond 90 days.

When we hire someone, especially if they have some experience, we might assume we’re on the same page regarding what is expected of them in their role. Make sure your hiring managers are clear, before hiring someone, on exactly what is expected of that person. Aperian Global says you should overprepare for your new employee. “When working in a virtual environment, it’s much easier for details to get missed. This problem gets quadrupled when an employee is new and trying to absorb so much over a short period. Creating detailed guidance (even if it feels overly detailed to some) can pay off down the line.”

Tip #4: Set aside time for compliance. 

Most organizations have required training. As a part of that first week, make sure to carve out time so that people could complete all this compliance-related training. It will never be a top priority for your folks to complete. It’s rarely fun, but it is necessary. Make sure they get it out of the way in that first week. Otherwise, it’ll easily fall aside to other priorities.

Tip #5: Remember to check in to ensure a successful onboarding experience. 

Many organizations use 90-day check-ins with new hires to ensure they got off on the right foot. Use this as an opportunity to get feedback on their onboarding process and find areas for improvement for future new hires. If you’ve built a good relationship up to this point, you should get some helpful feedback to continue to improve your onboarding program.