man holding a sign that says, "Join Us on Zoom"
PHOTO: 5D Media

Andrew Gildin has onboarded new employees remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s also been onboarded remotely. Gildin, the vice president of channel sales and revenue operations for Korbyt, an workplace experience platform, has learned many lessons from each side of the aisle. Particularly, that the remote onboarding process should serve as a foundation for not only new employees but also include adaptable strategies that can be applied to even veteran employees.

“People need to know their expected outcomes, who they're supposed to be talking to and where to get information on Day 1,” Gildin said. “Those are really important things on Day 1, but those things don’t go away six months down the line or a year down the line in a hybrid workplace because people are still going to need to go find information.”

Onboarding Needs Work

Onboarding can boost employee morale and retention in great ways, but many organizations don’t onboard well, according to numbers reported last month. Further, most organizations say their onboarding process is focused on paperwork and processes. From Gildin’s real-life remote-onboarding perspective, his focus was on the connecting people, and making sure onboarding employees never feel like they have no one with whom to connect, especially in those first few days.

And that all began with having a full calendar of people-connections for the first week. Gildin’s new company earlier this year made sure he was invited to several meetings prior to his arriving on Day 1. And what seemed like a simple thing turned out to be super helpful: he was invited through his work and personal emails, so that he could obtain details ahead of Day 1 to avoid having an onslaught on the first day.

Naturally, mixed in were plenty of IT tech tasks to accomplish, but having the knowledge prior to arrival of who he was meeting with was important. “And especially from a leadership perspective and being on the revenue side,” Gildin said. “You’re going to go on LinkedIn. You’re going to know who these people are even if you didn't interview with them. But to know approximately what my calendar is going to look like during that first week made it infinitely more comfortable for me than when I didn’t have that.”

Related Article: Does Your Company Need Onboarding to Return to the Office?

Don't Leave Employees on an Island

Headshot of Andrew Gildin

One of things Gildin admitted he could have done better when onboarding new employees in a prior role, was scheduling. Particularly one new employee who lived in the UK, Gildin said, they could have handled scheduling much better for her. Day 1 ended up being a little bit of a wash for her because she experienced some technical problems, and because of time differences there was no one to help. “She missed a meeting and by the time I logged on it's the middle of her day,” Gildin sad. “The morning of her first day was really not organized well. I wasn't on all her invites, and it wasn't connected to her personal email address. It allowed for when things went wrong for them go wrong as opposed to having failsafes in there.”

The lessons learned? Ensure employees in different time zones have at least one employee in the same time zone with whom  can connect, if possible. And it’s a matter of having some fail-safes in place.

“If you can't have someone in their own time zone, you’ll need to give them enough material for whatever hours they will be alone,” Gildin said. “You just have to be transparent if you're onboarding remotely.”

Share Self-Teaching Tools and Data

New remote employees also need clear direction on what they can do from a self-teaching perspective, Gildin said. What can I go in and get done myself and where? And what does that work look like?

“There are certain roles where you show up, and there's a job and a process and a very specific thing that you need to do every day,” Gildin said. “And for those folks generally there is some document that can help drive them during a day-to-day basis. The flip side is is you've got roles where you may not necessarily have a playbook to your job on Day 1."

“Being able to provide people with self-taught information on Day 1 is really helpful because there will be gaps in your day for at least the first couple weeks,” Gildin said. “You’re bound to have gaps in your day where you don't have a meeting and you don't have something to do. Do these new employees have somewhere that they can to go pick up information and drive their own self-taught onboarding?"

Related Article: Why Virtual Onboarding Beats Traditional Onboarding

Engrain Culture Into the Onboarding Experience

It can be easy to tick off boxes by doing the bare minimum, but that won’t leave a positive impression on your newest team members, according to Aleksandra Sulimko’s, HR director at TheSoul Publishing. Creating unique content is a great way to introduce new hires to the company in a fun and engaging way.

At TheSoul Publishing creative teams put together unique videos that give new employees an idea of who they are. “We’re content creators at heart, but other companies can do this too by tapping into the creative minds of their marketing or social media teams and by leveraging tools such as Zoom to create videos with multiple team members, all remotely,” Sulimko said.

Giving new team members a lay of the digital land with access to email, Slack, shared files and other platforms is certainly important, as is making sure all of the HR and legal paperwork is signed, she added. “Try to get that done quickly so you can focus their time and attention on other, more exciting and more engaging onboarding tasks,” Sulimko said.

Simple Gestures Can Go Long Way

Mailing new team members a thoughtful welcome package can go a long way toward making them feel included and cared about, said Matt Martin, co-founder and CEO of Clockwise.

“At Clockwise we include something personal, like a literary-themed wine for our writers or a letter about a donation Clockwise made to their favorite cause,” Martin said. “And, of course, plenty of Clockwise swag. Send welcome packs as soon as new hires sign on so they are excited for their first day, and it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of the hectic first week.”

Give Employees Access to Evergreen Onboarding Materials

Shawna Shandy, director of organizational development for Ruby, said her company offers prerecorded e-learnings to which employees have access to all their training content once the class is over.

“With our new virtual training program that's broken into 27 mini e-learnings, our employees can go back and re-watch an entire video of a specific lecture or presentation,” she said. “This new level of access to information post-training has been helpful for our employees who want to review training materials and get solid on things again once they are in their job roles and out of the initial learning environment.”

Determine First-Week Objectives

Gildin said it was helpful for him that he had clear objectives for his first few weeks. Naturally, the hiring process will include discussions and goals for the long-term, but actually setting expectations for the initial days and weeks can create some strong transparency.

“It was really important to know what was expected of me in my first week,” Gildin said. “If I don’t know what's expected of me, how do I know whether or not I'm doing the right things when I'm not in a meeting? It comes back to transparency and providing as much transparency as you can provide into outcomes early on. People will be prepared to actually feel successful at the end of those first two to three weeks. People inherently put pressure on themselves to be setting the world on fire, and you end up having misaligned expectations. It’s what you really want to avoid.”