How to manage remote teams: Your checklist for onboarding remotely
Most team leaders are acquiring new skills as they manage remotely through the COVID-19 pandemic—the soft skills of boosting morale while their people are acclimatising to remote work, and the technical skills of quickly learning new tools to get the job done in a distributed environment.
As physical distancing requirements continue to keep teams offsite, another new skill managers need in their toolkit is remote onboarding. Gallup has found that the way a company onboards is a key factor in employee retention. Harvard Business Review points out that onboarding is a high priority for CEOs around the world, and yet only 12% of employees strongly agree that their employer does a great job onboarding their people—and that was before the pandemic.
According to organisational expert Ron Carucci, there are three main prongs to onboarding: technical, organisational and social. Each of these is more challenging when handled remotely: here are some tips to ensure that your new team member has a great experience.
In the normal run of onboarding, it’s important to have a machine, logins and email. This can be tricky when IT can’t necessarily come to the workstation to set up the necessary equipment, so consider the following:
- Have a work-ready machine (with keyboard, mouse and external screens if necessary) couriered in advance of the employee’s start date.
- Book IT support to be ready to remotely coach your new team member in setting up their machine and logins.
- Organise a placeholder login to be sent to the employee’s personal address so that can access their new accounts and change their passwords.
- Introduce them to the software tools being used to manage the remote work environment.
- Ensure any OH&S requirements are met for their work space—this might mean organising extra ergonomic equipment like a chair, special mouse, or standing desk to be delivered. If you have an ergonomics consultant in your organisation, arrange a session within the first few days so that your new employee can make any necessary adjustments to their workspace.
You may not be able to be there in person to greet your new starter, but you can make sure you can schedule a video call with them as they start their first day to help orient them to their job and where they sit within the organisation. During your first few one-to-ones, you should:
- Help them understand the recent context of the organisation—recent mergers or acquisitions, departmental shifts, the key business focus at the moment.
- Set expectations about the role and the office culture, and lead by example. Provide any literature or presentations about the company’s culture so the employee can spend their first day getting to grips with their new surroundings.
- Ensure any contracts, tax forms, and other documentation that need to be collected can be signed online. This may mean connecting with Finance or HR ahead of time to ensure that they are ready to provide forms digitally.
- If you would normally congratulate a new starter with a gift, consider having a welcome package sent to make them feel welcome.
- Deliver any branded products to the new starter’s home—notepads, pens, water bottles, bags—to help them feel part of the team as quickly as possible.
An often-neglected part of the onboarding process, but socialising is an essential part of helping a new employee put down roots. People who have friends at work are more motivated and stay longer, so start laying the groundwork now.
- Make sure you introduce the new starter to the team and vice versa. Do this on the first day via the instant messaging chat or email, and again during the first video meeting. Have other team members introduce themselves: “getting to know you” is a two-way street.
- Over their first few weeks, organise one-to-ones with each member of the team. It’s a chance for them to pass on tips, explain their roles, and start to form a bond.
- Schedule a remote team building event to break the ice.
- Lead by example and encourage some casual chat via instant message, and at the start and end of video meetings to encourage communication beyond the strictly work-related.
It’s important not to overwhelm your new starter with too many names and meetings right off the bat, but to ease them into it over the first month or so. Remember that you’re their guide to their new company, so a high-touch approach will be necessary for new remote starters to feel part of the team, engaged and connected.
Carucci says effective companies onboard for the first year, as it’s the most precarious in terms of turnover. As the next year or so look uncertain in terms of remote and onsite work, creating a robust remote onboarding system will be an essential skill for managers to hone for the close and medium future. Don’t forget to document and evaluate this process to continuously learn and improve.