How to Onboard Remote Employees and Make Them Part of Your Team
An increasing number of companies are hiring employees who work from remote locations. These employees might be situated in the same region as the head office, or they could work in another state or even another country.
Companies hire these virtual employees for a variety of reasons. One is that workers with the required skills might not be available in commuting distance of the office. Another, the costs of retaining remote employees can be lower than those for in-house employees. A third is that the Internet has made working remotely practical and efficient.
But the benefits also come with drawbacks. Remote employees are less easily monitored than those who work in-house and can, therefore, be less accountable and less productive; they are likely to be unfamiliar with the way in which a company operates and find it difficult to absorb the corporate culture in the way that in-house staff can do; they are less directly engaged with staff and management; and they can feel distant from office happenings.
These drawbacks can be mitigated, however, with a meaningful onboarding program that engages virtual employees and helps to retain them.
Why You Need an Onboarding Program
An onboarding program integrates remote employees into a company and its organization. At one level, it provides them with the documentation and other tools that they need to perform their jobs effectively. At another level, it introduces them to the company’s culture, the ways in which it operates, its values and its work ethic, so that the employees can relate to the organization and feel they are a part of the extended corporate family.
It also helps to build a relationship with the remote employee who might otherwise feel unnoticed or unappreciated. Ideally, an onboarding program should be introduced to new hires as soon as is practical, ensuring that they feel comfortable coming on board with the organization and become familiar with its operations in a short time.
What an Onboarding Program Can Achieve
A major obstacle faced when employing remote workers is that they cannot be welcomed in person and be personally introduced to staff and management. Working in a different time zone creates an additional barrier. An in-house employee can ask questions as they start working and becoming accustomed to the company’s systems; a remote employee might have to wait several hours to do so. In addition, questions need often to be answered with the help of a demonstration and explanation that is more easily conveyed in person than remotely.
Body language becomes significant, as do such aspects as a personable and helpful approach. Even a chat over a cup of coffee is a helpful way to introduce a new employee to an office environment. The result can be that remote employees develop a different impression of company culture than their in-house counterparts.
An effective onboarding program is aimed at overcoming these obstacles. Here are keys to help you onboard your remote workers.
1. Connect Person-To-Person
To overcome the obstacles of getting to know an employee remotely, you should consider bringing a worker into the office for a week before the employee starts working remotely. They will gain all the benefits that an in-house employee has. If it is impractical to bring the employee into the office, you should use all the tools available to you to replicate the in-house experience.
The most valuable of such tools is video conferencing. For example, sitting around a table and chatting with a remote employee enables body language and eye contact to be observed. Also, a virtual tour of the office will help to orientate a remote worker.
Set aside time for extensive video or voice discussions in the beginning, just as you would conducting a face-to-face dialogue with a new hire in the office. Introduce the remote employee to fellow workers so that, in future discussions, remote employees can visualize the people with whom they are talking. They will feel less remote and less secluded. You might want to set up a regular time, daily or weekly, to talk with a remote employee to guide them and show them they are involved.
2. Make Your Expectations Clear
Explain to your remote employees from the outset what you expect from them. Ensure they know their duties, their responsibilities, and the importance of meeting deadlines for projects. Make them acquainted with your company’s telecommuting rules. They should know to whom they will report, what their goals are, how they will be evaluated, and whether they are capable of issuing instructions to other members of staff.
Make sure, too, that they know which tools they will use to communicate with staff and management. You might prefer them to use email, for example, rather than the telephone. It helps to put such issues in writing, thereby avoiding confusion and even confrontation. Assign members of management to keep in regular touch with individual remote employees and to coach and mentor them.
3. Make Them Feel Welcome
An important element in any company is a culture of trust. Employees should feel free to suggest changes, to know that their opinions are valued, and to understand that fellow employees are colleagues, not competitors. Creating trust is harder when working remotely.
You should work actively to ensure that it exists, that your remote employees feel they are welcome as part of a team and are as important team members as those in the office. Make sure, too, that the in-house workers welcome their new colleagues as valuable members of staff and that remoteness does not mean a lack of connection and cooperation.
4. Regularly Evaluate the Process
Once you set up the system and it has had time to work, evaluate it to see whether it is achieving the aims that you set for it. Ask the new remote employees for feedback; determine whether they have been confused and whether they still know what is expected of them. If you feel your original aims have not been achieved, refine them to ensure they are reached.
Sometimes you have to search outside your immediate area for employees who have the skills that you need. An important element of hiring such employees who work remotely is to ensure that they become part of the company team, that they know what is expected of them, and that they adapt to the company culture.
The demands of communication over the Internet and working in different time zones means achieving these goals can be a challenge, but the obstacles can be overcome with the implementation of a good onboarding program as soon as the employee is hired. Both the employee and the corporation will benefit.