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How to create a stellar onboarding process—even remotely

Twenty years (and several roles) ago, I was working in Human Resources at a manufacturing company in Berkeley, California. We had 125 employees at the time—all onsite—and it was my responsibility to develop and oversee the onboarding process. It was very much what you might picture for a medium-sized company: We’d hire a number of employees all at once, and onboard them all at once. Set up in a conference room, we'd go over the company information in a group so that new team members could ask questions to leadership and to each other. The togetherness facilitated by our system organically created a sense of community, and allowed each team member to make natural connections with others in the company.

Today, as HR Program Administrator at EMyth, I’m once again leading a company onboarding program, but in a much different environment. Not only are we a service company with fewer than 40 employees, we’re fully remote—and have been for nearly two years

And you know what? Despite the contrast between the companies, the fundamentals of a successful onboarding program are the same: 

  • Set a good foundation
  • Prioritize social and interpersonal connections
  • Offer an open door for support for as long as needed 

That's harder to do remotely, but it's not impossible. All it takes is a strong system, thoughtfulness and oversight. Here’s how you can incorporate these fundamentals into your onboarding process—whatever the makeup of your business.

Set clear employee expectations from the beginning

For your employees to succeed, they need to be clear on the responsibilities of their role and the results you expect them to produce. A Position Agreement helps you communicate this information. It’s a written agreement that outlines specific work your new employee agrees to do as part of their position. On day one, a new employee should meet with their manager to go over this agreement, get a good understanding of their role and ask all the questions they have. It’s best practice to send a new hire their Position Agreement in advance along with other required paperwork so they have time to prepare.

Offer a new employee orientation

Having a comprehensive orientation for new employees is a given. They’re walking into your company knowing only what they’ve learned from their own interview process and research. You need to teach them the way of your business. And the best method they have to learn this is directly from leadership. 

At EMyth, we spread this orientation period over several weeks, during which new employee(s) meet with all levels of management, from EMyth Owner Ilene Frahm to their own direct manager so they can get an understanding not only of the business, but their role in it. These meetings should include the following: 

  • Company history
  • Strategic objectives
  • Company values
  • Customer Experience (CX) principles
  • Business model
  • Organizational structure
  • Annual goals
  • Product and service overview 
  • Brand strategy 
  • Situation in the market

Ideally, you’ll have different team leaders conducting individual sessions that relate most to their area of expertise. This way, each employee hears from different perspectives, and gets a sense of how your values and systems show up in all areas of the business.

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Schedule necessary trainings

When you’re used to all the systems and tools of your own business, it’s easy to take for granted that others aren’t. It’s important to remember that each new employee may know nothing about the tech platforms you use, your project management system or your one-of-a-kind customer experience model. Put yourself in their shoes and figure out every aspect of what they need to perform their job to your standard every day. Then set up trainings before their start date with the subject experts on your team.

Build in opportunities for social interaction

Especially in a remote environment, it’s incredibly important to develop social relationships with co-workers. Without it, employees working in a home office will soon feel isolated, performing their job in a bubble. But when they have a community that they’re excited to work with and who are ready to help, it makes a huge difference in feeling productive and attached to the team. 

We orchestrate community building for new hires through team meet-and-greet sessions and a buddy system. Working in a dispersed team can feel very isolating, and we want each employee to feel like they’re part of us from the beginning. Joining various team meetings gives them a sense of who everybody is and what they do, and the buddy system further supports this. Having a specific person—who may or may not be on the same team—to meet with regularly, gives a new hire someone to ask questions like, “Well, what does this mean?” or “How do you handle that?”. For certain positions, that's really important to have.

Create an onboarding checklist 

To do all of this well requires a lot of organization, so make it easy on yourself. Create a template that outlines all the meetings and trainings included in your onboarding process (we have our template built into Asana). You can use this to schedule each new employee for the first couple of weeks. Start by populating the template with regular meetings they should attend such as your all-company meeting, weekly team meetings and your HR onboarding sessions. Then, use that framework to fill in all other trainings. Be sure the new employee and their manager both have a copy.

Offer a consistent onboarding experience for every employee

For one reason or another, employees can end up having unequal onboarding experiences. I’ve seen this happen when an employee didn’t function as a part of a team, or if they belonged to a disparate team that works fairly isolated from the rest of the company. Such was the case at the manufacturing business. The people who worked on the manufacturing floor didn't have the same onboarding as those who worked, for example, in the marketing department. Of course, they got all the basics of their job and the company overview, but they got less of the interpersonal connection. Because they worked in a totally different physical space, the logic was that they wouldn't necessarily interact with those folks anyway. 

Situations like this not only create a sort of hierarchy, they also make it difficult to build the unity needed to achieve company goals. If you have a discrepancy in how different team members are onboarded, they don’t feel equally valued. So when coordinating social interactions and trainings for new hires, make sure that everybody gets the same level of attention and engagement. This will give them the sense that they’re a part of something connected, where they can do their best work. 

As you develop your company’s onboarding process, expect that it will take at least two months before a new hire starts feeling like they’re really confident and comfortable in their job. And with certain positions that are less predictable, the process can be longer. So be patient, and focus on the fundamentals to ensure that everybody's thriving, everybody’s doing well and everybody has the tools they need. Because the better people feel, the more likely they are to stay.

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Kathleen Harper

Written by Kathleen Harper

Kathleen is our HR Program Administrator. She brings decades of experience in human resources, events management and customer service to her role, as well as certified skills in life coaching and academic training in integrative healing. She's passionate about fostering a supportive, integrated and inclusive workplace, which is the central to creating a healthy and lasting team.

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