10 Tips for Creating an Incredible Remote Onboarding Experience

Sasha Robinson, Head of People at Trainual

Sasha Robinson

April 07, 2020

I’ve been designing and running new hire onboardings for five years. And I never once said, “let’s do remote onboarding for increased engagement and productivity!” 

No – I was the HR lady who flew new hires out to our office for a week (yes, an entire week) to make sure they met everyone on the team and got an authentic feel for our culture.

Fast-forward to today, and I am planning one remote onboarding after the next. (Currently, we are planning to onboard 3 more people, starting April 20.) And if I am being honest… I don’t hate it! Sure, it takes more work on the front end. But it is surprisingly easier to manage.

That doesn’t mean our virtual onboarding experience was perfect from the get-go. When we first made the transition, we made plenty of mistakes. Everything from assuming we could use our in-person onboarding materials to not building in enough bathroom breaks to not giving new hires proper (virtual) introductions to everyone.

But we’re not afraid to admit that and even ask our new hires (however they onboard) what we could have done better. Then, whatever they say, we take, and we incorporate it into our next experience. 

So, whether your next new hire is coming on in-person or remote, here are 10 tips that I’ve found make every onboarding experience incredible: 

1. Onboard new hires in cohorts

I can’t stress this enough! Batching new hires into defined start date cohorts is critical to making new hires more comfortable. Why? Because it instantly creates a sense of belonging!

Not only do you provide an opportunity for this equally nervous group to foster friendships. But you create cross-functional partnerships that extend through their duration with the company.

These groupings also dramatically reduce the administrative burden of onboarding by only having to do it once, rather than multiple times. In turn, this keeps your leadership and training team from burning out or losing too much time (while still welcoming all the new people and helping to get them up to speed).

2. Share the first-week schedule 

WFH vibes

Don’t wait until the day before (or even worse, day of) to share their first-week schedule! I mean, quitting a job and starting a new one is scary enough – remember the last time you decided to make the transition? Things like where to park, what to do for lunch, and when to arrive were nail biters. 

But virtual onboarding is no less anxiety-inducing! They need to know when to log in, WFH dress code, Zoom etiquette, is being a minute late a big deal, what about technology troubles, and so much more. 

It’s our job to set them up for success by oversharing! Don’t forget that right now, many people have kids and pets and partners working from the same home. And many of them will need to coordinate who watches the kid or uses the office. Just having a sense of what to expect and what the week will entail can significantly reduce their first-day jitters.

I try to get it out at least a week before they start, with events clearly outlined so our new hires can know exactly what to expect. In one, easy-to-digest email, I cover where they need to be (even if it’s a URL), what time they start and end each day, when to expect breaks, and what will be covered during onboarding.

3. Streamline the setup process 

The key here is having any hardware your new hires will need available to them before they start!

Especially now, rather than having them come pick it up, ship their laptops and any accessories directly to their homes. And make sure it gets there before their start date. If you want to really show them you’re on your game, you can even provide them any and all login credentials as well (I highly recommend doing this).

Ideally, this would mean that they have all their software tools – email, Slack, Asana, and anything else they might need – set up, so they show up ready to go on day one. 

4. Planned (virtual) social events

How Remote Onboarding Feels

I know – it seems backward to plan informal social time. But remember those lasting friendships I talked about? These events are when those bonds really form!

If your new people aren’t sitting next to each other, joking around between meetings, you need to actively provide time to chat and get to know each other. 

I always try to lump meetings together as much as I can, so I can free up some extra time for longer lunches, more breaks, or reflection time.

Event Ideas: For these kinds of events, we’ve been gravitating to virtual happy hours, Zoom breakout rooms (learn how here), and taking a walk-and-call together. But really anything social distancing and unrelated to work will do. 

5. Fill in the “nap gaps” with Trainual

No matter how well you plan their first week, there is going to be some amount of downtime. Meetings end early, start late or sometimes, get canceled altogether. The key is to keep this time productive by providing your new hires a side project for these in-betweens.

For us, this is when we have our new hires go through their content in Trainual. It’s a win-win because it breaks up their day, without having them spend hours on end reading and watching videos on their new role.

And while we have Trainual content for everything that goes on within our business, we also highly recommend letting all your new hires see the teams in action. This might mean sitting in on other team’s meetings or shadowing a veteran team member. Whatever you decide to do, these moments will provide your new hires with invaluable insights on how your business works. 

6. Clarify the role with 30-60-90 day plans

It’s every HR person’s nightmare to hear that someone doesn’t know what their job is, especially once they’re done onboarding. 

So, to avoid any room for confusion, provide a much-needed level of clarity on what success looks like in their specific role. 

At Trainual, we use 30-60-90 Day Plans to explicitly outline expectations for their first 3 months. These plans include: 

  • Helpful tips to succeed at Trainual
  • Their team make-up 
  • General day-to-day in their role
  • Key projects marking 30-60-90 day success
  • Important metrics to track 

? Here’s our 30-60-90 Day Plan template, free for you to use! 

7. Dedicate an onboarding POC

Designate a POC

Everyone has questions in their first week. And as your new people transition away from group onboarding and into their roles, these questions only become more frequent. 

Designate a go-to “onboarding person” for the organization-wide and HR questions, as well as someone on their team to ask department-specific questions.

We also set up a Slack channel for each new hire cohort and their POC to keep them all updated in real-time and provide another space to ask questions and connect.

Pro Tip: To continue fostering these relationships after onboarding, keep this cohort Slack channel active with cohort-only events and inside jokes. 

8. Pre-schedule meetings

When onboarding remote, you can’t rely on walking up to your new hires and asking them to hop in the next meeting. There needs to be a lot more planning, from what knowledge is shared to a proper meeting schedule. Otherwise, they will miss out on valuable learning opportunities! 

When we first started hiring, we had a planning session where we brainstormed every piece of information a new hire would need to know. Then, we built a checklist in Asana to schedule X, Y, and Z meetings for every onboarding to make sure we cover everything! 

Pro Tip: Putting these meetings on everyone’s calendars before their first day allows for an ample amount of time to think of questions beforehand. It also gives a more in-depth look at what your new hires should expect (seriously, I cannot stress how important this is)!

9. But don’t overschedule

It might seem silly to even say this, but I’ve made the mistake of overscheduling new hires. 

Aside from their brain exploding with knowledge, they feel awkward stepping out to use the restroom, grab food, or stretch their legs. And the longer this goes on, the more overwhelming it becomes. 

That’s why when you’re planning your next onboarding, set aside time specifically for them to absorb and recharge, rather than jamming all the great information into one day. 

But it’s a balancing act! You don’t want to leave too much extra time for breaks or their side projects (especially when remote) because your new hires might feel forgotten, or start filling those time slots with naps or errands. 

Especially while everyone is home, one of the ways to avoid this is by opening up a conversation about work-schedule preferences. If someone is an early bird, let them start at 7 am, but make sure they are equipped to be productive even before the rest of the team gets online. (Doing this, we found our new hires are more productive and motivated to get their work done… just saying). 

Pro Tip: Right now, chances are they have kids or partners working from home as well. So throughout the onboarding experience, keep an open line of communication about what your new hire needs and how you can accommodate them. 

10. Send swag

Send Swag To Your Remote Team

The period between when they sign their offer letter and when they start is likely an anxiety-filled one. But a small, personalized touch can make a huge difference. 

If budget and time allows, I highly recommend sending your new hires a gift. I mean seriously, there is no better way to show how thrilled you are for them to be there! (And you will get them equally excited to be there!)

Or, even just send them Loom video to say hi and let them know how excited you are for them to start! It seems small, but I promise you it will go a long way. 

Swag ideas: Swag doesn’t have to break the bank, but it should be something they can actually use (otherwise, it will probably end up in the trash). We highly recommend backpacks, laptop sleeves, t-shirts, pens, business cards, gift cards, or a few different kinds of snacks!

I think I speak for everyone when I say transitioning to remote has been an ongoing experiment. And at Trainual, it’s been no different. Our first remote onboarding was nowhere near perfect. And even now, a few remote onboardings behind us, we’re still trying to make it even better.

But if you’re only going to take one lesson away from what we learned through all our onboarding mistakes, here it is… More important than sending swag or pre-scheduling stretch breaks, remember to keep the “people” in People Ops.  Right now, times are scary, and starting a new job, only adds to the uncertainty. So add touches that make the experience human, empathetic, and authentic (even if it’s happening over a computer).

Become a better business leader in 5 minutes a week

Get all the news small business leaders need to know - straight to your inbox.

Related Stories

Start onboarding your remote employees today

Trainual is the world’s leading platform for onboarding new hires and aligning remote teams.

Try for free Already a user? Sign in