High-Touch Tools For Remote Onboarding – Part 2

By Dr. John Sullivan and Michael Cox

Part two covers the remaining three of the eight onboarding goals and the most appropriate tools for each goal. If you missed part one, it can be found here. And if you missed the introductory article Stop Creating Zombie Remote Workers – Use “High-Touch” Remote Onboarding it can be found here.

Onboarding goal #6 – Encourage continuous two-way communications.

It’s difficult to maintain communications with any new-hire that is going through onboarding. However, if they’re going to work remotely for any period of time, you must proactively increase two-way communications. Some of the ways to improve communications include:

  • Reveal everyone’s communications preferences – the best way to ensure that an important message will be received and read is to send it via the receiver’s preferred communications channel. So ask everyone to post internally on Slack, or other sharing mechanisms, their preferred communications channels for each type of message. As well as the times when you are the most responsive to messages.
  • Take advantage of internal communications networks – even medium-size organizations now have access to remote work facilitation tools like cloud files and transparent scheduling tools. There are also many new electronic internal communications platforms. So make all new hires try them at least once. Common corporate tools include Slack, G-Chat, HipChat, Google Sites, Chatter, Currents, and virtual whiteboards.
  • Encourage the use of CRM systems – many teams have Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software that periodically reminds them to connect with customers. It makes sense to also use that software, or use a project management alternative, internally to remind the new-hire’s manager and teammates to communicate frequently – especially on birthdays, anniversaries and project completion dates.
  • Encourage a high level of honesty – when a new-hire working remotely feels like they don’t fully understand the culture, they are less likely to be straightforward and honest. If the team requires honest answers, managers need to make it clear that the team practices constructive confrontation or radical candor. This communication expectation frames feedback and criticisms to be straightforward with nothing withheld (other than personalizing the feedback). With remote teams, managers can help demonstrate this model through online lists (keep doing this, stop doing this, start doing that) and a virtual whiteboard/slideshow. A related best practice is that there can be “no hidden work”. This practice reduces duplicate and low priority work. Having nothing withheld means that there can be no tasks, projects, and activities that no one else on the team knows about. In remote environments, it’s best to use project management tools like Trello, MS Project, or Smartsheet to improve everyone’s knowledge of what you are working on.

Onboarding goal #7 – Assessing a new hire’s onboarding progress.

It’s always important to assess the progress of onboarding. However, it’s especially important when you extend onboarding over multiple weeks. That periodic assessment of progress should include setting individual onboarding performance metrics, scheduling remote check-ins and progress assessment meetings.

  • Set individual onboarding progress measures – rather than relying on words to assess a new-hire’s progress during onboarding, specific metrics and passing scores should be set up in advance and communicated to the new-hire. These progress metrics should always include time to minimum productivity. And, managers should assess two-way satisfaction in key accomplishment areas including trust, two-way communications, flight risk probability and the degree of assimilation into the team. Teammates should be measured and recognized for having the shortest average response time from each remote worker.
  • Schedule periodic remote check-in and onboarding progress assessment meetings – because new hires and managers are quite busy, the assessment of an individual new-hire’s onboarding progress is allowed to slide. Prevent this slide by requiring and scheduling periodic one-on-one Zoom check-in meetings with their manager. To ensure that these actually occur, designate them as “no cancel meetings”.
  • Schedule stay interviews – failing to retain a new-hire hurts the team because all of the invested coaching and training is lost. So rather than assuming everything is okay, proactively improve new-hire retention by scheduling stay interviews at 6 and 12 months. These stay interviews are one-on-one Zoom meetings with their manager where the key reasons why they stay are identified. Managers develop a personalized retention plan to reinforce each of these “sticky factors”.
  • Are we keeping our promises assessment – unkept promises are a significant cause of frustration, unhappiness, and early turnover. And unfortunately, many recent hires feel that promises were made during the hiring process are not being kept. Rather than letting that feeling fester, proactively address this issue during the regularly scheduled check-in meetings. During a one-on-one Zoom meeting with their manager, ask the new-hire to list the key promises that are, or are not, being kept. The manager should develop a short-term plan to meet those promises or renegotiate expectations.

Onboarding goal #8 – Sign-ups and remembering start-up information. 

Unfortunately, many of those who manage corporate onboarding place an over-emphasis on what I call “administrative sign-ups”. Unfortunately, forcing the completion of too many sign-ups will frustrate anyone going to remote onboarding. At least at the corporate level, we recommend a three hour per day limit on onboarding administration.

  • Electronic sign-ups for payroll, benefits, etc. – thanks to new technology, these sign-ups can be completed 100% remotely (provided that your system has enough security). As a plus, these electronic sign-ups can be even more effective than a paper form if they allow electronic signatures. And provide the new-hire with hints or even block them from inputting data incorrectly. Obviously, getting security badges, keys or other physical onboarding materials will have to be done via courier.
  • Stretch out communicating corporate policies and values – this significant portion of corporate onboarding can be problematic because the amount of information provided during a short period of time can literally cause headaches. At the very least, managers should realize little of it will actually be remembered. So the most effective approach is to prioritize information that absolutely must be provided on the first day. Then, split the remaining information over the next week following the three hours per day limit. If possible, allow the new-hire to select whether they receive their information as a podcast, reading, a video or even a video game.

Additional Fun Onboarding Tools To Consider

The prioritized tools provided in the previous sections have the highest impact on remote onboarding results. However, there are many lower impact onboarding tools that add fun to any remote onboarding plan. These tools are highly intuitive so they don’t need much of an explanation.

  • Welcome email – Introduce the new member to the team through a welcome email to spark the hire’s first introductions to the team.
  • Remote scavenger hunt – as a challenge have new-hires seek out key information and “who’s in charge of this”. An alternative scavenger hunt is to seek out interesting items in your home that can spark a conversation with your teammates.
  • Baseball cards for the team – introduce new teammates with baseball cards covering each team member. With “stats” on the back of the new employee’s card relating to work and hobbies.
  • “Meet everyone card” – Give them a “meet everyone card” that requires (rewards) them for pasting in a copy of the email address of all key team members on the card during the first ___ days.
  • Thank the family – Thank the significant other by sending flowers or a “dinner for two” coupons to celebrate the new job. Send their children welcome gifts, T-shirts, etc.
  • Create shared moments remotely – Casual, themed meetings are a great way to increase camaraderie. Use remote ice cream socials, themed coffee talks, and costumes to show different employees. Celebrate national days together as a team (i.e. national dog day). Attend virtual activities together including games, streaming movies, or concerts.
  • Daily small challenges – Use your #fun chat to enjoy sharing daily, work-friendly challenges that include 3-minute meditation, daily walking, fitness goals, or personal habits.
  • Exercise together – when appropriate, set up daily times where members of the team can exercise together using Zoom.
  • End meetings positively – Especially in small teams, one way to improve team communication is by sharing “an aha, an apology, or an appreciation” at the end of each virtual meeting. This process closes the meeting with everyone sharing a lightbulb moment, apologizing for something, or highlighting something that they really liked from the meeting.
  • Know the Rules Game! – Design a game for new hires/transfers to learn the must-know rules for the job by making it fun to pay attention to health and safety standard issues. 

Final Thoughts on Remote Onboarding

Most onboarding programs are designed to get a new employee to meet his or her team and finish the company paperwork. It’s a process to get new hires to be in the right place at the right time – not to be the best they can be. This does not work for the in-person office where new hires can be seen struggling. And, it’s hurting the company more when making this mistake remotely. By settling for limited onboarding programs, managers are missing the opportunity to improve productivity, retention, customer satisfaction, employer brand, and reduce error rates.

By reinforcing the right expectations, communication habits, and developing the individual, managers can lead world-class teams without ever meeting in-person. Ask yourself these questions to evaluate if you need to do more:

  • Goal – Is the primary goal to get new hires productive as fast as possible?
  • Innovation and ideas – Are remote employee ideas falling on deaf ears? Are you investing in a remote employee’s projects at the same rate as local projects?
  • Feedback loop – Are the causes of successes and failures communicated to ensure that every process continually improves?


Author’s Note: If this article stimulated your thinking and provided you with actionable tips. Please take a moment to follow and/or connect with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn and to subscribe to his weekly Talent Newsletter.

Image from Pixabay.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

Check Also

The Dumbest Reasons For Rejecting Job Applicants (Questionable rejection factors that hurt hiring results)

How many of your qualified candidates are being rejected for these questionable reasons? Article Descriptors| …