This article was originally published on 27/07/2020

Digital onboarding is the process of using tools and platforms to onboard and train new employees. In this article, Capterra outlines the digital onboarding steps for hiring remote staff to ensure they are set up for success in their new job role.

Digital onboarding of remote staff

Onboarding remote employees is important for SMEs as it requires integrating workers into the business from afar. Companies must address their onboarding strategies for new employees, as workers need training and support to familiarise themselves with the company culture and policies. This is where digital onboarding plays a key role, as software tools can help companies to simplify and efficiently implement the necessary processes. 

In this article, Capterra outlines the best practices for companies regarding the digital onboarding of remote staff. 

What is digital onboarding?

Digital onboarding is the process of familiarising a new employee with a business (their new employer). It also refers to the welcoming of that person, ensuring they feel comfortable and able to establish positive working relationships with their colleagues.

Digital onboarding covers everything included in traditional onboarding. However, as the name suggests, the main difference is the former is executed online. Rather than holding an introductory meeting with their manager face-to-face, for example, the employee would meet them over a video call instead. It is important that HR follows an onboarding checklist when hiring and inducting new employees to the company. 

Why is digital onboarding important?

Most of us have or know of someone who has a tale about being left to ‘sink or swim’ in a new job. Cases like this normally happen when the employer overestimates an employee’s ability to feel their way through a role without the relevant training. However, the reality tends to be that the recruit is left feeling overwhelmed and unsupported. In a home office, where the buzz of an office won’t surround an employee, onboarding is even more important.

A report by Gartner says that successful onboarding can increase an employee’s discretionary effort by more than 20%. From a business perspective, digital onboarding boosts and accelerates a new employee’s ability to positively impact the company’s bottom line.

Digital onboarding best practices for remote employees 

The following tips highlight our five digital onboarding best practices for hiring remote employees. 

1. Complete paperwork ahead of their first day

Pre-boarding refers to the activity that takes place before a person officially joins the company. In this stage, it is a good idea to tackle administrative tasks such as signing contracts and completing payroll enrollment—all of which can be managed through online platforms. 

The advantage of handling paperwork online and before the recruit’s start date means their first day at work can be much more impactful and memorable. The day will revolve around them meeting colleagues and learning about the business rather than reading through a pile of paperwork.

Tools for handling paperwork remotely:

2. Make day one memorable

Like the paperwork, managers should ensure the new employee has the relevant technology to create an at-home workstation before their first day. This means having the physical technology available (such as a company laptop) and accounts to appropriate software. With those elements taken care of, new employees can jump straight into immersing themselves in the business. 

It’s important to consider ways a person may miss out on an in-person welcome. For example, meeting them at reception when they first arrive at the office is a nice touch. Being taken out for lunch is another first-day ritual people tend to look forward to because it gives them a chance to bond on a personal level with colleagues. 

These may be a little trickier to replicate digitally, but there are ways managers can make remote employees feel welcome:

Virtual meet-and-greets

Start their day with a one-on-one video call to greet them ‘face-to-face.’ Later in the day, and using the same software, managers can replace the in-person introductions with a virtual team-building activity. Using video can help to offer the new hire a warmer reception than a telephone or digital conversation. Good, effective communication is the foundation of a productive workforce and can help build trust and connection, particularly among remote staff.

Full-company introductions

Giving the hire a shout-out on an internal communication tool also helps create a sense of culture and togetherness. It gives colleagues who may not work directly with the new hire daily an opportunity to say hello and introduce themselves in an informal setting. To kick off the conversations, try collecting some facts about the employee before they start so that you can share them in their welcome message.

The buddy system

A Capterra survey of 500 Australian millennials found that almost half (48%) of this age group appreciate people in the onboarding process over a completely automated version of it. A third (33%) of women would not like an AI involved in their onboarding at all, compared to 24% of men. A good solution for employers and new employees is to implement a buddy system—in other words, a colleague that the recruit can lean on for support and knowledge sharing.

Tools to facilitate new remote hires:

  • Video conferencing software is, as the name suggests, a technology that enables employees to host one-on-one or team meetings through video and audio displays. 
  • Survey software allows HR staff to share a pre-prepared fact-gathering questionnaire with new starters.
  • Internal communication software enables colleagues (or ‘buddies’) to share information internally and continuously interact with each other.

3. Automate administrative tasks to reduce repetition

All new hires need the necessary team introductions and check-ins, as well as information on processes and tools. To make the most of the employees' time, prepare and provide them with an agenda for their first day. This could extend to a full week, month, or probation period if necessary. 

For HR professionals, this aspect of onboarding can prove to be especially administration-heavy. Therefore, it’s worth managers considering tools that could reduce the time spent on this task so that their department can focus on tasks that require uniquely human skills. 

Tools for automating digital onboarding:

  • Project management tools can come in useful when it comes to creating a process as it allows users to lean on readily created templates. HR professionals can tailor templates to suit their needs, attaching all of the relevant forms, instructions, and documents. 
  • Scheduling software gives staff access to a shared calendar, giving HR professionals a real-time view of when the new employee’s team is available for onboarding meetings.

4. Set clear goals & objectives

After the new hire has had time to settle in, it’s important to introduce some expectations and goals to them. This step is a fundamental component in the process and helps provide them with a purpose in the business.

Goal setting should always come with a lot of clarity. For every objective, there should be a clear set of guidelines that explains how the employee can reach them. The objectives should be attainable and accessible. This may include participating in training modules or connecting them with a support network (such as internal experts).

Tools for setting goals & objectives:

  • HR software includes performance features that allow HR staff to create, assign, and track progress with set goals. Some platforms also automatically send reminders when performance review dates are coming up.

5.  Consider digital training methods

Ongoing training is essential in a person’s career. At the beginning of a new job, however, online training plays a pivotal role in making or breaking that person’s success within a company. 

Digital onboarding can sometimes be confused with orientation. The latter handles the basics of a new hire’s role, office policies, and equipment usage. Online training, on the other hand, provides them with the software tools, resources, and knowledge that will allow them to be productive from the offset.

As remote working or the hybrid model looks like it is here to stay, companies must consider the best practices for training employees in remote settings by holding online training sessions.

Tools for training employees in a digital workplace:

  • Learning management software (LMS) helps to formalise online training in the onboarding process—such as the agenda, timeline, and training material. 
  • Team communication software with real-time chat functions works well for quick-fire questions and answers and virtual check-ins.

How can software help with the digital onboarding of remote staff?

Using automation technology to create a digital onboarding process helps to reduce repetitive task handling. However, a one-size-fits-all program may not be the most impactful approach. Every new hire’s needs are different, which are often role and experience-dependent. 

What technology can do is centralise process flows and event triggers. By doing this, HR professionals can focus on creating a truly personalised experience for every hire.

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