How to onboard remote employees

We’ve recently had eight new people join the Texthelp team whilst we’ve been working from home, and we’ve another three on the way over the coming weeks. As our HR team works hard to onboard our new colleagues remotely, we thought we would share their experiences with you, to bring you some useful insight. So, we grabbed a virtual chat over some coffee with one of our HR Officers, Andrew McDermott...

An image of a texthelper with a welcome sign

With a lot of new employees joining the Texthelp team whilst we’ve all been working from home / experiencing social distancing, was there anything that concerned you about onboarding employees remotely?

Well, since I do all the onboarding for the company regardless of where in the world our employees are, I’m used to doing remote onboarding. So, we already had everything in place, which has really helped us. I suppose, the only concerns I had were - how could we make up for that initial lost face to face contact, and the chance for the new employee to meet their team in person? Even when we remotely onboard our colleagues in the States and Australia, they would still spend their first week or two in their local Texthelp office. So, would we be able to train people as easily? Would they still feel part of the team? Would they feel connected?

You mentioned that we’re already well set up as a company for remote onboarding, can you tell us a bit more about that?

Yes, certainly. Good communication is key, so what we would usually do is to send an email before someone starts, welcoming them to the company and giving them the information they need for their first day - things like start time and dress code. We keep the Network Support team and the relevant line managers well informed of when people are starting, to make sure that they’ve enough time to arrange equipment, and set up any training meetings that might be required. We’ve naturally been able to adapt to the virtual environment, because we’re already used to communicating across the globe with the wider Texthelp team.

Were there any extra considerations you had to take into account to overcome the concerns you’ve mentioned, in regards to remote onboarding?

We’ve had to tweak a few things throughout our welcome strategy. Rather than just sending a welcome email before they begin, we’ve added in the opportunity to have a phone call with their line manager too. Starting a new job is daunting at the best of times, never mind starting remotely, so it felt important to us to help make them feel comfortable and reassured, and give them a chance to tell us anything that they’re concerned about before their first day - and this extends to the line manager’s too. Whilst it’s not an ideal situation for the new start, it’s also not ideal from a manager’s point of view. So, I’ve been reaching out to coach them through, and make sure that they feel ready and supported as well. 

In regards to some of our recent new starts, we’ve actually recruited them whilst we’ve been experiencing social distancing. Can you tell me a bit about how we carried out that process? 

Quite a similar process to how we normally recruit, we engaged with the recruiters who sent us some CVs. We then shared these with the hiring managers, who then shortlisted by filling out the relevant forms, stating how they have or haven’t met the criteria. It’s important that we still have this very clear journey. The interviews took place over Google Hangouts with our interviewee and interview panel joining remotely. Where we required a task to be completed and presented, the interviewee simply shared their screen during the hangout and presented as they would in the office.

At Texthelp, we’re already quite an internally online company - how has this helped you to welcome new starts into the company? 

This has made a massive difference. The online platforms that we use have made the process pretty seamless. We use Google Drive to store all of our documents, and it’s user friendly so it’s pretty easy to work out how to use. There’s also lots of tutorials available, which we share with our new starters too. Google Communities is also great as it acts as a company white board. Even before lockdown, the guys in the States or Australia could share more informal updates with us and it helps us to share things company wide. When new employees start it’s a nice way to introduce them, with a profile telling everyone who they are, and putting a face to their name. We’ve also got systems like People HR where employees can put holiday requests through; iHasco for delivering staff training; and, Hive HR for employee engagement, where we can gage what our colleagues are thinking about certain issues. All of these online platforms have been great.

And what about the induction process? What does a good induction program look like for employees joining a company remotely? 

It needs to be informative without being too overwhelming. In this remote environment, our employees are spending their first day with their line manager, with a HR induction the following day - to ease them into the team slowly. In terms of the induction documents, it’s about making sure they have everything they need, like access to policies, and information on how to sign up to any software that’s used in the team. Also, letting them know how they can find out about payday, and book annual leave. Making sure their training has all the general information they need as well as that specific to their job role, and that they know who to turn to if they have any questions about their role. We’re working closely with managers to make sure all that is still happening whilst we’re not in the office.

Starting a new company can be nerve-wracking, never mind starting as a remote employee. What have you put in place to make sure new employees are given that sense of belonging? 

We would usually check in with employees for a HR catch up after they’ve been at the company for one month and again at three months, but we’ve now scheduled in fortnightly calls with each of them. It gives them a regular line of communication with HR, even just a familiar face and someone to chat to about anything, work related or otherwise, over a cup of coffee. I think that’s important for any new starters at this time, so that when we do get back to the office they’ll see a face in HR that they recognize - it’ll make it a much less daunting experience for when that time comes. And that’s actually been a common theme between some of them, the feeling of almost starting their new job twice. Right now they’ve met their immediate team members virtually and have been introduced to their workload, but when we get back to the office they’ll be a lot more introductions happening - so we’ve had to consider how we can make this easier too.

And what about company culture? How have you been able to put across Texthelp’s warmth and friendliness in the virtual environment? 

Genuinely as a company we have a good external reputation, which is half the battle - at least, that’s what we’ve heard from our new starters. We have a good company culture, which comes from the fact that we bring people in that are not only right for the job, but for the organization too. It just snowballs from there, and I think that’s how it’s maintained. I guess how to put this across to new starters in a virtual environment, is to encourage them to get involved in different initiatives that are going on, both those set up by our leaders and our employees - because, since working from home, we've very quickly seen our employees setting up a lot of initiatives to get people connected and involved - and all done very naturally. It's making a big difference. 

And finally, obviously every person is very different and the remote working experience isn’t the same for every employee. How do you make sure that your new employees are starting out with all that they need to work successfully? 

Aside from ensuring that they’ve all the equipment they need and the tools in place, it's important for teams, managers and HR to get to know the new colleagues on a personal basis. Find out where they previously worked, what they like, where they’re from. Even just ask ‘how are you coping with things at the minute?’. Everyone is having different experiences of working from home, and it’s not just something that everyone can acclimatize to straight away. It’s about being aware that these aren’t normal working from home conditions, and to be willing to give that flexibility - to work when it suits you - when the kids are sleeping, for example. We’re trying to work whilst filtering out all that background noise, and it’s about realizing that what’s going on right now is affecting people in very different ways - the company is made up of 180 individuals that react differently to different things, so it’s not always a one-size-fits all approach.

Are there any extra steps companies can take to support those with neurodiverse conditions?

Making sure that our occupation health reports are up to date, so we can make those adjustments that are required. For those on the Autistic Spectrum who like familiarity and routine, it’s about being mindful that people are settling into a new routine now, but soon they might have to get used to another routine again. So it’s about being aware of these individuals. In fact, everyone that is going through these changes.

We hope we’ve given you some useful insight into how to onboard employees remotely. If you would like to find out more about us, and how we can support you and your employees at this time, take a look at our dedicated workplace solutions.