Remote onboarding: What does it mean for you?

Welcome to our new series where we explore the most important industries, trends, and topics related to your career.

We live in a new world touched by COVID-19 and defined by remote work. Gone are the days of waking up at six o’clock in the morning to put on a dress shirt and start a lengthy commute. These days, folks make bank by wearing pajamas, skipping showers, and attending Zoom meetings.

Given the breakdown of the traditional in-office experience, then, what happens when you, the winner who just accepted a brand new job offer, is expected to begin your company’s onboarding process? Back in the day, onboarding would mean weeks, if not months, of in-office training, guidance, cultural inductions, and group bonding opportunities. Now there is no office.

When it’s time for you to start a new job’s onboarding process, odds are you’ll be going through the motions from your living room via a laptop. How does that change the end result, you ask? What does remote onboarding mean for you? That’s what we’re going to break down right here, right now.

The need for effective remote onboarding

Before we dive into what remote onboarding should (and shouldn’t) look like, it’s essential to understand the importance of effective onboarding procedures. Research conducted by Brandon Hall Group and licensed for distribution by Glassdoor found that organizations with good onboarding processes boosted retention of new hires by 82%.

They also saw productivity boosts over 70%. Contrast those figures against the companies described as having weak onboarding processes―they were more likely to lose fresh hires within the first year of their employment due to the employee losing confidence in the organization that hired them.

Now, picture yourself as that employee. It’s an unfortunate situation all around. Not only did the company that took a chance on you fail to connect and essentially double their onboarding costs as a result (since they’ll now have to find your replacement), but you yourself are now in the unsavory position of having to either find a new job or go back to being the new guy at a job you lined up for yourself before abandoning your previous company.

This info doesn’t change the fact that there’s not much you can do if your company is bad at remote onboarding; if they’re ineffective, they’re ineffective. But at least you’ll be able to suss that out early on with our tips so you can strategize your next career move sooner rather than later.

What remote onboarding should look like

First and foremost, in the era of remote work, there’s no need for an employer to wait until the first day of work to send you files, forms, and other preliminary documents that new employees tend to have to read and sign. Nor should they wait to get you set up in all the systems necessary to do your job.

If your new company sends you all necessary documents and login credentials before your first day on the job, that’s a good sign that they respect your time and want to keep your onboarding experience focused on job training, company culture integration, and other useful subjects right from day one.

Speaking of company culture integration and job training, let’s refer back to the Brandon Hall Group research to learn another interesting tidbit about effective onboarding. According to BHG’s research, “In order to ensure swift and lasting assimilation of new hires, two in three high-performance programs include formal mentorship and coaching in their onboarding.”

Mentorship is valuable and good remote onboarding processes will have it. Even if it’s only possible via Zoom, emails, phone calls, and Slack, it’s still an essential resource. Having a mentor will help you adjust to company norms both on a business and cultural level, as well as help you connect with your colleagues. With a mentor, you always have someone to check in with and forward questions to.

Another sign of good onboarding is that it likely won’t last a week or even a month. Quality onboarding processes, be they remote or onsite, can last an entire year. They’re not rushed and prioritize teaching you the ropes the right way. BHG claims such lengthy onboarding “helps new hires feel acclimated and motivated to perform.”

So to recap, three key indicators that you’re participating in a strong onboarding process are:

  • Consistent receipt of necessary job tools and documents ahead of time
  • Some form of mentorship to personally ease you into your new role
  • A lengthy training period that takes time to educate you on your position’s duties

Start remote onboarding yourself before the company does

Bad onboarding can be easily spotted. If a company fails to competently set you up for your job, leaves you to your own devices, and gives off a “sink or swim” attitude, you know you’re in trouble—which is why you should take the advice from this Forbes article to heart. In the article, executive coach Hanna Hart explains why you should “onboard” yourself before you even get the job.

“[…] You can gather a lot of information about an organization’s culture during the interview process,” Hart says. She then warns against ignoring red flags that signal your desired culture won’t be compatible with the company you’re interviewing with. “Company culture is like a new boyfriend: don’t go into the relationship thinking you can change it.”
Hart’s advice is excellent. The only way to truly come out unscathed from bad onboarding is to never deal with it in the first place. So even if the only data you have about your new potential employer during the interview stage is derived from Zoom and emails, analyze those spaces for signs of an irremediable cultural gap between you and the company. Then, if you see that things just aren’t going to work out, offboard yourself right away.