Remote Onboarding Process Beginner's Guide and Checklist

Remote Onboarding Process Beginner's Guide and Checklist

Onboarding new team members can be a complex process, even in the best of situations. When it comes to onboarding workers to remote teams, there are additional moving parts to consider.

Providing these team members with the right resources will help ensure better quality work and, ultimately, make your job easier. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the remote onboarding process step by step and provide you with insights on other considerations to keep in mind.

What makes onboarding remote workers different?

The remote onboarding experience presents a few unique hurdles.

Emotionally, it can be challenging to make someone feel welcome and part of the team when you can’t introduce them with a face-to-face smile, firm handshake and first-day lunch. You want to ensure the new team member feels they fit in and valued, even without those more personal accommodations.

Practically, onboarding remotely presents some logistical challenges. Completing human resources and legal paperwork (which may contain sensitive data, like Social Security numbers and bank accounts) securely is one issue.

Educating professionals about new technologies you use in your company can also be challenging when onboarding remotely. If you don’t have a streamlined teaching system, consider partnering with an e-learning specialist to get the job done.

Finally, conveying expectations can be tricky when onboarding remotely. It can help to set clear expectations aligned with a set time frame. For example, what should they have done by the end of the first day, first week, first month, etc.?

How long should it take to onboard a remote worker?

Your general onboarding process should be adaptable so that you can tailor it to different types of professionals. When planning an onboarding, ensure sufficient time to get through the must-do items on your checklist. You’ll want to leave time for questions and follow-up, too. Onboarding should be interactive, not instructive.

Exactly how much time you need will depend on a few factors, like the complexity of the work and the types of tools the professional may need to learn. The circumstances of your company are also a factor. For example, many companies formally or informally define an onboarding period that also serves as a sort of grace period where professionals are expected to learn actively, not perform perfectly. This can last a couple weeks to as long as three months.

Prepping for hiring remotely

Onboarding starts before day one, especially if it’s done remotely. The pre-onboarding phase is just as important to ensuring a streamlined process. In addition to preparing the onboarding documents needed to welcome the new person (e.g., human resources paperwork, company policies, style guides), there are a few other steps to take.

Communicate with your hire

Start engaging new professionals ahead of their first day. Provide any paperwork they need to complete so that they can get it done beforehand. Also, give them an idea of what to expect on day one. This can help alleviate nerves and any uncertainty they may have. A schedule can help in this respect.

Your pre-onboarding period is also an opportunity to build excitement. You want newcomers to feel welcomed and happy to be joining you. Convey how much you’re looking forward to having them on board. You might even consider sending a box of branded swag their way as a small welcome perk.

If they’ll be working closely with others, you might send ahead a “team guide” with a quick photo and short bio with fun facts for relevant individuals they’ll be meeting on their first day. Something small like finding out that one of their new teammates is also a big Harry Potter fan can help them feel at ease.

Set up IT

Leave ample time to get remote professionals set up with IT before their first day. If they’re getting a laptop, ensure it arrives on time and they have a few days to test it out. This is also an opportunity to check that their credentials for access systems work.

You might consider informing the individual that they’ll get dedicated time with the IT team to guide them through the setup. Since they can’t turn to a team member sitting next to them throughout the day to ask questions, encouraging them to test everything before the big day and running through all questions that subsequently arise can be useful.

Prepare a schedule

In addition to an “IT hour,” consider what other needs your new professional may have on the first day. You might include time for going through any paperwork (e.g., company policies), introducing them to the team and discussing projects they’ll be working on.

Lay this out in a set schedule and send a copy to the new team member before their first day. This will take some of that nerve-wracking mystery out of the first day, alleviating potential anxiety. It can also serve as your own guideline for how to get through the day from start to finish in an organized fashion.

Remote onboarding checklist

Onboarding aims to get new remote workers up to speed and contributing as quickly and efficiently as possible. Ideally, the process should be clear, straightforward and well-organized.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Not only is there paperwork to complete, people to meet and expectations to set, but project leaders often find that the insider knowledge they take for granted comes up during this process, requiring them to answer questions and even backtrack periodically.

As such, it’s a good idea to lay out a clear plan for onboarding to make sure you don’t miss anything. This is especially important with independent professionals, whom you likely won’t see face to face and whose needs it might be easier to overlook if you aren’t diligent.

The main steps to the remote onboarding process are as follows:

1. Complete paperwork

When onboarding remote workers, you likely won’t have them come to the office to sign documents. While paperwork can be completed by emailing the documents, letting the team member print them out, sign them, scan them and email them back, it might be worth investing in document-signing software.

This will allow you to send documents securely, allowing your remote team member to sign them with ease electronically and provide all parties with virtual access to signed paperwork immediately afterward.


2. Explain the company and business objectives

Some full-time workers may take business objectives for granted. Since they’re so close to the work, it’s often easy to forget how the company appears to the outside world.

When onboarding new remote team members, you can introduce them to the nuances of your business. The first step you should take is educating them on the company’s core values to set the tone for how projects are produced or how they interact with other team members.

An introductory video is one way to communicate core values and objectives effectively when onboarding remotely. This can be used to introduce key company players, company culture and messaging. A video can also be a welcome respite from reading through endless documents.

3. Provide insights into your brand voice

Before your remote team member’s first project, it’s good to give them all the information and resources they need to understand and implement your brand’s best practices. Points to communicate might include:

  • Brand voice (your organization’s unique values and perspective)
  • Brand tone (how your organization communicates those values and perspectives)
  • Visual brand identity (the color schemes, logos, font styles and sizes, etc., used consistently across your brand)

These points should be defined and detailed in relevant employee guidelines, like a brand manual or in-house style guide, which should be provided to all new professionals.

This general documentation may need to be supplemented by role-specific brand guidelines. For example, a copywriter will need access to your editorial style guide. This will detail everything from your stance on Oxford commas to words or phrases to avoid.

4. Set communication standards

Before you bring on remote team members, you’ll want to have set standards on how you’re going to communicate with them and vice versa. This way, during onboarding, it will be very clear to both parties on what is expected.

How often should they check in? What warrants an email? A phone call? Who should they go to first if they have questions? Remote work teams usually use multiple communication tools, such as email, project management software, and a chat function like a Slack channel. When should you use which form of communication? This is the kind of basic detail that needs to be made clear.

5. Distribute a list of contacts

One thing that will come up again and again for new team members—and particularly for remote team members—is whom to contact when they have issues.

By providing a single document with the contact information of all the relevant people within your team, you’ll make it much easier for remote talent to navigate any hiccups they encounter as they begin and start to virtually meet the team members on their list.

6. Meet the team

Whether before assigning their first project or very soon after, arranging for a virtual team meeting to introduce new team members is important. Such meetings allow workers to get to know everyone and up to speed on how everyone will work together on a large and small scale.

This is particularly important when you are onboarding independent professionals. They’ll likely be very unfamiliar with your team, so you’ll want to introduce them with key points of contact to get a sense of their engagement.

In addition to a quick professional introduction, consider setting up an informal team meeting. For example, on-site workers usually have the opportunity to bond with colleagues on a more personal level over a first-day lunch. You might consider hosting a virtual lunch meeting to replace this informal face-to-face experience.

The casual meet-and-greet doesn’t have to be lunch, either. Alternatives include a coffee and tea session or a post-work happy hour. If you opt to maintain more regular meetups (which can be a great way to boost connectivity and morale), you can get more creative—for example, by hosting a virtual game night.

7. Have one-on-one check-ins

With nearly 40% of team members reporting check-ins as offering the greatest sense of belonging, it’s helpful to schedule regular check-ins.

Times to check in as remote team members start include the following:

  • At the beginning of their engagement, you can give them an overview of what to expect and reiterate that you are available for questions and concerns. This can be reassuring and also provides an opportunity for last-minute questions.
  • At some point during their first project, see if they have any additional questions or needs, and make sure they are finding their groove.
  • At the end of their first project or the start of the second, you can see how things went and determine if there is anything they need to continue.

Some of these check-ins can be done on a team level, but it’s always good to mix it up with one-on-one interactions. In fact, for the individual’s first two to three months, you may want to schedule a weekly or biweekly check-in. This also allows you to establish a strong bond with your new team member.

8. Set clear expectations

As your new remote team members begin, make sure they fully understand what is expected of them. It’s a good idea to keep the most salient points and important bits of information in a simple and accessible format, like a single document.

Consider providing a Google Drive folder for quick reference. Expectations can also be brought up and outlined during one-on-one video calls.

Other tips for onboarding remote workers

There are a few additional steps you can take to make onboarding remote workers more efficient and effective. Keep these pointers in mind as you plan your onboarding strategy.

Onboard in groups if possible

Some elements of the virtual onboarding process, such as explaining the company’s culture or training sessions for company-wide technology, can be done in teams. If you have multiple remote working professionals starting, consider having them take part in these steps as a group.

This will streamline your onboarding plan, saving you time and effort. It will also give professionals a chance to get to know other newbies in their work environment, which can help them feel at ease. However, make sure these groups aren’t too large, or you’ll risk people getting lost or feeling unacknowledged. Any group onboarding process shouldn’t fully replace one-on-one training sessions for new jobs.

Make time for personal connections

It’s also important that newcomers get to know the rest of the team already working with the company. Give them a chance to get to know others and share some information about themselves. You might set up a virtual event or celebration for social purposes, for example. This allows people to create connections, which can help enhance satisfaction and improve retention.

Be sure to get feedback

Remote onboarding should ultimately be a two-way communication process. It shouldn’t just consist of the company conveying its needs. Invite new hires to share feedback about what they could use added help with to identify gaps in the onboarding program. You can also ask for constructive criticism, allowing you to tweak your freelancer and employee onboarding checklists for future company use.

Simplify your onboarding process with Upwork

Not only does Upwork have a plethora of articles to guide you through just about any remote team member scenario, but we also provide access to countless talented professionals who can tackle any task.‍

Do you need someone to help create a remote onboarding process, or maybe someone who can tackle the IT side of onboarding remote workers? Search for top independent talent to meet your needs today.

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Remote Onboarding Process Beginner's Guide and Checklist
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