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New Team Member Joining Remotely? These 10 Tips Will Help
July 16, 2020
Let’s be honest, onboarding a team member remotely is tough — at least 5 times harder than doing it face to face. The challenges lie not only in difficulty but in terms of how much longer it takes and how many more barriers there are to overcome. However, remote onboarding is a new reality that is here to stay.
We, at NOVOS, consider ourselves fortunate to be able to hire 4 (soon to be 5) additional team members for the agency throughout the lockdown. So, in this article, I’ll be sharing my experience of running a growing agency and onboarding new team members during COVID with the hope that you can also apply it to your business.
We thought that instead of dishing out our words of wisdom, we should rope in our first remotely onboarded new hire, Laura, to give advice that works. This article is based on Laura’s first-hand experience of going through the remote onboarding process.
Types of Challenges You’re Likely to Face with Remote Onboarding
Troubleshooting Technology: Be prepared to have a ‘frenemy’ relationship with technology. It’s only thanks to the technology that remote onboarding is even possible, but it comes with its baggage. Where in a face-to-face onboarding session you could have just pointed out and shown how to fix a technical issue, in a remote setting, you’re resigned to screen shares which may take up to 10x as long. Also, although work communication and project management tools like Slack and Asana are great, sometimes, messages can be missed in the noise.
Communicating Company Culture: As a new team member, it’s incredibly hard to get a sense of the non-work culture at a company when fully remote. Our new SEO strategist, Laura, rightly shares how in an office environment she would chat with the team about non-work topics and get to know them better. The casual banter about the company and the team when you bump into your co-worker in the office kitchen plays an important role. While doing this remote is possible with video calls, it feels forced and rigid vs what you can get in the office.
Motivating the New Hires: When onboarding a new employee remotely it can be tricky to make them feel welcome and part of the team. This can then potentially affect their motivational levels. Where in an office, they're surrounded by the rest of the team which makes it far easier to get to know everyone, understand the work and feel more motivated, now they are solely dependent on instant messengers and video calls.
Comfortable Work Environment: When a person joins the team remotely, it's difficult to judge whether that person has everything they need to work comfortably. Things such as a desk, comfortable chair, working laptop, easy access to the internet and all the tools and resources your company uses to work efficiently are all important things that you'll need to consider, discuss and resolve when onboarding a remote worker.
My Top Tip for the New Hire
Before we dive deeper into what employers can do to make remote onboarding effective, my number 1 piece of advice to a new employee joining the team remotely would be to throw yourself into it and just be yourself. Don’t let the technology be a limiting factor to your new role. Yes, you’ll have situations where you talk over someone or forget to unmute yourself, or your internet cuts out — just embrace it and see the funny side. We were lucky with Laura as she didn’t hold back from starting conversations with the team either via Slack or video calls. It can get daunting if you join a video call with 10+ people you don’t know, but if you’re able to overcome that first hurdle, it’ll make the rest of the onboarding much easier.
10 Things Employers Can Do To Make Remote Onboarding Effective1)
1) Do a pre-call before the new team member joins
A week before the team member joins, we do an hour-long call where we give them an overview of how we work including the tools we use, recurring meetings and the team they’ll be working with etc.
We feel this was particularly important as it allows them to hit the ground running on day one and also gives them additional context to everything we are talking about in the meetings. It helps that we don’t need to take extra time out of the day on Monday morning, which is often full of meetings anyway. Our new hires find it beneficial too — most of them have shared how they managed to follow along and pick up what we were talking about due to the initial pre-call.
2) Daily stand-ups
Every morning at 9:00, we do a 15-30 minute catch up so the team member knows exactly what they need to do that day and can also raise any additional questions that they may have before they start work.
From the team members perspective, this helps to mitigate any additional uncertainty and gives them a set window in the morning to ask any questions.
Laura highlighted that this helped massively when she first started as she knew there was a 15-30 minute slot where she can confirm anything she was uncertain about.
When discussing the day to day tasks remember to always bring it back to the WHY you are asking the task to be done rather than purely focusing on the WHAT. This is very important to help with motivation — giving the new team member a bigger picture focus on the work.
3) Go back to basics
When you are face-to-face in an office, you can pick up on body language and issues your team may be having — even something as minor as frustration with an excel formula! You can’t see this when you’re remote, so keep checking in to see how they are getting on but be cautious and avoid micromanaging.
Another great tip is to assume they know nothing when explaining tasks or work. It’s better to explain things in simple and basic terms as opposed to assuming the new team member knows what you are talking about where the new hire spends the rest of the day struggling.
4) Invest in tech and the cloud
It still blows my mind how many companies still don’t use the cloud. It’s even more important now with remote workers and collaborating on documents in real-time and avoiding back and forth of static documents saved to their desktop.
At NOVOS, we always use collaborative google tools such as google docs, sheets, slides etc. We also rely on another great collaborative tool, Notion, that takes care of our note-taking and company wiki needs. Miro is an excellent tool for mind mapping and whiteboard. Employers should also watch out for security. With your business applications and data being accessed from many different locations and internet providers, you should take this time to ensure you have as many security policies in place as possible. Examples: 2-way authentication on Gmail accounts, downloading VPNs for all team members (we use ExpressVPN) and also basics like a password management tool to use across many team members e.g. we use LastPass. I’ve also started experimenting with the browser, Brave, which has additional security features than a standard Chrome or Safari browser.
5) Use video as much as possible
Slack and instant messenger is great, but nothing beats a video call. Video calls are far more personable and relatable compared to Slack messages or a standard phone call. We recommend using video for everything you can — the only time we don’t use video is when we want to quickly chat about something that would be more efficient on voice than Slack.
This brings me to another tip — get it out of Slack where possible — especially if it’s a debate or clashing of opinions. It’s so easy to misinterpret someone on Slack or spend hours typing out how to do something when you could just jump on a call for 5 minutes and do a quick screen share. Laura highlighted that video was so valuable when she first joined, at a bare basic to just put a real face to a colleague.
Encourage new hires to shadow a few group-calls even when they are not directly working on the tasks. Laura says that at her previous company, she learned a lot by just overhearing her co-workers talk about how they solved an issue for the client. This is hard to replicate in a remote setting but group video calls provide a good alternative.
6) Make eye contact and be fully present during video calls
Of course, you are working on multiple tasks, there are at least 15 different tabs opened on your browser, and Slack notifications pop up every second but when in a video call, try to make the new hire feel important by ‘looking’ at them. As your eyes wander during the video call, the new team member will quickly figure out that you are working on other unrelated tasks whilst talking to them. And you’ll also miss the opportunity to pick the non-verbal cues.
Follow the ageless Buddist mindfulness concept of ‘staying in the moment’.
7) Use emojis to convey a friendly tone
Researchers from the University of Chichester have advised using emojis in work communication as they can help team members decode the tone of messages. The researchers say that emojis can serve as a substitute for the missing body language and tone of voice. Well, you don’t need the approval of researchers to tell that ‘Yes 😊’ feels more welcoming to a new hire than a simple ‘Yes’.
8) Organize smaller social events
While everyone agrees that virtual social events are important, employers are often put off by the amount of work they involve. However, social events don’t need to be for the whole company or team. You can easily arrange some social events — perhaps, only for the team of the new hire. When we onboarded Laura, we were deep in isolation, so it was new for everyone - the only times we did social calls was with everyone in the company which can be overwhelming - avoid that!
9) Assign a ‘buddy’ for the new hire
Luckily, in our case, Laura already knew her manager, Dan, so it made things much easier for her. We are, however, experimenting with assigning ‘onboarding buddies’ — the new team member doesn’t need to be always having calls with their manager or the agency owner. It can also help the new hire get an understanding of non-work culture and have informal chats.
10) Get Creative with Virtual Quizzes
To keep your team engaged, think of quirky quizzes involving them. When we organized a ‘Guess Whose Flat is This’ and ‘Guess the Baby’, we got a 100% participation from our team with fun comments flying in every minute — it felt as if we were laughing together.
Creative virtual events help the new team member to get to know the wider team on a more personal level. Tom, another recent hire, has also shown us how to play virtual beer pong which demands a whole new blog to explain how this works.
We Don’t Have it All Figured Out Yet
Please don’t feel bad if your employee onboarding process isn’t going as planned. There are many challenges that we are still struggling to overcome — which is why we’re writing this post.
For us, remote culture will never match office and face-to-face culture. But, as this is now our new way of working, I’d love to hear your ideas on how it can be matched or even be better than office culture.
Although each company has its unique set of challenges, I hope that you will be able to learn something from our experience. If you would like to share your onboarding stories, I am all ears (and eyes) - feel free to reach out to me on Sam@thisisnovos.com.