Research Hub > Creating a Better Remote Onboarding Experience

March 08, 2022

Article
7 min

Creating a Better Remote Onboarding Experience, As Told by CDW

CDW coworkers hired during the pandemic share their remote training and onboarding experiences, and what you (and we) can learn about creating smoother remote job transitions.

What's Inside
  • (Screen)sharing is Caring

    The collaboration tools you choose – and how you use them - can make or break the onboarding experience. Here’s how you can get the most out of your platforms.

  • Communication is Key

    As long as your communication plan is clear and organized, new hires will benefit from more information than not. Here’s what to consider in that plan.

  • Technology Can't Replace Culture

    How new and old coworkers interact has a greater impact on the onboarding experience than the platforms on which they interact.

If you’ve hired a new employee in the past two years, chances are they started at least part of their job remotely. That’s certainly been true for the CDW Digital team. On-the-job training can be overwhelming even when done in person, but whether our new hires were tasked with learning the ins and outs of customer experiences or working with external partners and vendors, they had to learn the details and functions of their new roles entirely off site.

With remote work here to stay, it follows that remote onboarding isn’t going anywhere, either. We asked our new hires for their best insights from the past year of virtual-only new hire trainings. Read on for how you can learn from their experiences and tweak your remote onboarding program for the best possible employee transition.

(Screen)sharing is Caring

In some ways, our new hires found the remote onboarding experience allowed them to immediately focus on their roles and responsibilities. They didn’t have to deal with the logistics of a new office or the anxiety of going to the wrong conference room. But relying solely on collaboration tools to learn their roles was an entirely new challenge.

The collaboration tools you choose — and how you use them — can make or break the onboarding experience. Here’s how you can get the most out of your platforms:

  • Video is everything. All of our new coworkers agreed that videoconferencing did make them feel more involved and connected to the organization, and helped them put new names to faces. Setting up casual video meet-and-greets helped them make connections off the bat. “[My manager] also gave us a list of people that we would be working with on other teams. Everyone had a different piece of advice or an area they knew a ton about,” one new hire added. Just be careful not to set up eight straight hours of video meet-and-greets to prevent burnout.
  • Organize your collaboration platform. Collaboration platforms can feel lifesaving for new hires when they need instant answers over IM or when someone can help them over screenshare. But the same platforms can feel like a bit of a jungle when it comes to file sharing and storage. Take the time to set up a clear folder hierarchy for your team’s files, and not just for onboarding-specific documents. You’ll save a lot of onboarding time when new employees are able to self-serve within the platform and easily find what they’re looking for.
  • Set up office hours. The lack of proximity to a real, live teammate can take away from the ease of learning new tools or technologies needed to perform job functions. One new coworker emphasized the difficulties of learning new platforms from a distance: “For me, coming from an entirely different field made me feel like some skills were completely new, and I couldn’t just run over to someone’s desk to ask a question.” Rather than rely on new hires asking for help at scattered times, have a seasoned teammate set up established times to walk new hires through the various tools they’ll need to master via screenshare.
  • Book times for tools with limited licenses. When a tool or platform can’t handle multiple users at a time, whether due to limited licensing or virtual desktop limitations, make sure there’s a clear process in place for new hires to book time with the tool so everyone can learn and work efficiently.
  • Consider external training resources. Even if your team has meticulously documented all of your onboarding processes, new hires might seek additional resources to help them adjust to their new roles. The culture and ways of working at your company will be different than their previous position. “I used to work in a Waterfall-style company, so it was nice to just watch a few videos on what it’s like working in AGILE and feel like I knew what’s going on without constantly bothering anyone,” said one new hire.  
  • Pre-configure devices. New remote employees can no longer just go walk down to the office Help Desk. Minimize new IT issues by making sure the devices you send remote employees are pre-configured and that your IT team is fully staffed and ready to work through a remote ticket.

Communication is Key

First-day-on-the-job jitters don’t just disappear when onboarding doesn’t happen in an office. In some ways, remote new hires need to be armed with even more information upfront. While it may seem like information overload, as long as your communication plan is clear and organized, new hires will benefit from more information than not. Here’s what to consider in that plan:

  • Consider an orientation class. A one-time employee orientation class held over a few hours or a day can be helpful -- as long as it’s engaging. This is an additional challenge in a remote setting, but custom online quiz games and other creative deliveries can help the class feel like more than just a lecture on company history. Your orientation can also be an opportunity to offload some of the burden on individual managers and provide a central avenue for new hires to learn about human resource centric items such as benefits, PTO requests, and more.

“ 

My two senior team members were super knowledgeable about where to go, but the
knowledge isn’t centralized.

  • Managers need a strong communication plan, too. Individual managers aren’t off the hook – even if an aspect of a job feels intuitive, it likely doesn’t feel that way to a new hire. Managers should create documentation for all tools, platforms and internal portals that their team uses, and then organize this knowledge so that it doesn’t fall on the scattered experience of tenured team members. “My two senior team members were super knowledgeable about where to go, but the knowledge isn’t centralized,” said one new hire. They should provide new hires with a comprehensive list of who to contact for issues, whether tech-related or role-related. Frequent check-ins and setting clear expectations for what to accomplish for the next few weeks can help new hires feel less like they’re floundering, as well.
     
  • Don’t take your own knowledge for granted. Even tools that you use every day will look complicated to an outsider. “Learning internal systems was hard. Some managers take it for granted, but even ‘easy’ systems look different to someone new,” one new hire explained. Our new coworkers agreed that this can be especially true of HR platforms that are used to request days off or sign up for insurance. Benefits are just as much a part of the job as actual work, and taking the time to walk new employees through those benefits is an easy way to make them feel valued and welcomed right off the bat. 

“ 

The culture of helpfulness has been a godsend for the whole transition.

Technology Can’t Replace Culture

The latest and greatest platforms can make remote onboarding easier -- but ultimately, how new and old coworkers interact has a greater impact on the onboarding experience than the platforms on which they interact. Here’s what we’ve learned about creating a culture that empowers remote hires:

  • Be patient, be helpful. The best tools are no match for people who can’t or won’t explain them. When mentoring new hires, encourage existing team members to be friendly. There are no stupid questions, and the more helpful your teams are up front, the faster everyone can get up to speed. “The culture of helpfulness has been a godsend for the whole transition,” one new hire added.
  • Accept feedback. Remote onboarding is new for most organizations. Allow new coworkers a space to give feedback, especially in real time with their supervisors. After all, we don’t know what we don’t know.

  • Lean into the benefits of remote work. Remote workers that feel trusted to get their work done will, unsurprisingly, get more work done. But outside of a greater day-to-day work/life balance, remote work can also be looked at as an opportunity for career growth. “A lot of company leaders I wouldn’t have been able to meet in person, but we have access to them remotely,” one new hire pointed out. Virtual networking opportunities are, indeed, virtually limitless, and allowing space for company networking helps new hires see the value and opportunity in your organization.

Summary

Successful onboarding helps organizations retain talent, but very few organizations have onboarded employees remotely, let alone on a large scale. Preparing for remote onboarding is all about having the right technologies in place and using them in an efficient and organized way. But even the best technologies will leave remote workers behind if there’s not a culture of helpfulness in place within your organization. Be sure to set up tools and processes that allow for a solid library of resources as well feedback opportunities – your new hires will thank you from afar.