Employers and employees have widely embraced remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic. While some companies have returned to the office, remote work is still increasingly popular and it’s easy to see why — the benefits, like schedule flexibility and saving money on travel, can be attractive.

But along with the advantages come potential drawbacks, especially when onboarding remote employees. New hires may feel disconnected from their co-workers or confused by a lack of clear communication. Companies can address these issues by opening communication, prioritizing mentorship and adapting onboarding practices to a remote environment.

An employee’s first day in an office traditionally includes face-to-face introductions or a team lunch, but now those events can be virtual. For example, you can encourage new employees to send out invites for virtual coffee break meetings to get to know their colleagues. Creating these connections can also head off other potential onboarding challenges, such as issues with technology. If a new hire is having tech trouble, they’ll know someone they can contact.

These connections do wonders for employee morale. Research shows that simple social interactions go a long way in increasing happiness and workplace productivity. This sort of engagement is crucial — over 70% of executives named employee engagement as a marker of organizational success.

Onboarding Begins Early

Humans thrive on connection. An onboarding process that emphasizes connection begins even before the first day of work. The early days of recruitment and hiring are critical for setting up a new hire for success.

The pre-employment phase is essential to ensure a good fit between the candidate and the organization. Potential candidates may use resources like company reviews to get a feel for the culture even before they apply. Current employees should ensure the company is represented well in introductory interviews and that the candidate’s mission and values coincide with the company’s.

Giving a new hire a positive first impression of your organization can also set a foundation for strong performance and greater employee success. According to social learning theory, environmental observation directly influences behavior. If new employees observe a workplace environment built on communication and support, they’ll want to contribute to that sense of camaraderie and a positive working environment.

Setting expectations around communication and showing support early on are crucial for long-term success. Prioritize connection throughout the entire employee life cycle with these steps.

1. Provide Resources, Expectations and Support

Ensure a new hire receives resources and support before their first day. Joining a new team and proactively reaching out to meet new people can feel overwhelming. The week prior to a new hire’s first day, learning leaders should help them make connections and teammates should check in with new team members to make introductions and answer questions.

On a new hire’s first day, be sure to set clear expectations on what tasks they should complete within the first day, week and month. Inform them of workplace guidelines, including expectations for task completion and the norms of remote operations, such as explaining how the team clocks in and out and virtual meeting schedules.

A new hire will also need to know how to best reach their team and manager, who to contact in case of a technical issue, what to do in case of a personal emergency and so on. It’s also good practice to share a list of company holidays, pay schedule, benefit packages, work directory and human resources (HR) contact.

2. Assign a Mentor

Assigning a mentor to a new hire is a wonderful way to establish lines of communication, set expectations and ensure support. Before the first day, mentors can send new employees a quick welcome note to create a genuine connection.

The last thing a new employee wants to feel on their first day of work is alone or lost. Make new hires feel welcomed by introducing them to the team and encourage introductory virtual meetups. This emphasizes the importance of human connection when working remotely and may lead to opportunities for further mentoring.

3. Address Technology Support Early

The remote onboarding process should account for potential tech troubles. Check in to see if your new hire’s home office and equipment are functioning as expected. If they are having issues, consider making technology an area of focus for their onboarding or training.

The sooner employees are aware of potential tech problems, the sooner they can learn how to address them with confident troubleshooting. Information technology (IT) teams can pitch in with tech manuals and training to help new hires feel empowered rather than helpless in critical situations.

Building Connections From Day One

Armed with plenty of resources, support and knowledge, new remote hires will feel prepared and welcomed for day one and beyond. A simplified hiring process that values human connection will help remove the obstacles of remote onboarding.

Leadership and co-workers can model the company culture while following a set onboarding process, and new employees can quickly access the help and information they need. When new employees are supported, success is sure to follow.