Whether you are meeting someone for the first time, making an initial sales call, or introducing yourself to a team of people, first impressions matter. This is also true when onboarding new employees, especially when you consider 30% of staff turnover happens in the first three months of employment, according to the 2022 Job Seeker Nation Report by Jobvite.

The onboarding experience can be a deciding factor as to whether your employee will decide to continue being part of your team, so it is pivotal that you get it right. In the past, you may have been able to rely on office culture — free snacks, upbeat staff, a welcoming environment — to help, but with more organizations opting to hire remote employees, it is the processes and not the place that will influence those first 90 days.

Let’s explore some best practices for successfully managing remote onboarding so you can ensure your employees make it to day 91 (and beyond).

Flexible Learning Environments

With remote onboarding, you bring the training to them rather than them coming to you, so you cannot control the learning environment. You can, however, take the time to understand their environment so that you can better adapt your plans to their needs.

Do they have kids at home? Are they working out of a shared space? What types of interruptions or distractions can they expect?

As much as you would like to depend on people being able to close themselves off from distractions from 9-5, it is unrealistic to imagine this will be the case. Giving employees a schedule ahead of time and highlighting the times that will require the most attention or focus will help you both avoid unnecessary frustration. Set clear expectations while also showing flexibility and adaptability — empathy goes a long way to building a strong first impression of your organization.

Varied Learning Formats

It is no surprise that people learn differently. Our onboarding process should consider that and, where possible, provide a balance of learning modalities to support diverse types of learners. Opportunities for self-paced learning through a learning management system (LMS) or virtual training platform should be interspersed with human-centric interactions so employees don’t feel disconnected early on.

Assigning new employees a mentor or veteran team member to provide guidance, daily check ins and support can give them the opportunity to connect with their teammates and develop a sense of community within your organization. This not only benefits your new employees but also those in charge of leading their training, freeing them up to be able to handle other tasks.

Activity-based learning, such as knowledge scavenger hunts or basic task completion within software sandbox environments, provide effective means for informally assessing employee progress and providing feedback. It also breaks up the monotony and gives the learner more ownership of their onboarding.

Empowered Learners

When it comes to feedback, more is better for remote onboarding. Consider how you would interact with a new employee in the office — would you pop in occasionally while they are working on something, giving them informal feedback or advice? It can be difficult to recreate those moments with remote employees; by intentionally planning checkpoints for feedback, you can better assess how they are moving through their onboarding journey.

Giving employees the means to self-assess and track their progress empowers them to take ownership of their development and growth. In person, an employee might compare their progress by observing their colleagues work, overhearing conversations or watching their interactions. Remote comparison isn’t quite as easy! Provide benchmarks with estimated times for completion or a rubric for assessing competencies with necessary skills.

Equitable Supports

Employees who work from home don’t have the advantage of walking down the hall to pick up extra supplies, nor do they have a robust network managed by an information technology (IT) team. Their working environments will vary from person to person, and so you must have policies and procedures in place that support those circumstances.

Outline expectations so new hires know how to handle, for example, internet outages, inclement weather and other “acts of God” that could impact an employee’s onboarding and continued work. Consider sending this via email prior to the start of onboarding, along with any necessary instructions for setting up technology or connecting to the virtual network.

If you are onboarding team members whose first language isn’t English, consider opportunities to allow their learning to take place in their native language where possible. Many platforms offer built-in translations or the option to add captions in a secondary language, which can help support these learners.

Onboarding remote employees comes with its own set of challenges and benefits. Recognizing and mitigating potential barriers to learning and onboarding can increase the success of your program and contribute to a positive culture that keeps employees engaged and satisfied with your organization.