Remote Onboarding

Part 1: People Teams are heroically stitching together remote onboarding, but is it sustainable?

Differences between physical and remote onboarding bring new changes to employee collaboration and engagement.

Remote onboarding is requiring teams to respond to change rapidly

We’ve talked with hundreds of People Teams at hypergrowth companies in Silicon Valley and across the US. What we learned is that all of them are feeling the effects of three critical changes.

1. The permanent shift to hybrid and remote work is here

People Teams are realizing that there is no going back to “business as usual”. Employees have more optionality than ever before. Talent is difficult to attract and retain. This is aligned with a recent Accenture report citing that 63% of high-growth companies have embraced remote / hybrid work. In a recent Pulse of the American Worker Survey, the report found that 87% of employees want to work from home at least 1 day per week and 68% of employees prefer a hybrid work model. We have officially shifted to hybrid and remote, and teams must adapt swiftly.

2. Remote onboarding is now critical to competitive advantage and business success

The majority of employee journeys now start with remote onboarding. Every company worth their grain of salt knows that this experience is paramount to hiring, engagement, retention, and ultimately business success. It is the first milestone in the employee experience that makes or breaks a new hire’s perception about joining the company.

It’s critical to get this experience right to win the war on talent. According to the SHRM (Society of Human Resource Management), “nearly one-third of all new hires quit their jobs within the first six months.” If they get a seamless experience, it makes the virtual work world much better. And you get a happy, productive team member who will add immense value.

3. Remote onboarding is vastly different from physical onboarding

With physical onboarding, a new hire showed up on Day One to a desk with welcome cards and company swag – a balloon that announced, “I’m new!” Their team took them out to lunch to connect on a personal level. At the “All Hands” meeting, leaders introduced the new hire and shared a fun fact that helped people get to know them. New hires casually met colleagues in the kitchen, over coffee. They were integrated into the company culture and values, through the physical vibe at the office.

Now, the new hire experience is completely different. Your “welcome” is through Slack, email, or Zoom. Finding information or getting questions answered requires finding who to ask. There is a lot of dead time between meetings. Meeting cross-functional partners requires effort and introductions from others, remotely. Company culture is inferred based on each individual’s hybrid meetings – not a cohesive office experience. 

The in-office workflows must now be completely redesigned end-to-end from pre-boarding, day one, week one, to 30 / 60 / 90 days and beyond. A tremendous amount of coordination is involved across the organization, including with Execs, IT, Managers, onboarding buddies, team members, and peers.

Teams are stretched as it is. And that’s just the operational layer.

People Teams are responding at different speeds to the changing environment. Some are only now just starting to put in new processes. While others have risen to the challenge swiftly. 

The latter group has pretzeled themselves into heroic Marvel teams to make the magic happen for new hires. They’re bending over backward to deliver a personalized experience, welcoming each unique new hire to the company remotely. But when you’re onboarding large cohorts every month, that level of personalization is incredibly difficult to scale manually.

These “super teams” recognize that you need to go beyond just the traditional HR and operational aspects and master delivery in all 3 success areas.

HR & Operationalthe new hire has completed all HR paperwork, benefits, tech, legal, and compliance requirements. Though some HRIS platforms cover traditional HR items, there is still a lot of work requiring tight coordination with IT / tech support to ensure that the new hire has every single platform turned on (and working correctly!) in what is nowadays a sprawling tech stack of dozens of applications. The complexity in this layer has only increased as there are even more coordination workflows, with items to ship and introductions to facilitate.

Knowledge Sharing the new hire has learned about the business and has the departmental-level info they need to do their job. This requires an immense amount of collaboration to introduce and properly hand off the new hire to execs, managers, peers, learning and development, and others for live sessions, with organized training content in support. This experience is often inconsistent, dependent on manager and departmental readiness.

Cultural & Experiential the new hire understands the company culture (how things are done) and gets a feel for the company vibe. This includes delivery of all culture sequences and events, e.g., the welcome packet, company gifts, coffee chats, 30/60/90-day check-ins. These aspects are now more important than ever in the remote environment, but also more difficult than ever to execute in a way that ensures the new hire feels connected with others.


Time-consuming manual work

Everyone is still trying to figure out what the new experience is supposed to look like. Most are just doing whatever it takes and seeing what sticks. People Teams are overwhelmed with the amount of time and resources spent.

For lean but growing companies in the 100 to 500 employee range, we’re hearing that all of this takes at least two days of People Team time every week devoted to all of the manual coordination and tracking required to keep a decent remote onboarding program running. That’s even working with a full tech stack of People Ops / HR systems in place. That also doesn’t include the time required from other groups – IT / tech support, office ops, managers and departmental colleagues, etc.

Even with the heroic measures, gaps are still likely given that tracking is stuck in spreadsheets. It’s common for a laptop or swag to arrive late, an onboarding buddy fails to reach out, a manager isn’t properly equipped, and the new hire is left to search through a dozen collaboration platforms for the resources they need.

This time and resource-heavy process is due to current challenges in several areas. Which we will cover in next week’s “Part 2: Emerging challenges and what the future holds.”

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Now more than ever, it’s mission critical to build world-class employee experiences for remote and hybrid teams.

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