January 19, 2021

Remote Onboarding: Tech Tools that Improve the New Employee Experience

Remote work environments are becoming the new normal. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies were already transitioning to partially or fully remote work teams. The global health crisis, however, has necessitated the push for nearly three-quarters of companies to move some of their on-site workforce to permanent remote positions, according to a Gartner survey. As a result, they are having to rethink their operations and implement new processes, including the way they remotely onboard employees. 

Effective onboarding is particularly important in remote environments when new employees are physically detached from the company and the experience. It’s a crucial step in the hiring process that sets the tone for the rest of the employees’ experiences with the organization.

But, according to a survey in Harvard Business Review by Mary Driscoll, partner at global executive search firm Savannah Group, and Michael Watkins, Ph.D., cofounder of Genesis Advisers, the problem with onboarding is seen throughout the corporate hierarchy, including department heads and corporate leaders. In fact, only 17 percent of organizations have “developed systems for onboarding new leaders in remote-work environments.”

That’s likely because the task of onboarding remotely is riddled with unique challenges that businesses haven’t had to previously address within traditional onboarding processes. 

“Integrating a new hire into an organization and ramping them up to full productivity and engagement is challenging with traditional onboarding programs,” says Lauren Smith, vice president in the Gartner HR practice. “As onboarding for many jobs has now moved to be virtual, these challenges can be compounded by the realities of remote work.”

Organizations are turning to technology to navigate these complexities in remote onboarding. The following tools help companies create onboarding experiences that make a positive first impression, therefore boosting employee satisfaction with the process and the company.

freelance worker at kitchen table; concept: remote onboarding

Online Portals are a One-Stop-Shop for New Hires

One of the difficulties of a remote onboarding process is streamlining the exchange of information. Digital portals can solve this problem because they allow businesses to create one resource that everyone in the organization can access as a centralized source of information. 

When companies present information in digital formats, it eases the dissemination, consumption, and exchange of information. For example, when it comes to onboarding, paperwork can slow the process down significantly. Through an online portal, new hires can simply fill out forms electronically, e-sign them, and save them in a folder on the portal. This eliminates the need to print, sign, scan, and email forms back and forth. 

Or companies can take things up a notch by gamifying onboarding materials in the portal. The information on written documents can be transformed into webinars, modules, and interactive games that are more engaging than simply reading page after page of text. Doing so increases retention of the information.  

That’s why Deloitte gamified its onboarding process for its Human Capital practice in 2018. The company developed a zombie apocalypse game that required new hires to complete a series of challenges based on basic consulting skills that would ultimately lead to finding a cure and saving humanity, write Deloitte’s Melissa Schnure, Andrés Peters, and Katharine Suettinger. Users had to complete modules to move up in the game, learning about their roles in the company as well as gaining knowledge about the organization.

This brings up another important benefit of an online portal — communication of the company culture. 

Online portals are key in encouraging new hires to build familiarity with a company’s culture and values because they can be incorporated into every aspect of the portal. In addition to the proliferation of company branding on digital assets on the portal, message boards and chat groups allow new hires to connect with senior employees to ask questions and dig deeper into a culture they don’t get to physically experience everyday.

Because it facilitates the consolidation of so much information, an online portal is one of the most important technology tools companies can use to improve the remote onboarding experience for new hires.

officer workers in a conference room watching an online presentation; concept: remote onboarding

Chatbots Guide New Remote Employees Through Onboarding Processes

Roberto Torres, reporter for CIO Dive, says the onboarding process is evolving to support new employees whose only interactions with a company are in the digital space. One key tool in that evolution is chatbots. The use of chatbots in onboarding employees has quickly gained ground during the pandemic because the process is increasingly being completed remotely.

Chatbots are perfectly suited to remote onboarding. They are a digital HR representative capable of walking a new remote hire seamlessly through the process. 

Chatbots can be used to welcome new employees and guide them through initial orientation about company policies, their roles and responsibilities, team introductions, and all other pertinent information a new employee will need to know on day one. The tool can also help new hires complete forms in a more efficient manner. 

If questions arise during this process, the natural language processing ability of chatbots makes it easy for new hires to ask questions and receive quick responses, eliminating the lag time between asking a question and waiting for a response from HR. “Most new recruits will have a lot of basic questions,” writes Sam Fletcher at TechHQ. “A chatbot is a strong way of addressing FAQs whilst retaining a sense of back-and-forth.”

With these capabilities, chatbots are an invaluable tool for companies when onboarding talent remotely.

Collaboration Tools Help Remote Hires Become Part of the Team

One of the biggest drawbacks to remote working environments is the difficulty in establishing a bond among coworkers, making each feel like part of a team. A 2020 State of Remote Work report from Buffer shows that 20 percent of remote workers are concerned about their ability to communicate and collaborate with others in a remote setting. 

So it’s crucial that they quickly connect to others at the company. But establishing those connections is especially challenging for employees who join a company virtually because they cannot participate in common, informal office-based interactions that lead to camaraderie with coworkers.

Collaborative communication tools make it easier for new remote hires to establish those connections and feel like they are part of the team. Within these tools, new employees can join different chats and groups to integrate themselves into the fabric of the company. They can participate in virtual water cooler chats which go a long way toward helping distributed employees get to know each other and build the foundation as a strong team. 

“Online group chats allow teams a kind of ongoing hallway chatter,” explains Adam Hickman, Ph.D., content manager at Gallup. So, set up new remote employees with these tools on day one so they can communicate and feel like a part of the team from the start.

Videoconferencing for More Personal Connection

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of videoconferencing in remote onboarding processes. In addition to collaboration tools, video technology is essential in helping new remote employees to feel welcome at the company and make connections with others. 

There are a number of ways this technology can be used during onboarding. Current team members can introduce themselves to new hires via video chats. Managers can conduct daily video check-ins with new employees to ensure they feel connected to the team. Managers can also schedule video mentoring sessions between new hires and experienced team members to help new employees get comfortable with the culture and their role at the company. 

Taking things a step further, corporate learning programs consultant Hugh McCullen suggests using videoconferencing technology to give new remote hires a virtual tour of the office, even introducing them to current team members throughout the tour. 

Through video, new hires going through a remote onboarding process have an opportunity to establish stronger connections with the company and their team members.

Connecting with other team members via small group video calls is something Gracie Brown found valuable about McKinsey’s remote onboarding process. “It was fun to get to know the individuals in those small groups, hear about their backgrounds and their quarantine lifestyles, and work on our projects together,” she says.

Use Online Surveys to Improve Remote Onboarding

Continuous improvement is an essential aspect of remote onboarding. Nobody does it perfectly, and organizations must seek feedback from new hires going through the onboarding process to understand how well it is working — or isn’t.

Online surveys are a great tool for soliciting that feedback in real-time from remote employees and providing companies with vital data for refining the process. Surveys provide a confidential environment for feedback, which encourages honesty from respondents. And, because the surveys are in digital formats, they can be sent to and completed by respondents quickly and easily.  

This new hire onboarding survey by Culture Amp offers questions to ask new employees to solicit relevant feedback. For maximum effectiveness, these surveys should be distributed at varying times throughout the onboarding process, such as during the initial phases of onboarding, after the first week of work, and even after the first month. 

“Using a systematic approach, organizations can use pulse surveys throughout the onboarding process to identify when new employees are failing to connect with the organization,” write Ben Wigert, Ph.D., and Ryan Pendell at Gallup. That information will feed continuous improvement efforts. 

Remote onboarding is becoming a new normal for many companies. The challenges this presents can be mitigated by employing technology to help facilitate onboarding when employees are off site. The tools will help ensure that the new hire has a good first experience with the company, which will translate into a more satisfied and productive employee. 

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