Five practical ways you can improve remote onboarding of new employees today

Remote onboarding requires a little more effort than in person but not much, and it’s totally achievable. In this article, Glenn Elliott shares five free, low-effort ideas you can use to help make your newbie’s joiner experience a positive one.

I hear it from everywhere – remotely onboarding new joiners is tough, and it’s just not as easy as it was when we were all in the office. I agree. It is tough. Working from home has a tonne of benefits, but it isn’t perfect for everyone, and it isn’t perfect for all situations. It’s much easier to feel isolated and alone at home, and that’s much more likely to happen at the start of a new job when you haven’t made friends or relationships yet.

I was discussing this last Friday with my colleague Seb Aspland at PSSG, who runs our cross-portfolio technology leaders network. From that call, here are five ideas we came up with together that could improve remote onboarding for new joiners. They are all free, low effort and could be done in a week. And the great thing with these ideas is that when we do, hopefully, all get back to a more normal and balanced way of working, these ideas will also help with in-person onboarding.

1. Make a plan for the first two weeks

Having a totally empty calendar is as scary as one that is overfilled with Zoom meetings. Plan out the first two weeks of your new starter’s calendar with at least one or two learning events every day. Events haven’t got to be big; they could be a call with someone where they explain or discuss a part of the business. Make sure that person is prepped and ready in advance.

Set up a bunch of “coffee calls” – 30-minute calls with nice people in your business for them to have a coffee, make a friend, swap Netflix tips and maybe learn something random. These can be people within the new starter’s team or outside – ideally, make it a mix. Magic things happen when engineers make friends with people in sales and customer service.

2. Teach them how their role fits into your business – give them context

Very often, people work in a business knowing only their role with little idea of what the business is actually doing or how their role fits into it. This is a mistake that dooms people into being unable to make good independent choices and decisions because they don’t really know what the business is trying to do.

Think of an inverted pyramid – from the very top:

Company: What does your business do? What is your mission? What do you actually do for customers? Who are your customers? What are your products? Why do people buy them?

Journey: What stage of growth are you in right now? What is going on in the business? Do you have new products you’ve just launched or are building? Are you entering new markets? Are you undergoing a technology transformation? What is new and unproven? What is growing, and what is stable? What are the big issues for the business today?

Department: What is this new starter’s department working on right now? What are the key issues? What have the last six months been like? What problems have you overcome? What problems are still outstanding that you haven’t cracked yet? What do the next 12 months look like? Who else is doing what in the department?

Role: What is this person’s role really like now? What does good look like in the first four, eight, and 12 weeks? Why did you hire them? Why did you hire them and not the other candidates? What are you hoping for from them? Where do you think they will need help? Who can they turn to for help?

Environment: What technology do they need to use? What are all the systems? Where can they find things out? Who do they go to for info on how the business works? How does the company work in terms of email, Slack, Teams? Is there any admin support? Who is HR? Who are ten useful people they should know? What should they do with an IT problem?

You can assign a different owner (maybe even more than one) to each of those topics and have them present or discuss them with your new joiners as part of that two-week planned induction programme.

3. Assign your new starter a buddy that is not in their team or line management

It’s lonely starting a new job remotely, and your new starter will have questions they don’t want to ask you, the recruiting manager, in case they look stupid. So give them a buddy whose job is not to judge them but to help them succeed. Choose a buddy who is warm and friendly, likes people and knows a good amount about how your organisation works.

Give this buddy a specific brief: It is their job to help this new starter succeed. The buddy’s measure of success is “Is this person happy and productive in this role in six months’ time?”. If they’ve left or they are miserable, then you’ve failed. Being a buddy is a responsibility; make sure this person knows that. Their job is not to judge your new starter but to support and enable them.

4. Crowdsource a ‘newbies guide’ from your ten most recent joiners

Spin up a Google Doc, or if you are unlucky, an Office 365 Word Doc, share it with ten recent new joiners and ask them all to write a message, a few paragraphs at least,  explaining something to the new joiner that they wish they had known or struggled with when they started. Get each person to include their name and contact details so your new starter can follow up.

When I joined Tenzing last year, I knew nothing about who was who in our portfolio, and, as a startup, we didn’t have anything written down. I started a “Tenzing on one page” spreadsheet to document which companies we owned and for each one, some key facts like who was the CEO, Chair, Deal Lead, CFO, Sales Director, HR Director, what was their revenue, EBITDA, deal size etc. I could then pass that on to the next new starter who joined after me.

You can crowdsource this in a few days; it doesn’t have to be polished or fancy.

5. Crowdsource a glossary of terms and acronyms from the whole company

Every industry has its own rabbit warren of terms, acronyms and fancy words. They are bewildering to a new joiner. Even if you hire someone with industry experience, you’ll probably find your own company has its own internal list of words and acronyms that even an industry insider won’t know.

A written glossary is invaluable. Don’t worry about it being a daunting or overwhelming task. If you only explain ten words in it, that’s ten better than zero! I’ve been working on a glossary of terms for growth private equity for a little while now, and I just add a word every week or two.

Again, you can start by crowdsourcing from your existing team – share a document around and ask everyone to contribute. Quickly, you can have something that is a lot better than nothing. Again, don’t worry about it being scrappy – don’t let perfection be the enemy of great.

In conclusion

Remote onboarding requires a little more effort than in person but not much, and it’s totally achievable. You can also consider tech tools like the amazing Donut for Slack and it’s younger cousin CoffeePals for MS Teams which randomly connect people in your organisation for coffee calls every week or two. I’ve used Donut for years, with huge success at Reward Gateway and good success at Tenzing. It’s a great way of creating friendships and relationships between teams and departments – just the sort of thing that might happen in an office kitchen or by the water cooler. Do check them out too.


Glenn Elliott

Glenn Elliott

Glenn is a serial entrepreneur with over 20 years of CEO experience. He sold his last business, Reward Gateway, to PE three times. His skills are in product, engineering, sales and marketing, and his passions are leadership, company culture, employee engagement and social justice. In 2018, he wrote the Amazon HR Bestseller, Build it: A Rebel Playbook for World-Class Employee Engagement.
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