Create a successful remote onboarding process

Tico Billekens
April 15, 2020

With the #COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve seen a change of the traditional workplace to a remote working situation. Companies around the world are installing (mandatory) work-from-home policies. As part of our series on’s best remote practices, we are now going to focus on onboarding. 

As explained in our previous article, we in the tech industry are uniquely prepared for the reality of the digital workplace, and the fact that we’re now remote doesn’t have to be the reason to stop hiring great tech talents!

When it comes to remote onboarding, you should consider it as an extension of your interview process and a critical moment for the newcomer to start their new adventure with a positive experience. To succeed in your remote onboarding processes, we’re sharing with you best practices based on 5 key themes.

After reading this article, you will feel confident in adapting your remote onboarding processes and giving your new tech talents the best experiences.

Preparation is key

As well as remote hiring, it all comes down to preparation and having a really structured process in place:

  • According to Louise Ware, Head of People at FYXER, the key to a successful remote onboarding process is setting clear expectations with the new employee. Before they start, send them an email letting them know what their first few weeks will look like.
  • Have laptops and other equipment mailed or couriered ahead of time, and make sure email and other accounts have been set-up. 
  • Make sure the right technology for the day-to-day work and communications are in place and up to date. For example, use softwares like DocuSign for possible paperwork that would normally be physically signed ahead of the first day. 
  • Get the new employee up to speed as fast as possible. Make sure the right documentation is in place: precise and to-the-point. Get them to know the workflow. There are workflow companies that specialize in online platforms for distributed teams.
  • Have clear documentation/guidelines that are up to date and easy to follow. The current situation makes it difficult to quickly ask the person next to you for help.

Meetings, meetings, meetings

The main purpose of the onboarding process is for the new employee to meet their new team, experience the company culture, and to get settled into their new job under the guidance of a manager or team lead.

When you do this remotely, it is imperative that you communicate well and often, but at the same time make sure these interactions make sense and don’t overwhelm the employee. Here are some tips for the initial first-week communication that will come in handy:

  1. Schedule ‘get-to-know’ calls with key people in the company: e.g. the company founders, managers of the different teams (e.g. Marketing, Sales, etc), and HR managers.
  2. Keep it short: Tricia Philips, Director and Management Consultant at KPIM, advises calls shouldn’t last more than an hour as onboarding can be overwhelming, so don't be tempted to ask them to manage everything at once. Make a plan of little and often to help them get up to speed. It also gives you a good reason to check in with the new recruit.
  3. Create a human connection: it will be nice for new team members to see faces on interaction platforms such as Slack and email. 

During this period of isolation, the importance of checking in regularly with your tech team cannot be understated, this means:

  1. Daily stand-ups: with the whole team, to ensure remote workers check in and are able to say what their struggles are.
  2. Screen sharing: Hangouts and Zoom make it easy to share your screen, and this way the team can help with any coding issues there might be.
  3. Paired coding: Pairing up the new employee with a more senior member in the team and have them work on a problem together. We have written down a list of helpful tools here that can be used to easily pair coders remotely.

Balance information sharing with personal development

An intensive onboarding process can also feel overwhelming and cause stress and anxiety. We believe it is important to strike a balance between information sharing and the employee’s personal development and learning behaviour.

Mo Brahim, CTO at Profile Pensions, has implemented a remote process that allows new starters to work autonomously on a comprehensive onboarding project for four weeks, instead of the actual product right away. His experience shows that it:

  • Gives new employees a lot of freedom and time to get to know the team, company culture, and code base. This will ease them in more comfortably into the job and for the high paced coding that will be expected from them later on. 
  • Encourages the employees to be resourceful and figure things out for themselves, while at the same time knowing they have a team ready to help when they get stuck.

Equally, for Aaron Asaro, CTO at Kopernio, getting the new employee comfortable as quickly as possible is an important goal of the process:

  • Show empathy and compassion: this will help make the employee comfortable and relaxed. Even though you’re looking at each other through screens, make it clear that your video calls are no longer interviews.
  • While easing into the new job can make one feel useless, and a burden to the rest of the team, Asaro says it is best to acknowledge ‘imposter syndrome’ early and work together to overcome it.
  • Share problems the company faced: show them mistakes and failures made, and what the team learned from them.
  • Give a straightforward coding task that can be worked on and merged into the codebase. It’s a great confidence booster and the time it takes can be used as a measure of success of your onboarding process.

Engage the team

Despite being remote, your team and new starters, as globally dispersed as they may be, can get to know each other and have fun together! Forging and nurturing a tight knit (online) community among your team is more important than ever:

Have a virtual coffee in the morning at 09.00, and have a virtual beer with the team on Friday afternoons to usher in the weekend. Create a non work channel for the team(s) to have a chat and a laugh with each other while enjoying a beverage.

Create channels in e.g. Slack that can be used to engage your (globally) dispersed employees/teams.

Give ownership to your employees to set up these channels. There are often many, many great ideas to break through the confinement and actively forge a shared community. We have some tips for channels that work very well at

          🍪 A cooking channel - where all the chefs  in your company can get their Jamie Oliver on and share recipes, ‘how to’ videos and pictures of the dishes they created. 

          🎮 A gaming channel: for those competitive employees who like to play online board games (Houseparty is great for this), poker tournaments, or an exhilarating online game of Perudo. Why not turn on the old PS4/Xbox and challenge your co-workers to a game of FIFA or Mario Kart?

          🏋️ A gym channel: for the people in the company who have seen their gyms and yoga studios close their doors. Use this channel to share workouts, routines and personal records. If there are any proper gym rats in the company they might even be willing to give a couple of live lessons!

          📚 A personal growth and development channel: looking at the positive side of this quarantine, we do finally have time to work on becoming our best selves. You can take that online course on landscape painting or read that book on mindfulness you’ve had on your shelf for ages and share it with your colleagues on this channel, they might benefit as well!

Did you know you can watch Netflix together with your colleagues? Nothing beats watching some episodes of that series you were talking about together during a virtual coffee break. Check it out here.

If you take deliberate steps early on to get to know the candidate on a personal level and accept input from other members of the team, you’ll be able to get a good grasp of your candidate’s potential fit.

Learnings from the community

We do realize that some onboarding processes will be more helpful for your company than others. Getting to a situation where you have a process that works well is not an easy task. Our experts have also shared with us some of the mistakes they made, hoping the tech community will learn from these.

  • Don’t hire someone who doesn’t fit your company culture and is unable to communicate remotely. Hiring a tech expert can be easy when you are in dire need of one on short notice, but compromising on other qualities such as communication will be ultimately detrimental for the team. 
  • Not checking in frequently enough by video chat. Working remotely can be isolating, and engineers can get stuck in ‘rabbit holes’, so to speak. Acknowledge that fact. Encourage others to ping each other by video call. 
  • Assuming that everyone can onboard in this or that particular way. Processes like these should always be iterative processes: watch, learn, rethink, and adapt. What might work for 80% of the company might not work for the rest. How else might you engage these employees?

We have worked closely with experts in our community, who have given us valuable insights and would like to thank them @Tricia Phillips - Director and Management Consultant at KPIM, @Aaron Asaro - CTO at Kopernio, @Mo Brahim - CTO at Profile Pensions, @Christophe Popov - Entrepreneur, Technology Consultant and CTO, Louise Ware - Head of People at FYXER and @Sean Hynan - Talent Lead at Form3.

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