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4 Foundations of Successful Remote Onboarding in 2021

Sarah Greesonbach | 7 min read

In one fell swoop, COVID-19 required many organizations to change the way they onboard employees and customers alike. 

Some organizations were prepared, so they simply shifted focus from onsite onboarding to online. Others were not, and the months since the global pandemic affected their business have been dedicated to building and bringing online a remote onboarding process that will allow employees to flourish and customers to get the most out of their new product or service. 

However, even in the best of times, building a successful remote onboarding program can be challenging. As an organization grows, the desire to constantly update and adopt best practices can lead to unwieldy onboarding practices. And turnover can send even the most carefully planned onboarding process into a tailspin. 

Piling these challenges into an environment where 6 in 10 organizations have had to hire new employees since the pandemic started and bring them on board virtually shines a strong spotlight on the need for new best practices for remote onboarding. 

At Wisetail, we’ve helped companies build and maintain remote onboarding on both sides of the table since 2008. In this article, Wisetail onboarding and operations specialists Cristy Pedersen, Operations Manager, and Jamie Hofferber, Lead Implementation Manager, share four of the most important principles of successful remote onboarding: 

1. Start With “Minimum Viable Content”

Especially for organizations tackling it for the first time, building out remote onboarding programs can be overwhelming. There are a lot of moving pieces, people, and data points to contend with. The most effective organizations are able to shut out the noise and prioritize “minimum viable content,” or the most universal and important pieces of customer or employee onboarding. 

“Some organizations look at very established remote onboarding processes and can get distracted by what’s possible before they’ve even started their implementation,” says Hofferber. “But you can’t do it all at once—you have to move the needle phase by phase, by starting with short, universal lessons that will streamline your processes one step at a time.”

For example, at Wisetail, remote onboarding for employees is paced out over four weeks and broken into two levels: one for the general Wisetail orientation and one for their specific team. All of the onboarding is coordinated and well-spaced out with breaks and individual learning time so that employees feel welcome and engaged but not drained.

2. Aspire to Consistent and Clear Communication

Bringing a new person into your organization’s operations, whether they’re an employee or a new customer, is a trust-building exercise. Fulfilling your part of the contract you’ve created together requires an approach to communication that is both clear and consistent: clear, because different people and teams might be bringing different definitions of communication to the same process; and consistent, because repetition builds trust.

For example, consider that, just internally, Wisetail identified different forms of communication that key team members use to stay on top of complex and high-stakes projects. It was only by slowing down and defining what platforms should be used for what and when that Wisetail was able to increase the speed and quality of operations while also building stronger and more trusting relationships.

“Working remotely can remove the human element of interactions, leading to a lack of compassion and understanding,” says Pedersen. “Especially for teams coming onboard virtually for the first time, it’s just too easy to assume the worst or take things the wrong way. Clear and consistent communication makes people feel known and earns a charitable assumption for all your other communications—it’s critical to building trust in the remote onboarding process.” 

Consistency builds the same trust, says Pedersen. Building processes and check-ins where the onboarding team follows through with the things they say they’ll do, and communicates in the employee or customer’s preferred format.

3. Break Everything Into Short, Bite-sized Lessons

Today’s remote worker has a stream of information and inputs coming at them nearly constantly. This is true for eager new hires as well as focused education for new customers, both of whom are susceptible to overwhelm when it comes to online content. The key to successful remote onboarding—and all learning, really—is to break up the content into short, digestible lessons.

“People are overwhelmed with the amount of information they need to take in,” says Pedersen. “The most common requests we see is how to make the simplest, most streamlined user experiences, so that a customer or an employee knows exactly where to start and exactly where to end. Providing a clearly defined path and the milestones along it is critical.”

Pre-COVID-19, Wisetail’s implementation 10-12 week implementation process would end with one day of in-person training. To adapt to today’s operating environment, the team broke eight total hours of training into as many or as few sessions as made sense for clients—making the process more efficient and focused, while supporting it with content and communication that makes room for the off-the-cuff conversations.

4. Build Processes Into Every Experience

Good onboarding is a reflection of what it will be like to work with a company. If the onboarding experience isn’t executed well, there are consequences on both sides of the table: employees can fail to engage, which leads to a higher turnover rate and a harder time retaining talent; and customers can go underserved and churn at a higher rate.

This reliance on process is especially important for onboarding when it takes place remotely because it’s harder to catch employees and customers who fall through the cracks when all of your interaction is digital., It’s much easier for an employee or customer to ghost or disengage from the process when there’s no record of getting things done or holding people accountable. 

“When someone is working through the onboarding process remotely and can’t lean in to ask someone behind them the answer to a question, they’re going to lean more heavily on processes,” says Hofferber. “If those processes aren’t there to help them stay focused and take initiative, you can very quickly have a breakdown in culture or customer experience because you lose an important part of the shared experience.”

Creating A Remote Onboarding Process That Works For Your Customers And Employees

The basic problem of remote onboarding is this: when people get stuck, do they know where to go next? Remote onboarding, then, is not only about technology and tools. It’s about creating an environment where the customer or the employee feels comfortable reaching out and getting their questions answered. 

The core best practices shared here form a foundation for solid remote onboarding. Onboarding – remote or otherwise – is about facilitating communication and building relationships, and the best way to do that will depend on your employee and customer communication preferences and the systems and tools you use to meet those preferences. 

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Sarah is a writer for Wisetail. By analyzing and condensing cutting-edge research and data, she helps L&D professionals develop their instincts and arrive at actionable insights for employee engagement and training. She loves to consider the possibilities of humanizing, organizing, and minimalizing all things HR.