The Challenges of Onboarding New Employees Remotely


Onboarding new employees remotely became a necessity for the majority of business organisations worldwide in the context of a global pandemic. Having to adapt on the go has obviously led to a lot of trial and error. Slowly, it became clear that there are some major challenges of onboarding new employees remotely. 

And it should be noted that onboarding new staff remotely is challenging for the employers and new hires alike. However, when the process is properly planned, it will yield a cohesive, productive, and engaged workforce. But why is remote onboarding hard? What are the biggest challenges of working remotely? And how can business organisations and new hires overcome these challenges? How do you engage new employees virtually? This article will provide you our answers and solutions to these questions.

If you want to learn more about how do you do onboarding remotely, we have an article for you. You will find some valuable tips for remote onboarding. Additionally, consider consulting also our remote onboarding checklist.


The Need for Onboarding New Employees Remotely


You might be thinking that sooner than later the pandemic will be over, and we will all be back to working at the office. This implies that onboarding will resume as a office-centric process. Yet, as brilliantly put by Microsoft´s Work Trend Index 2022, “We’re not the same people that went home to work in early 2020.”

Many suppositions of remote workers not being productive, or remote teams not being well-functioning have been debunked. All of a sudden, the global workforce is experiencing a newly found refocus. Meaning, belonging, wellness, flexibility, all are themes that stay at the core of “the great Reshuffle.”

While, there are expectations for hybrid remote work becoming the new standard, more and more workers are actually considering going fully remote. Microsoft’s reports confirms this trend. 51% of hybrid employees say they’re likely to go remote in the year ahead.

Thus, the need for onboarding new employees remotely is as high, or even higher as it was at the debut of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Every employer places a huge premium on optimum productivity from their online workforce. But, achieving optimum productivity is dependent on having access to all the support you need for becoming role and team proficient. Thus, the role of onboarding (remotely or on-premise) in achieving job mastery cannot be overemphasised. (You can actually read more about What Does Onboarding Mean for a Job in a separate article.)

Challenges of Onboarding New Employees Remotely Insights

We’re not the same people that went home to work in early 2020: 51% of hybrid employees say they’re likely to go remote in the year ahead.

—According to Microsoft´s Work Trend Index 2022.

Why Is Onboarding New Employees Remotely Hard?


Onboarding new hires is a complex process regardless of the physical location of the new employees. On-premise onboarding can also be challenging and hard. But, when experiencing remote onboarding for the first time, one can feel that “The shift from an in-house job to remote work is quite frankly, pretty weird. And onboarding a new remote employee requires a different, not-always-obvious approach.” These are the insights from Mandy Smith, Chief Of Staff and People Ops at Olark.


Remote Onboarding Can Be Strange and Unfamiliar


Onboarding in a remote environment can be a strange and unfamiliar experiences for you as a new hire. After all, getting to know people and your new workplace is a big part of your new place at a job in a new office. But that is all gone when onboarding employees remotely. There is no office to tour, there are no hands to shake, nobody to make small talk as you go to the kitchen to grab a new coffee. There is no team lunch or breakfast.

Thus, online employees are devoid of the opportunity to build relationships by interacting with other people face-to-face. Therefore, the aim of onboarding new employees remotely should assist them in building the necessary connection with other team members of the company. This is one of the reasons of why is onboarding new employees remotely hard.


Remote Onboarding Looses the Symbolic Role of the Office


Another reason refers to fostering feelings of engagement and connectedness in spite of the physical distance. As put forward by Slack, office buildings are more than bare physical spaces. “They’re an industrial-revolution-era foundation for how we think about work. They long provided the organising principles for how work should happen.” When you cannot rely on the office as a hub for culture and written rules, where do you turn to as a remote worker?

Challenges of Onboarding New Employees Remotely Insights

When you cannot rely on the office as a hub for culture and written rules, where do you turn to as a remote worker?


7 Major Challenges of Onboarding Employees Remotely


It is worth noting that some of the challenges of onboarding remotely might be linked to general remote work issues, thus challenges of remote work. Perhaps the most illustrative example is the need for social connection and fear of isolation.

In fact, a Slack study revealed some of the challenges that are linked to working remotely: 4 out of 5 the most frequently cited challenges associated with remote work, pertain to building and maintaining strong work relationships. The most often cited challenge of remote work is maintaining and building working relationships with colleagues. So let’s focus our attention on what we defined as 7 major challenges of onboarding employees remotely. We will then move on to providing some solutions for addressing these issues through a remote onboarding process.


Challenges with Remote Work: Feeling Isolated


This is probably the most obvious challenge. You are not sharing an office space with your new team. Hence, it is a lot harder to develop that camaraderie and sense of working together for shared objectives.


Challenges with Remote Work: Prompt Access to Tools


Image that you start your first day and you have yet to receive any equipment or access credentials. While being in a physical space you can move on to other activities, like touring the office and greeting everyone. That is not really possible, is it? After all, even using video communication tools and chats requires a corporate log-in.


Challenges with Remote Work: Addressing Individual Needs


Onboarding is not an one size fits all. You might find that, although your employers prepared a comprehensive plan, it does not fit very well to your needs. After all, your work settings might be more particular. Maybe you are not able to work with a 9 to 5 schedule. Is your onboarding plan accounting for that? Especially with regards to meetings.


Challenges with Remote Work: Engagement


This goes back to the office space as a hub for all things culture. Feeling like you belong increases your feelings of belonging and commitment to the organisation. But it is so much harder to feel like belong to an organisation where you work from a remote location.

Challenges of Onboarding New Employees Remotely Insights

If you think happy and engaged employees just happen, you couldn’t be more wrong. The development of a truly satisfied and engaged workforce begins with a comprehensive onboarding process.

—Michael Krasman, CEO & Co-founder of Urbanbound.

Challenges with Remote Work: Culture & Unwritten Rules


Onboarding has a strong component of cultural acclimation. Being performant in an organisation does not simply refer to your professional output. In fact, IBM reveals that when employees agree their work is consistent with organization’s core values: 80% report a more positive employee experience. Positive employee experiences translate into engagement. And engaged teams generate 21% more profit than their disengaged counterparts, as revealed by Gallup.


Challenges with Remote Work: Appropriate Training


New job training is a crucial component of starting a new job. Training does not exclusively refer to developing skills for performing the job. It also refers to fully understanding the company’s operational mode. Additionally, you have to know how to use every single one of the tools required by the company. Are you aware of all the tools? And even more importantly, are you familiar or comfortable with using them? Do you need more support?


Challenges with Remote Work: Feeling Like Missing Out


This challenge is rather specific for hybrid teams, but it is still worth briefly discussing. If you are a remote employee in a hybrid team, you might fear that you are missing out. After all, the office continues to remain a hub for organisational culture. Your teammates can have lunch together on a daily basis. They can use this as an opportunity to discuss new projects and objectives. Not to mention, the relationship building of these interactions. How do you make sure that you are not missing out? Or better said, how does your employer ensure this?

Challenges of Onboarding New Employees Remotely Insights

There are better ways to collaborate than simply falling into the copy-paste trap of moving physical behaviours to the digital world.

—Slack, Exploring Better Ways to Work.

How Can a Remote Onboarding Process Address the Major Challenges of Remote Onboarding?


No doubt, as a new hire, working online comes with some element of anxiety because you do not know the job details yet. Hence the purpose of onboarding employees remotely is to provide new hires with a shared learning platform that enhances their capabilities to perform effectively and get to know the details of their job roles.

The remote onboarding process is a vital series of activities that help new hires achieve a proper transition until full integration into their roles. Additionally, these activities aid your understanding of the operational ethics of your employer and cultural practices related to their jobs. You will find a more complete discussion on the remote onboarding process on our blog HR.

Right now, we will focus on how the remote onboarding process can address the major employee challenges of onboarding employees remotely that we introduced in the previous section.


Early Preparation & Access to Tools


You don’t want to spend your first day on the job signing papers and reading boring documents. If your employer prepares the necessary paperwork in advance you can spend your first day on more reqarding activities. This is ensured with a strategic preboarding programme. A key element is setting up the right software, providing access to the new hires with user logins to the onboarding platform. (These are activities specific for your IT Onboarding process.)

Additionally, your employer should communicate the key expectations in terms of your progress steps and pace. You can meet your goals with success once you acquire a clear picture of your role.


Focus on Social Integration & Create Opportunities for Connection


As a new hire it is important to receive the opportunity to introduce yourself. This is one of the vital remote onboarding ideas that helps new hires build relationships early with the relevant stakeholders of the organisation. During the first week of the exercise, there should be room for introductory calls with the management team and other team members.

Another best practice would be participating in activities involving all new hires. You can get to know people with various backgrounds, and people that are sharing the onboarding experience.


Recurring Check-ins & Surveys to Address Individual Needs


Seeking regular feedback and refining the process is really important when dealing with remote new hires. Your employer can request your feedback after completing each module in the onboarding exercise. This provides important insights. For employers, they can get ideas to improve the onboarding process for future employees. For yourself, this can allow them to gauge any additional needs you might still have.

Thus, this can help tailoring the onboarding experience for each employee. This will spur new employees to build the desired engagement with their job.

Addiitionally, one-on-one meetings during the onboarding exercise are of utmost importance. These meetings can occur between yourself and your onboarding manager. Or between yourself and your mentor.  


Understand the Unwritten Rules with Buddy Onboarding

A buddy program at work for remote workers is a great method for making sure that you get a more intimate view of the organisational culture. You need to understand culture though lived experiences and social integrations, rather than reading an employee handbook. The onboarding buddy can help you understand the unwritten codes of conduct. For example, let’s think about how a buddy can share information about ways of communicating.

Most teams are dealing with asynchronous communication. But what is acceptable and what is not? For example, is a specific software preferable? Conversely, is there something that is avoidable? What are the expectations in terms of response time? Do you have to inform anyone if you take a one hour break to pick up your kids? Do you have to update your status on the chatting app with high precision?

The buddy is a peer and not a manager. Thus, you are on a more equal footing which can boost your confidence. No question is too silly for your onboarding buddy. And not to mention, that with an onboarding buddy you are guaranteed an instant social connection and the possibility to develop your first work friendship.

“Familiarise new hires with your company’s specific tool-related norms. Should they set their Slack status to “away” when they go to lunch? Is it okay to turn off video on calls if they’re having a bad hair day?”

Challenges of Onboarding New Employees Remotely Insights

Familiarise new hires with your company’s specific tool-related norms. Should they set their Slack status to “away” when they go to lunch? Is it okay to turn off video on calls if they’re having a bad hair day?

—Mandy Smith, Chief Of Staff and People Ops at Olark.

Proper Planning & Learning


Adapting onboarding materials for online learning entails the conversion of the onboarding materials into digital files. In addition, the new hires should be provided with training videos and learning modules that they can complete independently and track their progress.

Measuring success with clear digital employee onboarding metrics is also necessary. You will need clear and specific metrics for gauging your progress in the exercise.

Having metrics aid new hires to know what is expected from them and keep them on their toes. Also, it helps in monitoring and tracking the performance of the new hires during the exercise.


Avoid a Two-Tier Employee System


The two-tier employee system refers to remote workers having an inferior work experience and facilities in comparison to office workers.

“If you are the only remote worker in a large in-house team, it can be tricky to integrate yourself in company culture and be visible to management. This can affect long-term prospects if not managed correctly.”

Thus, effort should be invested in making sure all conversations are captured appropriately and that everything is documented properly. Additionally, your team manager or workforce coordinator has to ensure team cohesion. This can be achieved, for example, through regular activities that can involve the entire hybrid team. A more concrete example would be implementing a weekly lunch date when everyone connects and shares what is going on in their lives.

Challenges of Onboarding Employees Remotely: Summing Up


When the exercise is done appropriately, the employer can get the best out of the online workforce and keeping them long-term. However, this is not the reality of the new hires, as some of them experience bad onboarding. According to Gallup, only 12% of employees strongly agree that their company did a great job onboarding them.

Onboarding New Employees Remotely Insights

Only 12% of employees strongly agree that their company did a great job onboarding them.


In conclusion, organisations should aim to avoid the challenge of information overload during the onboarding exercise. They owe you a wonderful virtual onboarding experience. Also, employers should always improve their processes by making it as more flexible and reactive to your needs.

Onboarding remote employees requires thorough planning and execution with the right onboarding tool. A tool like introdus, employee onboarding software, will assist a business organisation in establishing the right connection with their remote workers during the exercise. Also, it enhances social interaction and collaboration between the remote workers, thereby instilling in them the confidence they need to hit the ground running.

In addition, introdus is a collaborative platform that ensures the sharing of knowledge among the online workforce. Also, it is embedded with various multimedia content that will enhance the capacity of the new hires to come to speed in their roles.

Successfully onboard new employees remotely with the best tool.


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