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Remote Onboarding FAQs

If onboarding remote employees is a brand new concept for you, then you’re probably wondering how to seamlessly – and easily – update your current processes to a fully digital environment. In this article, we’ve replied to nine frequently asked questions about remote onboarding to help you execute your virtual onboarding plan flawlessly. We’ve also included tips from experts who have operated remotely, either partially or fully, for years.

remote onboarding

Table of contents:


1. How can a company adopt a virtual onboarding approach when it is not tech-savvy or/and doesn’t embody a learning culture?

If your company is not tech-savvy, you’ll need to invest some extra energy to lead the “tech way” – at least in the beginning. First off, do a thorough research to find what kind of software and tools you could use to onboard new hires successfully, and learn how they work. Opt for platforms that seem easy to use, match your business requirements, and integrate well with other platforms you’re planning to use. Use this list to find the tools you’ll need to communicate with remote employees virtually, such as a video-conferencing solution, and manage essential onboarding steps (e.g. completing HR paperwork).

But, how can you ensure that employees will learn how to handle these tools effectively, too? Melissa Bruno, VP Head of People at Stack Overflow, suggests organizing online class sessions where you can train new employees on how to effectively use these tools. This will boost their confidence in using tech gear, which according to Ryan Malone, CEO and Founder at SmartBug Media, is necessary, especially in a work culture that isn’t initially tech-savvy:

“What we found [at the company] is that if you mix mentorship and small videos and exercises, and give people small wins where they can create some momentum, then [onboarding is] not as daunting.”

In the absence of a learning culture, Melissa adds that even when there are not officially established onboarding trainings for new hires, there are always people who can voluntarily train or mentor their new colleagues on how to best utilize tech tools. She suggests identifying those employees and assigning them an active training role:

“In every single program in an organization, I look for my champions, the people who really care deeply about these things. I engage them, and then they go out. […] They share and spread the really great things that we’re trying to initiate in the organization. That’s how I would approach it.”


2. Can you share a sample agenda for a new hire for the first week of onboarding remotely?

When onboarding new remote employees, during the first week you can focus on:

  • preparing gear and tools
  • completing necessary HR paperwork
  • explaining company culture
  • connecting with team members

Use this remote employees onboarding checklist as a guide to schedule the first week’s events and tasks.

Hope Weatherford, Head of Talent Attraction at InVision, describes her company’s remote onboarding process and which areas they focus on during the first few days:


3. Do you conduct ‘culture trainings’ to communicate what culture looks like at your organization? If so, what do these look like?

It’s to be expected that a remote workplace has different norms and culture as opposed to a typical in-office one. There’s more room for flexibility, which even though it is worth savoring, it can also impact the employers’ – and employees’ – ability to set clear expectations and boundaries. That’s why you should dedicate the first onboarding days to showing the culture and company norms to the new hires.

As in the video above, Hope Weatherford, Head of Talent Attraction at InVision, shared tips on delivering ‘cultural trainings’ virtually, through official or less structured calls and video meetings (you can also jump to the video in question 2):

“The ultimate goal is to really teach our InVision operating system, and how we work, what our culture’s like, what you can expect; [it’s about] really being able to bring your whole self to work, which a lot of times you’re not able to do in an office setting. We talked about kids walking around or maybe a new puppy that you just got, that is barking in the background and wants to jump up and see you all day. Those are things that we expect. Those are things that we appreciate.”

Ryan Malone, CEO and Founder at SmartBug Media, says cultural marketing plays a pivotal role in understanding what type of family employees are joining. Moving to an earlier stage, you can demonstrate your culture to candidates early on, for example, at the interview stage or through your careers page and prepare them beforehand. Share glimpses of your daily virtual work life through posting photos and videos, and allow new hires to get a sneak peek into what a working day looks like at your company.


4. How can you replace the experience of a new hire meeting coworkers over lunch?

There are many creative ways to integrate new hires to your existing teams and nurture a friendly atmosphere among colleagues. For instance, Hope Weatherford, Head of Talent Attraction at InVision, suggests scheduling a weekly video call with a loose agenda, where employees can jump in to socialize:

“We call it Friday fun day and we just come in and we just chat about anything and everything; sometimes related to work, sometimes not. And sometimes there’s an agenda and most of the time there’s not. Jump in if you want, you don’t have to join if you don’t have time. And that’s been helpful as well.”

She also encourages employees to use video-conferencing tools for chit chat, too, and not just for scheduled work meetings.

Ryan Malone, CEO and Founder at SmartBug Media, sets up 20-minute calls with team members for new remote hires, where they can discuss non-work-related interests and get to know each other better. Also, you could plan a large-scale event, such as a corporate retreat, for all teams to get together and bond:


5. What is the most important thing we shouldn’t miss or the best learning/best practice you’d share with a company who is looking to onboard remote employees soon?

In the first days of onboarding, it’s important to keep employees motivated to understand company culture and goals, connect with co-workers, and gain new skills. Ryan Malone, CEO and Founder of SmartBug Media, says this is the first practice he introduces to nurture healthy communication among co-workers:

“The first thing that you do when you come here, is you set up a get to know you call, which is a 20-minute call with everybody at the company. And the only rule is you can’t talk about work. And it’s a way for people to figure out who their crew is and what they have in common with people, so that they can quickly get integrated into teams that are like social teams.”

He also advises managers to avoid providing the new members with an extensive list of videos to watch as part of their training – and instead, putting the onus on on-the-job learning. They should support new team members to build core job-relevant skills and learn their role’s primary tasks, to build confidence and feel valuable.


6. How do you complete I-9s & W-4s remotely?

Normally, employers should examine and verify I-9 forms only in the physical presence of the new hires*. But when you hire and onboard a remote employee, this is not always a feasible step. In these cases, the employer can assign an authorized representative, a notary, or partner with a I-9 completion center to fill-out the I-9 form on their behalf, in the physical presence of the employee. You can also use a software, such as i9advantage, to help you out with this process.

As for W-4s and other HR paperwork that doesn’t typically require physical presence, you can ask the employee to complete and sign them digitally. You can easily manage this process with a digital onboarding tool, such as Rippling, and by enabling an e-signature solution such as HelloSign.

* The DHS recently announced that during the COVID-19 pandemic, completion of I-9 forms in businesses where physical distancing precautions are being applied, can be temporarily examined virtually by the employer within three days after the initial hiring date, as long as certain criteria are met.


7. What software do you recommend for remote onboarding?

Rippling and Click Boarding deliver digital onboarding solutions that enable you to streamline onboarding effectively (and both seamlessly integrated to our recruiting solution). Other useful tools are:

  • An HRIS – e.g. BambooHR
  • An online chat platform – e.g. Slack
  • A video-conferencing tool – e.g. Zoom
  • An e-signature solution – e.g. HelloSign

Find more tech tools, easy to implement in the virtual workplace, in this guide.


8. Do you have experience with hiring independent contractors? If so, does the onboarding look the same for them as it does for a W-2 employee?

Melissa Bruno, VP Head of People at Stack Overflow, advises employers to follow these two steps when hiring independent contractors:

1) Consider moving to a global provider employment organization (PEO) to ensure compliance with the legal requirements of each jurisdiction or country (e.g. local tax laws or statutory benefits), and

2) Follow the same onboarding agenda from day 1, as you would with other employees. In her own words:


9. How can we execute drug tests that are required as part of onboarding?

Employee drug testing is a sensitive matter. Considering that drug testing rules vary in different countries and jurisdictions, it’s easy to lose sight of local laws and regulations. That’s why you should always consult with your legal counsel to ensure compliance and transparency for each individual case before requesting or conducting pre-employment drug tests.

If you have a drug-testing policy, all candidates, both in-office and remote, should know what to expect beforehand. Hand over the drug testing policy to them, including all the recent updates and individual steps they should follow. Once you’ve ensured you’re fully legal and compliant, you can set an appointment for them at a state-certified lab that conducts the drug screening process.

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