The Remote Employee Onboarding Solution That Cuts Your Workload in Half

Onboarding new remote employees, distributed team building, lazy management. Yup. It’s all connected.

Glad to have you onboard. Our adoption process is non-linear to actualize and objectively drive go forward processes that initiate enterprise-wide wins.

Half the battle for successfully onboarding new remote team members is starting out with the right employees. If you were picky, selective and strategic in your hiring decision, then you have brought in someone who is self-motivated, organized and driven to succeed while working on their own hundreds or thousands of miles from you. The best remote candidates onboard quickly and let you know when they are ready for more. They are the keepers you want to accelerate to full capacity (buzz-wordy enough?).

You, as the manager looking to get the best from your new team member, need a plan for onboarding quickly and efficiently without overwhelming them. A little forethought goes a long way. Create an onboarding plan for each role on your team and it will not only make the process a little less stressful for you but, as a bonus, it’s the first step towards establishing a repeatable process that you can delegate.


Stage one of your plan should include a pre-start date step. As I mentioned, good remote employees are driven and independently-minded. Many ask for documentation and access to tools to prepare for their first day. Have a welcome email with links or a Google Doc ready to send. This is separate from HR and employee handbook stuff, none of which leads to rapid new hire success. Make sure it includes whatever logins they need to access what you are sending. Even if they don’t have time to look at the information before their first day, they’ll be armed and ready to dive in first thing that morning.

Lay out the Landscape

In an office job, you show up at 9am on your first day because that’s what HR told you to do. You follow some suits around all day, then expect to get back in your car before dinner time. The next day you show up at 8am, sit at a desk, then go home when everyone else does. Thankfully, remote jobs are completely different but this does leave confusion about how new remote employees should schedule their time and what the expectations of availability are day to day.

You aren’t making it easy to fungibly recaptiualize collaborative human capital.

Don’t wait for these questions to just occur to new hires. Put them in writing then discuss the nuances. When are most team members online? How flexible is it? Is there a defined time zone that everyone works around no matter where they actually live? Does everyone need to be available on Slack or reachable by phone even when they aren’t working at a computer? What about stepping away for a few hours during the day? Do you need to tell someone?

I am just scratching the surface and you can already see how much information needs to be passed along simply to make sure a new employee doesn’t make the wrong assumptions about your unique remote work culture. By documenting these guidelines and requirements, you not only make your own life easier but you also avoid the frustrating misunderstandings that can arise from the very aspects that make remote work so great.

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” — Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress

Set Clear Expectations

You may have heard Parkinson’s Law quoted above. If you give a developer three weeks to complete a project, the universe will conspire to make whatever effort necessary to complete the project take that exact amount of time. Delays, procrastination and re-prioritization love to get involved. The same is true with getting new remote employees up to the level of fully active team member.

I just mastered collaboratively redefining orthogonal sprints.

Naturally, some positions take longer to grow into than others and a few have learning curves so steep that you need to hammer in a few pitons on the way. Take all this into account when assessing how long it will take a new remote employee to operate without training wheels. Also, assume that you made the correct hiring decision and this new person is a quick study until proven otherwise. In my experience, most employees will surprise you if you set expectations exactly right.

And, whatever you do, don’t keep it a secret. Discuss the timeline and expectations with your new remote team member. Don’t trust that your training plan will keep them moving along as if they are riding a wave. They should be actively working toward goals (e.g. “be comfortable in the admin tools by Thursday”) not passively led from learning task to learning task.

Documentation to the Rescue

In the sections above, I mention writing everything down. Even though it sounds like a no brainer, it’s unusual for companies, remote or otherwise, to fully document the onboarding and training requirements for all positions. The best intentions to one day get around to documentation have their own special place in heaven but it does little to help you here and now.

Congratulations! You are a manager or team leader who gets to hire on one or two new employees a year. Do you really enjoy dropping everything to focus on them for weeks at a time? If you had that much spare time, why are you hiring expensive new humans anyway?

At this point you are expecting me to write a few sentences on how spending the time to document everything once, will save you multiple times that number of hours in the future. Well, I’m not (even though it’s true).

Shhhh. I’m holisticly predominating interdependent opportunities.

Instead, I’m going to pass along a dirty little trick to killing two birds with one stone. Here goes: competent employees are perfectly capable of documenting the onboarding process as they go through it. After all, they should be writing down all the important gems of information you are blurting out anyway. As part of the learning process, have them formally document every step. Even better, give them a head start by knocking out an outline of topics then have them flesh it out as you bring them into the fold. Not only will you save time in the future, your new wunderkind’s training comprehension will be far greater.

Involve the Team

And while we are on the topic of dirty little secrets for working smarter, not harder, involving every member of your team in a new remote employee’s training ranks up there with sliced bread and iPods. Along with the special needs required to effectively onboard someone you may never meet in person, successfully integrating this person into your established remote team is another challenge you can solve at the same time.

Remote teams need special care and feeding. Close-knit remote teams just don’t happen and, once you get a distributed team to feel as cozy as a wolf pack, dropping in a new team member can be a time consuming disruption.

Reduce the potential friction, by delegating parts of the new hire onboarding to specific team members. Do your best to include everyone. Team members don’t need to be at the same level or higher, have a similar role or know anything about the new member’s skills in order to help with the onboarding.

Walking someone through admin tools or explaining the ins and outs of the antique company time reporting software can be done by anyone at any level. While the new remote employee gets the benefit of the training, they are also building a rapport with individuals they may otherwise have a difficult time connecting with.

With the right planning and documentation, your remote team doesn’t need to flounder while waiting for critical new members to slowly absorb distributed institutional knowledge. You can get them up to speed quickly and make them a trusted team member using one predictable process. And when you are done applying this strategy internally, use the same process on your clients. Isn’t this exactly what they are been asking for?