Much of what you’re hearing right now about remote work has focused on people who used to go into the office or plant every day and now find themselves working from home. Mostly, we are working with our same colleagues, just physically distant. But as this pandemic drags into the fifth month a lot of people are—willingly or not—changing jobs and joining new teams. A growing number of leaders need to consider how we bring new team members up to speed quickly.

Onboarding at many companies is a slow, frustrating process for both the employer and the new hire. Managers need to stop whatever their “real work,” is and spend a lot of time getting the new person settled. For the individual, there’s a lot of sitting by yourself reading manuals, setting up computers, inventing passwords that will get approved, and not being entirely sure what to do next.

In the “good old days,” there would be a lunch, everyone would sit around the conference room and introduce themselves, and hope the new person wasn’t vegan or gluten-free or pizza day would become an issue.

Here are some best practices for bringing new team members on board and helping them become connected and productive as soon as possible.

Make sure people get “face-to-lens” time as quickly as possible.

Since true face to face is likely not an option right now, even people who share a workspace will need to take advantage of webcams and screen time. At the Kevin Eikenberry Group, the rule is that each new hire’s first official task is to reach out and schedule a half-hour webcam conversation with every member of the team. That includes folks they might not interact with regularly. Think about why that is advantageous: The new hire must take the initiative and reach out. The team is responsible for making sure they are responsive. They get a half hour of one on one conversation time. Does that happen at the “get to know you” lunch? Probably not.

Eliminate the 3-day “bootcamp.”

Many of us remember our first week on the job. From morning to night we either sat in a room with a group of equally-confused people, or we went from meeting to meeting with various department heads and people we needed to know. By noon the first day it was a blur and we retained very little of what we learned. On the plus side, we had writer’s cramp and a notebook we couldn’t translate with the Rosetta Stone. Rather than have remote workers sitting in their chairs staring at a screen for eight hours at a time, break up meetings with people with tasks that can be completed offline or at least in other locations. Intersperse group activities with individual conversations and simple tasks that impact the team’s work.

Assign team mentors by task, not by seniority.

Because traditional onboarding takes place in a single location, it’s often easiest to pair new hires up with a single person. This is usually a “long-timer,” who will mentor them, allow them to follow them to meetings, and fill their head with stories about the way things “used to be.” You can build connections throughout the team better by assigning different mentors or coaches based on the particular task or skill. If Barb is the team’s database genius, have her work with the newbie on that while Alan helps her navigate the intricacies of the Slack channels. The more frequent, short communication people have the faster they build relationships and trust.

Take care of the administrative and IT issues before the new hire arrives.

Being taken to a new desk then sitting there alone while setting up your computer, network access and fill out the forms is the traditional first couple of days at many companies. It certainly doesn’t make someone feel involved or wanted, but needs to be done. Since much of this will take place virtually now, why not get as much of it out of the way, or at least give people all the forms/sites to do their work so they can get to it and get to the real work sooner.

Onboarding people is a one-time opportunity to bring people into the fold. It’s a chance to engage them and help the team be more productive than ever. Don’t miss it by or lessen it by demotivating people before they have a chance to get to the good stuff.

Successful onboarding is critical to building great remote teams. We’ve put together the complete guide to creating great remote teammates. It’s focused, structured, available on demand, and best of all, discounted right now for you and your team.



Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. You can pre-order Kevin and Wayne’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, now.

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Wayne Turmel has been writing about how to develop communication and leadership skills for almost 26 years. He has taught and consulted at Fortune 500 companies and startups around the world. For the last 18 years, he’s focused on the growing need to communicate effectively in remote and virtual environments.

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