Right in the heart of New York City, Ross faced an intriguing challenge at the Museum of Natural History: onboarding two paleontologists. Sarah would be responsible for hosting museum tours, while Phill would be responsible for updating the website with interesting articles and facts.
What was the challenge? Even though the two new hires started on the same date, had the same background, and needed to get training on the same information, they couldn’t be onboarded at the same time, in the same place. Sarah was in New York, but Phill would work remotely from his place in Sydney.
Until then, Ross wasn’t familiar with onboarding distributed teams, so he decided to give Sarah the regular onboarding experience while Phil would follow a more self-paced approach.
Sarah and Ross had in-person training sessions, complemented by relaxing breaks at the nearby coffee shop. Soon, Sarah felt like part of the group and was really excited to work alongside her mentor.
Across the ocean, things were not looking that promising. Phill felt isolated reading all the onboarding resources on his own. And when he had a question, he had to stay up very late to sync with Ross. It wasn’t long enough after his first day when he started wondering whether he had made the right choice pursuing a remote job that was so far away.
Ross wasn’t ignorant of Phill’s feelings, either. He realized the onboarding experience for distributed teams had to change if he wanted to give a warm welcome to all new hires, no matter their location.
Why you can’t replicate the in-person onboarding experience
Replicating the in-person onboarding experience when employees are far away comes with several unique challenges.
Here are some issues you might come across when onboarding distributed teams in a virtual environment:
- Lack of physical presence: Remote onboarding lacks the tangible experience of being in the workplace, hindering immediate immersion.
- Zero to limited face-to-face interaction: Establishing personal connections with colleagues is more challenging in a remote setup.
- Delays in clarifications: Asynchronous online onboarding can lead to delayed responses, making real-time queries difficult.
- Cultural engagement: The nuances of company culture are harder to convey remotely.
- Casual learning: Informal workplace learning, like participating in spontaneous discussions, is often missed.
- Non-verbal communication: Limited non-verbal cues in virtual interactions can lead to misunderstandings.
- Time zone challenges: Scheduling live sessions across time zones can be logistically difficult.
- Tech adaptation: New hires may need to quickly adapt to digital tools, which can be overwhelming.
- Team bonding: Building strong team relationships virtually can be less effective.
- Performance evaluation: Assessing remote hires may be less accurate without in-person observations.
Simply copying an in-person onboarding strategy and pasting it to a remote onboarding strategy doesn’t bring the much-needed results. Onboarding should be an engaging and amazing experience for new hires–anywhere they are.
5 ways to ensure seamless onboarding–no matter the distance
In the digital age where remote work has bloomed, onboarding knows no boundaries. And navigating distances, time zones, and cultures to create a seamless onboarding experience is essential.
Here are some strategies to bridge the gaps, maintain balance, and foster unity when onboarding distributed teams:
1. Build strong team connections
Having bonded teams is crucial, especially in distributed teams. Strong team connections foster collaboration, trust, and synergy. They also boost communication, morale, and employee engagement.
Plus, a connected team works more effectively, shares knowledge, and pursues common goals collectively, leading to a productive and balanced work environment.
- Virtual meet-and-greets: Plan virtual meet-and-greet sessions (official or unofficial) where new hires can interact with team members. Encourage team members to share fun facts about themselves or their hobbies to foster more personal connections, beyond work.
- Buddy system: Marianna Stavridi, Sales Development Manager at TalentLMS, suggests “creating a buddy system and pairing new hires with experienced employees.” Buddies can provide guidance, answer questions, and help newcomers navigate the company culture.
- Team-building activities: Run virtual team-building activities, such as online games or quizzes on your LMS, to create a sense of unity and camaraderie among remote team members.
2. Address cultural differences
Recognizing and acknowledging cultural differences during onboarding for distributed teams is crucial. It promotes inclusivity, prevents potential misunderstandings, and strengthens team unity. Embracing diverse viewpoints contributes to improved teamwork, creativity, innovation, and overall performance within a multicultural work environment.
- Cultural sensitivity training: Offer cultural sensitivity training to new hires and existing employees on your training platform. This type of training can help raise awareness of potential cultural differences and promote a respectful and more inclusive work environment.
- Cultural exchange sessions: Schedule cultural exchange sessions where employees can share aspects of their culture with the team. This can include presentations, food tastings, or storytelling sessions.
3. Mitigate Zoom fatigue and work/life balance
Excessive virtual meetings can lead to burnout. But respecting time zones and encouraging breaks helps maintain a healthy work-life equilibrium. Prioritizing these aspects enhances engagement, productivity, and long-term commitment among team members.
- Time zone-friendly scheduling: Create an onboarding schedule that considers time zone differences. Avoid scheduling all meetings outside of working hours for either the new hire or managers.
- Taking breaks: Emphasize the importance of taking breaks and encourage new hires to step away from their screens during lunch, for example. Or pre-plan short breaks during meetings to prevent Zoom fatigue.
- Setting boundaries: Train both managers and new hires on how to set clear boundaries for work hours and expectations. Ensure that remote employees are not constantly “on call.”
- Balance training with live meetings: “Create an onboarding schedule with a combination of self-paced activities and live meetings,” Marianna supports. Block time on the onboarding schedule for the self-paced courses, and add deadlines to each course. Then, new hires have a better understanding of how much time they need to dedicate to the courses and when.
4. Focus on feedback
Feedback during onboarding for distributed teams is key for continuous improvement. It enables remote employees to voice concerns, share insights, and adapt to their roles effectively. Having regular feedback sessions fosters a culture of openness that leads to better communication, alignment with company goals, and the successful integration of remote team members.
- Cultivation of a feedback culture: Promote a culture of feedback from day one. Encourage new hires to share their thoughts and experiences openly, and make it clear that their input is valued.
- Regular check-ins: Schedule regular one-on-one check-ins on your LMS between new hires and their managers to discuss progress and challenges, and gather feedback. Or add synchronous sessions to cover common questions. Marianna shares another great tip; “Add tests to your courses so you can focus on the incorrect answers during your sync calls and make better use of your time.” Always make sure these meetings accommodate different time zones.
- Anonymous feedback channels: Offer anonymous channels for new hires to express concerns or suggestions without fear. This can help uncover issues that may not surface through direct communication.
5. Use pre-recorded sessions
Boost flexibility and accessibility when onboarding distributed teams with pre-recorded sessions. New hires can learn at their own pace, regardless of time zones. It ensures consistent delivery of important information and serves as a valuable resource for future reference.
- Onboarding videos: Use a ready-made, pre-built library of onboarding videos on your LMS covering essential topics like company culture, policies, and expectations. New hires can watch these at their own pace, allowing for flexibility in their onboarding process.
- Knowledge base: Build a comprehensive knowledge base or wiki where new hires can access information, documents, and resources to support their onboarding journey.
- FAQs and cheatsheets: Share frequently asked questions (FAQs) and cheatsheets that address common onboarding queries and provide tips for effective remote work.
The one with distributed team onboarding: Building bonds, no matter the distance
Whether it’s in person or online, synchronous or asynchronous, the ultimate purpose of onboarding is one: to empower new hires for success.
Adaptations are essential to suit different work environments, but with a well-crafted strategy and effective tools, onboarding can be scaled alongside your distributed teams. As a result, you ensure a seamless new hire integration and achievement of their full potential.