There’s no doubt about it, Covid has forever changed the future of remote working. Pre-2020, working from home was, for most offices, a distant possibility almost along the lines of Star Trek. Work from home? Sure, maybe when we can teleport!
Today, however, working from home is the new reality for many employees all around the world. And if you’re starting a new job without stepping foot in an office, you might be wondering how you'll connect with your new team.
How do you get to know your co-workers if you’re not hanging around the water cooler? What about the camaraderie of office Christmas parties? How do you find that sweet spot between working alone at a computer and feeling like a part of the team?
If you’re a new employee starting online, it can be difficult to answer those questions. And that’s exactly why employers need policies in place to address that awkwardness before it arises.
We're a totally remote team and have been for years now, so we know what it takes to onboard new team members in such a way that they feel welcome.
In this article, we’ll explore the steps you can take to help your new remote employees feel included.
1. Start with welcome calls
If you work remotely, video meetings are just part of your daily reality. But rather than throwing a new employee into the deep end with an intense business meeting first thing, give them some time to adjust and meet the team through some introductory welcome chats.
Most remote recruiting processes feature these initial steps: the phase where you meet the interviewer and the person you’ll report to before it’s confirmed that you’re starting on Monday.
But a pleasant remote onboarding process will go beyond these initial steps to help a new employee feel connected. Organise a chat with that new employee and their fellow teammates. Take it slow by inviting them to sit in on calls with the rest of the team.
And remember not everyone will have experience with daily video calls. Here's a list you can share with new starters to help them be their best selves on camera.
New starters at Vestd are also invited to join meetings with other subteams to get to know people outside their immediate sphere and understand the crucial role that everybody plays in driving the forward business.
Let those initial calls be low-pressure situations where they’re encouraged to listen, see how things work in real-time, and get a feel for the contributions they’re expected to offer on team calls.
2. Foster a sense of community
If you don’t have a physical office and your new employee will only ever interact with co-workers online, it’s important to foster a sense of community outside of video calls.
Apps like Slack can be great for this because it gives you a space to communicate with your co-workers in a more relaxed way like sharing funny GIFs and memes as you update each other on the day’s progress.
Utilising digital communication tools on a daily basis can also help your team to establish fun company traditions that keep everybody connected.
For example, you can celebrate birthdays by sending ‘Happy birthday’ messages in the team chat channel. And who says we can’t have Zoom board games and drinks nights anymore?
Though, as the newbies will come to learn, there's a delicate balance between socialising and noisiness. The constant pinging of notifications can be disruptive.
That's why we have dedicated Slack channels for the more 'fun' things. And we encourage each other to mute channels if necessary and use Slack statuses to indicate who's up for a chat or who's right in the middle of something.
Team collaboration software (we use Google Workspace) regular team check-ins, and cloud-based storage tools that enable live updates from multiple users are also great ways to foster a sense of community and convey that you’re all working together, even if you’re apart.
One thing we also do to ease a new employee’s transition is to set them up with an ‘office buddy’. Someone who, even via digital means, can be a mentor and a friendly point of contact for them.
Now you could assign someone they'll work closely with who'll offer insider advice on the ins and outs of their role, or you could assign someone from a different subteam to avoid working in silos.
It might not be quite like hanging out in the office but these little inclusive steps can go a long way toward helping new employees feel included.
3. Establish clear and regular communication
So, we’ve explored some fun, friendly and effective ways you can communicate with your remote team members.
But it’s important to remember that, remote working makes it all the more important to develop clear and regular communications about performance and expectations.
When you don’t have to interact with your team members in person on a daily basis, it’s easy to feel disconnected sometimes. And that lack of connection can easily devolve into a lack of effort.
After all, if you feel like you’re working for a disembodied presence in your laptop, you might not feel too bad about disappointing them.
Likewise, it’s equally easy to feel isolated. A new employee may not know who to contact for support or how to get clarification on what their new boss expects. And that’s exactly why communication is so important.
By keeping the lines of communication open, you convey that clear and frequent communication is both normal and expected. This prevents new employees from feeling isolated or confused and offers them an easy way to seek guidance.
4. Organise in-person meetups
Once your new starter has settled in, it's worth organising a meetup in-person to solidify the relationships they've already started to build online.
We organise in-person team retreats twice a year. It's the perfect opportunity to communicate the company's goals and ambitions for the future. And get better acquainted with team-building activities and good old-fashioned chit-chat.
Remote working definitely comes with its own unique challenges but, as technology evolves, so do we. By adapting to the reality of remote work, we can find new ways to foster a company culture that helps new starters feel truly welcome.