25 October 2022

Onboarding remote employees: how to get it right

7 minute read


Rosie Nicholas

Rosie Nicholas

Rosie Nicholas is a freelance journalist and editor.


Employee engagement Onboarding Recruitment and retention


Starting a new role is a critical time for recruits especially if they work away from the office some days, or even all the time. Here’s why your onboarding process should support this group, and which best practices to follow

If you’ve started a new job since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, or worked with colleagues who have, then you’ll know about remote onboarding: something that became essential as many employees worked from home while workspaces remained closed. And, while this was a temporary status for some, others have elected to continue with either hybrid working or working remotely all the time.

So how was that remote onboarding process for you? If it was a bad experience, then you might not be too happy with your job. Or you may have already left, because you felt disconnected from the brand and didn’t get the support you needed.

To make the onboarding process effective for remote workers – so they don’t leave your organisation all too soon and remain productive members of your team – you’ll need to know the potential issues they may encounter before they emerge. Here’s why onboarding remote employees successfully is imperative, the differences and benefits of the remote onboarding process, and our tips for onboarding remote employees properly.

In this article


Why is onboarding important for remote workers?

Onboarding is the phrase of a new employee’s career when they have just begin employment with a new company, and are learning about behaviours , values, mission, products and services. It’s also an opportunity to meet members of their new team. It’s the same process for those new starters who’ll work remotely and not in the office – it just needs to be virtual.

This is a critical time for your remote recruit, because it will set the tone for their tenure at your company. Ultimately: will it be a success or a failure? If you have a comprehensive strategy with both formal and informal onboarding, then you can move it from an on-site to online experience. If not, then you may lose your new employee and this will cost you money.

In 2022, 20% of UK workers work from home at least once a week. One in five Britons want to work remotely all the time – and, in 2021, 8% of workers in the UK did exactly that and didn’t go to their workplace at all during the year. Working remotely has become more commonplace in recent years, so it’s important you ensure your onboarding process is suitable for this group of employees.


What are the main differences between onboarding people remotely and on-site workers?

It can be more difficult to create and deliver an effective onboarding process for those who work remotely rather than in-person. Challenges can include:

  • Geographical location, which affects communication and relationship building
  • Cultural differences, which may isolate remote workers from teams
  • Motivation, which can be more difficult for those who work alone

Remote workers can’t pick up on organisational knowledge or culture as easily as their office-based colleagues because they aren’t physically with their co-workers. It’s crucial you onboard remote workers properly, so details about the brand and its culture can be delivered as soon as possible.

Most organisations will typically have two aspects to their onboarding programmes. One, that is designed and led by the HR team, which covers essentials such as getting set up on the central HR system, opting into benefits, and understanding the company structure, mission and vision.

The second aspect will be led by the employee’s line manager or team leader, and involve everyone who’s in the team that your remote recruit will join, as well as colleagues from other departments that they’ll work with This is so they can start building a relationship with their new colleagues, which will build a support network who can provide assistance when it’s needed.

This can be affected by the remote worker’s geographical location because of the communication barrier it can create. That’s because different time zones can make it tricky to book meetings and training, and building relationships with colleagues will take longer if the main modes of communication are by phone or online. So it’s vital your onboarding process for remote workers is effective.

You’ll also need to consider how you check important documents from remote-working new starters and remain compliant. From 1 October 2022, UK employers must carry out right to work checks on ID documents using identification document validation technology (IDVT) from an approved service provider, or IDSP. Look out for HR software providers, such as Ciphr, which can integrate their HR and recruitment solutions with approved IDSPs to streamline your right to work checking processes.


What are the benefits of onboarding employees remotely?

This might be a great option for your brand, as it can have a positive effect on your new starters – and, in time, also your business. So why should you consider onboarding your employees remotely?

Remote onboarding may mean your new starter gets up to speed more quickly and be a contributing employee sooner than if they’re asked to come on site. A 2018 survey by FlexJobs found that 65% of people believed they’d be more productive at home than in the office. That’s because there would be fewer distractions (75%) and interruptions from colleagues (74%), plus less stress from commuting (71%) and minimal office politics (65%). And, according to a Stanford University report from 2015, employees working from home increase their performance by 13%.

Having a process for onboarding remote employees can mean it becomes a streamlined activity for team members. Changing to remote work gives organisations the opportunity to create a new onboarding programme that better suits remote employees, rather than just adapting the current procedure. Digital transformation can now be prioritised, so older tools with too many manual processes can be replaced with software that’s more accommodating of your recruitment strategy.

Digitising this step means the   can be improved, too, because documents can be accessed online by employees and signed virtually without having to print anything (remember: not everyone will have access to a printer or scanner). By investing in specialist technology, such as Ciphr Onboarding, HR and new hires can all operate more efficiently. New starters can submit bank details and emergency contact information before their start date, complete pre-training before their arrival, and read and accept all policies on their first day.


What are the challenges of onboarding remote employees?

While a move to remote recruitment can be completed relatively easily, as interviews can be conducted by video calls, creating a great remote onboarding experience is a significant challenge for HR teams. Your brand will need to check this strategy works with a high volume of new hires, too.

People who are hired and onboarding remotely might struggle to engage with your organisational culture, for example. Making these workers feel connected is difficult because you don’t have those face-to-face interactions to build on. This can be mitigated by offering remote employees the option to be recognised for their work and be rewarded. Keep these workers informed, too, with regular training and team updates.

The tools required for the role may not be immediately available, so you need to ensure you can offer the correct support for your remote employees to stay productive. To have the right equipment at home, you may offer additional funds to buy items (such as a desk or extra monitor), or you may send basic items (such as a laptop and mobile phone). Check their access to the software they need as well.

Those who may be used to working around others may start to feel lonely in their remote working role, too. This can lead to them feeling isolated, which may have a negative effect on building a strong connection with your company. Having a mentor may help in such situations, as could having regular video calls for team members to get to know each other.


Tips for onboarding remote employees

There are a few steps you can take to make sure your onboarding process is a successful one for remote workers. Not only can it guarantee a smooth progression for employer and employee , but also create an efficient process for all involved.

1. Set clear milestones in your plan: Your detailed onboarding plan should include goals that can be used to measure a remote employee’s progress. Set timelines to complete these milestones to give your new starter some structure, and to make sure they’re productive in their first few weeks as they settle in.

2. Try onboarding with groups: This can make managing new hires more straightforward, and save time for managers. It could be a better experience for recruits, too, since having colleagues at a similar point on their journey with a company can alleviate first-day nerves. Group onboarding can address the issue of isolation for remote workers, and can help create personal connections.

3. Communicate brand culture: Having a company culture that works in a remote-friendly environment can be crucial for the success of the onboarding process. Prioritise that sense of belonging by making it explicit what those unwritten rules are. These can be items such as video call etiquette, hours, dress code and messaging norms.

4. Have frequent follow-ups: Pay extra attention to new colleagues, and check in with them regularly. This can be just a message or an email, but you may also want to schedule video calls. Not only can you get feedback on the onboarding process, but it also offers new employees the chance to ask questions and highlight any concerns.

5. Check secure access to essential tools: To do their job effectively, new starters need to have access to the software and accounts they need to be self-dependent so they can add value to your brand sooner.  , such as Ciphr’s, can be integrated into other business systems – particularly your central HR software – as it will make managing onboarding even easier and your information is in just one place.


To make sure you create the most effective onboarding process for your remote workers, get in touch with Ciphr for a demonstration of our integrated HR, recruitment and onboarding software. Find out how to improve your onboarding process for remote workers, what can be done to boost efficiency in those first few weeks, and make it easier to communicate information to both team colleagues and other departments.