Keeping Remote Teams Cohesive, Part 2: Onboarding for Success

remote teams

In my last post, you learned how hiring for a healthy remote team requires a thorough process, a clear vision, and honest communication. You know how to select great candidates. Now how do you make sure they have what they need to contribute meaningfully to your team?

If a candidate has gone through your hiring process, and decided to work on your team, you’re already heading in the right direction. You believe they have what it takes to communicate and collaborate effectively with your team from a remote location, and they believe that your organization will be able to respect them as a remote employee, and give them everything they need to succeed.

Now comes the real challenge: Onboarding. A clear, comprehensive onboarding process is critical for all employees, but especially remote employees. Onboarding is where new employees learn about your team, your process, your tools, your culture, and more. Just as you need a proper hiring process to build a cohesive remote team, you need a proper onboarding process to cohesively integrate your new hires into your team’s ecosystem. Without proper onboarding, they could be left without the resources they need to be successful.

Responsible Onboarding

Many organizations have onboarding processes that don’t take into account whether an employee is onsite or remote — this is a major mistake. Remote employees inherently require a more thorough, more extensive onboarding process, because they get far fewer touchpoints than an onsite employee. Documenting, reviewing, and revising the onboarding process can help to ensure that every new employee receives a thorough, effective introduction into your team and organization.

Here are some effective onboarding practices I’ve learned working with remote employees:

  • Make the onboarding process self-driven, to reduce dependencies and allow the new employee to work at their own pace.
  • Break the onboarding process into phases, so you don’t overwhelm the new employee with information.
  • Build goals into the onboarding process, so the new employee can work toward something valuable from day 1.
  • Include a combination of enriching media (blogs, books, videos, webinars, podcasts) that will help the new employee learn about your organization’s way of thinking.
  • Set up one-on-one “get to know you” meetings with everyone on their team.
  • Ensure that the team makes itself available to answer any questions the new employee might have.

Trust and Vulnerability

Leadership guru Patrick Lencioni said, “Remember, teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” Trust, in this sense, refers to a team’s willingness to speak honestly and freely with each other; rely on each other to consistently deliver high-quality work; and hold each other accountable to upholding team policies and processes.

For the new employee, the first few weeks on the job can set the tone for their entire experience with the company. Each touchpoint with the team shapes their opinion of the team, for good or bad. This is also when they will begin to shape their habits for working with the team. If they feel lost in the shuffle, without someone to guide them, they might grow resentful or frustrated, always feeling “out of the loop”. However, if the onboarding process introduces them to their team, and team members demonstrate a willingness to help, then the new employee will feel safe to rely on their team when they face challenges.

Embracing vulnerability is equally important for the existing team. Every interaction with the new employee is an opportunity to build trust, which is the foundation of a strong working relationship. If the team does not take the time to effectively onboard their new team member, the team will start to lose cohesion and morale could take a hit.

Building Trust

So how do you build trust? Esther Derby has a great framework for how to establish trust on teams. She lists these as the critical elements of building trust:

  • Display trust
  • Address issues directly
  • Share relevant information
  • Follow through on commitments, or give early notice when you can’t
  • Say no when you mean no
  • Share what you know and what you don’t know

For remote teams, these practices help establish healthy, clear communication channels. It’s up to every member of the team (including management) to demonstrate these behaviors, by being communicative, informative, and honest with their new team member.

Stay Tuned

In my next post, I’ll dive deeper into how to establish and maintain effective communication in remote teams.

Read the first post of this series here.

Tom Henricksen

Tom Henricksen is a technology professional, career coach, and speaker. He has worked in various roles in technology for over fifteen years. He helps technology professionals at MyITCareerCoach.com. Follow him at https://twitter.com/TomHenricksen.