How to Onboard Remote Employees [Complete Guide]

If you think that onboarding remote employees is trickier than onboarding on-site employees — you are right.

Coordinating different schedules and time-zones, while making it look like a breeze for the new hire, demands some effort. But with the right information on your hands and some organization, you can make remote hiring seamless. 

It’s all about having processes in place. Once you have a process that worked a few times, you can make it a standard procedure. Then, it’s just a matter of making some adjustments here and there as you go.

Making an exceptional first impression is the greatest investment you can make in retention and engagement. After all, 90% of employees make the decision to stick around long-term within the first few months in the company. 

I organize my onboarding process into four stages:

  1. Paperwork
  2. Company Culture
  3. Expectations
  4. Success Tools

Starting with the most tedious part, paperwork, let’s explore what goes into each stage of the remote onboarding process:

Arrange Paperwork to Onboard Remote Employees 

With remote employees, you can’t just drop the papers, forms, and agreements on their desk and expect it to be ready by the end of the day. 

And sending pages of agreements via email is not a good option either. Printing, signing, scanning, and emailing back the papers is a time-consuming task that might ruin your new hire’s first day of work.

If you want to start out with the right foot, you must consider using an e-signature tool. I use both DocuSign and HelloSign with my employees’ paperwork. 

These tools allow them to safely add signatures digitally, so signed copies are good-to-go in just a few minutes. 

But what are these “agreement” documents specifically?

Remote Employees Onboarding Documents

Arranging all the documentation might be overwhelming if you don’t have a checklist. So, here it goes:

  1. Employee Contract
    1. This is a two-sided agreement between the employer and the employee
  2. Tax Documents
    1. Form W-4
    2. Form I-9
  3. Benefits Agreements
    1. Make sure that your employee is aware of all the benefits that your company provides (e.g. health insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, retirement plans, etc.)
  4. Confidentiality agreement (if applicable)
    1. This is a contract that states that the parties agree not to disclose specific company information.
  5. IP Assignment (if applicable)
    1. This refers to the agreement of an employee’s work output created for a company to be transferred to the entity.
  6. Personal information collection
    1. Copy of ID
    2. Home address
    3. Phone number
    4. Emergency Contact
  7. Payroll
    1. Direct deposit enrollment
    2. Vacation and PTO requests

Yes, that’s a lot of paperwork. 

Thankfully, there are resources to automate a significant portion of this documentation process:

How to Simplify Remote Employees Onboarding Paperwork

If you are constantly hiring employees from different states or even countries, you know that this can be a pain.

Each state has a different set of rules that governs your tax, payroll, and benefits responsibilities. Not to mention different countries.

Therefore, if you see yourself with remote employees from many different places, you should consider using human resources management software such as GoCo, BambooHR, or Gusto.

Besides streamlining onboarding documentation for you, they also take care of tax compliance, which gives you all the peace of mind you need to focus on the other stages of onboarding.

With that, let’s move forward to the company culture stage. 

Introduce Remote New Hires to the Company Culture

Just because your employees are away from a physical office, it doesn’t mean that they don’t need the same level of involvement with the company’s culture.

At the same time, it’s harder to grasp the culture when there is minimal face time with the team. 

This means that you must go the extra mile if you want your remote team to live and breathe your company’s culture. 

And that happens through attention to details.

A magnificent culture is built upon simple things. 

These are some of the game-changers of my onboarding process:

Welcome Video

There’s no better way to give your new hire a personal welcome than through an engaging video. In fact, videos are a huge ally for remote work communication in general. 

I am a big fan of onboarding videos because it allows me to show how enthusiastic I am for having the new hire on board. Reminding new hires about your company’s values and culture reinforces their decision and the importance of their position. This makes them feel valued and motivated about their work.

I also like to include a few coworkers on the video welcoming the new hire. This helps the interpersonal bonding process to start. Keep in mind that the video should be short and sweet if you want it to be effective. 

If you decide that you want to communicate a lot of information through video, it’s always best to record multiple quick videos than one long one.

Swag Package 

I’ve seen many companies greet employees with a “welcome package” on their first day at work.   This shows new employees that the company is excited to have them as part of the team.

Why not do the same for remote employees? Even more than on-site employees, you need them to have a sense of belongingness. 

Prepare a “welcome package” with some company swag items and mail it to the remote employee’s address. You can include branded items such as coffee mugs, T-shirts, backpacks, headphones, water bottles, planners, and more. 

The idea is surrounding your remote employees with branded company swag.

I also like the idea of including a personal hand-written letter from someone in the executive team welcoming the new hire. This simple detail makes a huge difference in the package. 

Introduction Messages

Since remote employees don’t get a chance to meet co-workers face-to-face on their first day of work, you will have to give a helping hand on making introductions.

A good way to do that is by sending an email to introduce the new remote worker to the whole team, or company, depending on the size of the business. If you use communication software, such as Slack, making this introduction there might be more effective. 

This introduction opens the doors for team members to reply giving their own welcome and introducing themselves. This is key to start cracking the communication barriers for the new hire.

If you want to go even deeper, you can introduce your new remote hire during an all-hands meeting. 

Buddy System

Learning all the company’s standards, procedures, expected behaviors doesn’t happen overnight. Expect your new hire to have a lot of questions to ask. 

For on-site employees, it might be easier to figure things out, since there are constant informal conversations and easy access to resources.

However, remote newbies might find difficulties understanding where to find documents, how to behave in specific situations, and even who to direct their questions to.

For this reason, I am a big fan of the “Buddy System”. 

The idea is designating another one of your employees as a “buddy”, so the new hire has a peer acquaintance. The buddy should be someone who has been with the company for a good amount of time.

It will be the buddy’s job to stick with the new hire and show him or her the ropes. 

This includes helping the new hire to get to know the team and answering general questions about the company.

Set the Right Expectations from Day One

Remote employment is handled differently from company to company.

Even if your new employee has experience working remotely, it might not be the experience that you expect at your company.

While some companies have strict guidelines regarding work hours, communication, and availability while others are more flexible.

As long as you clearly communicate what is expected from your remote employees, you — and them — won’t get frustrated with the work dynamics. 

Keep in mind that if you don’t make it clear what your expectations are, you can’t demand anything later. 

Employee Handbook

The employee handbook should be a foundation for your employees to base their behaviors and know what to anticipate from their peers. 

Putting together a comprehensive employee handbook is the first step in ensuring that you and your employees are on the same page.

Your employee handbook should cover at least:

  • Business’s policies
  • Your expectations of your employees
  • Compensation and benefits aspects

Keep in mind that your new hire won’t take the time to read the handbook if it’s super long and boring. So, keep it simple.

Work Schedule

Flexible hours tend to be a consequence of remote work, but not in every case. Some companies expect remote employees to be online from 9 to 5. Just as if they were physically in the office.

Work schedule arrangements depend a lot on the job that is being performed. Roles that involve collaborations within team members might require that all employees be working at the same time.

I work with a lot of writers, designers, and developers which are jobs that often require a lot of time alone to get work accomplished.

Therefore, I allow employees to work around their own schedule, based on what works best for them — as long as they deliver high-quality results. Either way, make sure to communicate your company’s work-from-home policies off the bat to avoid any misunderstandings.

Company Communication Agreement

Transparent communication is one of the major ingredients of success in remote work. Every remote worker needs clear guidance regarding communication expectations. 

You cannot assume that employees will have an understanding of what is acceptable.

A company’s communication agreement outlines every detail from how long employees are expected to respond to emails to how they should respond to a customer.

During the onboarding process, you should make it clear which forms of communication require an immediate response, and which ones are less urgent. For example, Slack messages should be answered as soon as possible, while emails can wait up to 24 hours.

Communication common courtesy should also be outlined in the company’s communication agreement. This will detail communication behaviors expected within the company.

For example, if you are speaking to a colleague who has their video on, it is common courtesy to turn yours on.

Tools to Onboard Remote Employees

You will need a hand from technology tools to make the onboarding happen. After all, you won’t be speaking to the new employee in person. 

I have been testing a few tools over the past few years, and I’ll share my favorite ones with you:

Slack for real-time communication

Slack is one of the huge facilitators of remote work. Slack’s room chats and file-sharing features make team-based communication so much easier. It also makes it simple for your new hire to reach out to you or any coworker to ask questions.

Trello for project management

An easy-to-use app like Trello is your best bet to manage the onboarding tasks with your new hire, and then move forward with job-specific projects. You can use Trello to create projects, define workflow, assign tasks, define due dates, collaborate with team members, and more.

DocuSign for electronic agreements

DocuSign allows you to send all the paperwork involved with the onboarding process to your employee electronically. That makes it faster for you and easier for them. Moving forward, after your remote employee is onboarded, I guarantee that you will end up using DocuSign a few other times.

Toggl for time tracking

A time tracking tool will make your remote employees manage their time effectively, consequently be more productive. Toggl is one of the best time tracking tools out there for remote teams. It shows how long each task is taking for each team member and provides a dashboard on your team’s performance.

Zoom for Video Chat

Zoom provides a remote conferencing service that combines video conferencing, online meetings, chat, and mobile collaboration. It’s fast and easy to use. Moreover, it provides transcripts of your video chats automatically and you can even record them.

Onboard Remote Employees With Ease

With a structured plan and the right set of tools, remote onboarding can be made simple.

The secret to a seamless onboarding remote employees lies in three main points:

  1. Leverage technology (automate the paperwork part of the process if you can)
  2. Take every small opportunity to integrate your remote worker to the company’s culture (remember that this lies on the details)
  3. Communicate all the expectations right from the beginning and don’t assume your employee knows what you want

Remember that the onboarding process is all about giving the support necessary for the employee to feel comfortable in the new role. 

Consider having frequent check-ins during the first few months. 

Also, make sure to set a 90-day roadmap to ensure that your remote employee has clear goals. This will keep the new hire from feeling lost or overwhelmed.

Lastly, don’t hesitate to bring your new hire on-site to meet the team if you have a physical office. If you have an all-remote company, you can organize a company-wide getaway. 

Having the team together once in a while can strengthen interpersonal relationships, which can be extremely beneficial for the workflow.

Now that you know how to onboard your remote employees with ease, you can enjoy the perks of hiring from a limitless pool of talent.


Josh Fechter
Josh Fechter is a business strategy consultant and founder. He's written several world-recognized books on software configuration, speaks Spanish, ballroom dances, and owns The Product Company and Squibler.