I distinctly remember opening my inbox on December 4th (it was my Dad’s birthday … easy date to remember) to a “Congratulations!” email. After searching for months for a job during a pandemic, the moment finally happened.
I was ecstatic to tell my friends and family that I had been offered a position doing something I enjoy.
Then it hit me. I was about to work for a remote company. I live in a 700sqft apartment, where the heck would I put a desk?! Can I mentally take on working remotely? How would the onboarding process look? Is it a remote team, or are my future coworkers close to the head office?
Did you ever wonder if onboarding started before the new employee’s first day?
The answer is yes.
Think about the tools or hardware the hire will need to be successful in working remotely. Will they need a company phone? Desktop? Printer?
I was sent a laptop before day one and some swag (the swag made me even more excited to start working).
The computer made it much easier to separate work life from my own life.
If you are sending a laptop or desktop out, I suggest having the IT team set up the tools and trinkets that the hire will need to be successful. Or, you could create and send videos on how to install the required tools.
Tools that Make Remote Training Easier:
1. Chat App
How does your team communicate with each other?
As a remote company, it is essential to have a platform where all team members can have access to talk. Slack connects with various apps making it easier to share content with your team.
LastPass is an excellent tool for providing access to websites without the many fears that come with sharing passwords. It’s like sharing the same cake with people who are 3,000 miles away.
If you use an e-learning system, have passwords for training courses set up ahead of time.
3. Needed Website Logins
If there are websites your team uses regularly that will be helpful, share them with your team member.
Day one, this extension saved my life. I am a sucker for having 100 tabs open at once. This tool will keep your tabs into groupings where you can edit, delete, or reopen any and all the tabs.
Best for last. One of the many things that have made my first month easy going is the use of Giphys! Onboarding can be stressful for the new hire, and it can seem very serious. Lighten the mood with a good laugh by sharing a Gif.
The First Week
I have heard and been a first-hand victim of both jumping off the diving board and being walked into the shallow end for the first week of a new job. These are two vastly different extremes that can determine how the employee views a company (and it won’t be good).
So you may be wondering, how do I find a good middle ground?
Well, there are a few factors that you should consider when developing a remote training program that will work for your new hire:
1. Schedule the first week
Use your Google tools and set up a week’s schedule on the new hire’s calendar. When they sign on for the first time, it may seem like a lot, but they will know what to expect and see that they have breaks (#2).
If you don’t want to use the calendar, you can create a document and include that before day one. I recommend the first half-hour to an hour is exploring any tools or equipment sent.
The second hour could be a one-on-one overview of how the week and onboarding process will look. I cannot tell you how much more comfortable I was after an hour conversation with my boss.
2. Allow self-reflection and self-learning breaks
At times you may not be face-to-face with the new hire, and won’t be able to see how exhausted or confused they look, or can’t tell if they are overwhelmed. They also may not feel comfortable yet saying if they are being given too much information.
I would recommend encouraging the employee to take a 15-30 minute break after each learning activity so they can get up and move around, look over the notes, or grab a snack. If they feel ready to continue, they will let you know.
3. Add in a webinar
You can throw in some webinars so the new employee can watch without interacting. This will give them a little break from the one-on-one interactive training.
Maybe you send them something interesting that relates to your company, but not necessarily something they will work directly with. It will allow them to learn about the company but seem like a break from onboarding.
4. Weekly check-ins
This goes beyond the first week, but make sure to schedule a day and time to check in and have that employee engagement. Verify that no one is overwhelmed and that the new hire feels comfortable at the pace he/she is going.
My boss and I have 30 minute weekly open conversations. This ranges from personal life to highs and lows at work, or questions that I may have. I found this less structured format to be more relaxed and I feel more comfortable asking questions.
5. Offer to buy lunch (or breakfast)
Want to show how great of a remote company you are?! Inter said they would reimburse my lunch for the first day since we are all remote workers and couldn’t have a team meal. This made me feel extra special on my first day, and it shows they do care. Offering a meal is a small thing that can go a long way.
Keep a Reasonable Pace
To summarize, you don’t want to throw every password and tool their way on day one. Spread it out throughout the first week or two. As someone who likes to stay busy and learn new things, I had a lot of information thrown my way. However, I was reassured the whole time if the pace was too fast or if we needed to revisit a topic.
In the swimming pool analogy, think of it as wanting to hold hands and jump in the deep end from the pool’s edge. Allow guidance and flexibility while feeding information and providing tools they will need to succeed in week one.
How Does the Brain Handle Remote Training?
Why follow the above method?
Let’s take a step back from onboarding and revert to psychology. The human brain can only absorb so much information at one time.
According to the Cognitive Load Theory, our working memory can only hold five to nine items of information simultaneously. Think about that next time you are introducing a new subject or group of people to an employee.
After the information has been processed in the working memory, it gets transferred to the long-term memory into different “schemas.” If these schemas are repeated multiple times, they will be stored as an “automation.”
When I was doing my training, I was shown how to perform a task, and then I would present what my coworker showed me. By learning then doing, I developed the working memory items into the long-term memory quicker because I was repeating them right away.
Consider cognitive load when you plan your remote training program.
Here’s an idea of what that could like:
Introduce Team Members Gradually
It is nerve-racking for a new remote employee to virtually walk onto a team and not know anyone. The answer here really depends on how big the team is. Inter has a small full-time team, so I met all of them on the first day without feeling overwhelmed. Then, I met some of our freelance team that following week.
As a new hire to a remote company, I would not want to meet more than 20 people on day one. I wouldn’t remember anyone’s name, and it would be very intimidating.
If you are a larger company, I recommend first introducing only the employees that the new hire will be directly working with. Follow up with scheduling one-on-ones with other team members later on in the week.
Space Out the Remote Training Timeline
If your company is remote, it would be a good idea to have a two-month onboarding process.
Depending on how fast the new hire picks up concepts, these two months can turn into six weeks. But, you do not want to overwork your new employee to an early burnout, as mentioned above.
Two months is the longest I recommend pushing out because you want to keep things fresh and your hire continually learning. You don’t want to drag things out where the hire is bored and not getting work done.
My company compiled some online training requirements for my position of Account Coordinator. By the end of my first month, I had the knowledge and skills to start taking on more opportunities by completing scheduling one-on-ones and Advanced Analytics. I also had one-on-one virtual training sessions with various team members to walk through tasks that I would take over.
Leave out the lingo, too. Find out which buzzwords to avoid.
How to Structure Remote Employee Training
Here’s a breakdown:
1. Divide Subjects by Day
If you are about to introduce multiple subjects or topics to the new hire, I suggest breaking them up into different days. This will help with any confusion by staying on the same subject matter all day.
For example, take one morning for a corporate training session — tasks like meeting with HR and getting to know the business as a whole. Then spend the afternoon allowing them to utilize eLearning courses like the ones mentioned above (Hubspot has excellent tools).
This also goes back to the Cognitive Load Theory.
2. Follow a Sensible Sequence
Be cautious of the order in which you are teaching. Peel back the onion one layer at a time, or else it will make you cry.
3. Set the Stage
Share a tool, explain how it works, then explain how it integrates with your business. If you start with C and backtrack to A, this information will not stay in their brain.
When utilizing any software within your company, be sure to explain the general use of it before diving deep into the specific process of how you use it.
This is probably the only thing I would’ve changed in my remote learning process. I wasn’t exposed to the platform we use before getting the walkthrough of how it plays into my role. When I had this walkthrough, I was very confused with the jargon of the platform because no one had explained it.
4. Go Over Primary Responsibilities First
Have a one-on-one virtual training day on the second day to focus on the primary responsibility of the job. For me, this was focusing on project management tasks and walkthroughs of the tools and resources Inter uses.
This training strategy will help the employee focus on one part of the job or company at a time.
If the employee’s role has multiple responsibilities, then break them down into categories. The employee won’t feel like they are drinking out of a firehose if the remote training sessions flow makes sense and connects.
Related: What It Means to Work at Intergrowth
Virtual Live Training is Key
By virtual, I mean physically talking or seeing the person on Zoom, Slack, or Uberconference. You may be thinking this is obvious, but this can be overlooked by sending articles or various training materials.
Here are four reasons why virtual sessions are as important as digital learning:
Your new hire just signed up to talk to no one all day with remote work. By having one-on-one training sessions via Zoom or Slack, you engage with your new employee and make the transition to a remote job easier.
They will need that employee engagement while working remotely. Support your employees and look for moments of high stress. Create a Zoom call to talk about anything for 10 minutes to get their mind off of work and life for a moment.
2. Getting to Know Each Other!
These hour-long walkthroughs provide more time to get to know each other. Start with some icebreakers! There’s no office lunch space where you can munch on a sandwich and talk about how the weekend was.
3. Ask Questions in Real-time
If you gave the employee a packet to read, then it will be harder to get clarification and ask a question on the spot. This could further delay the training process.
4. Confirm they are Receiving the Information
If you give a new hire a book or article to read, how do you know they read it? There is no supervision for a remote workforce. Thus, if you have a video call with the new employee, you know what they will get out of their learning experience.
What If You Can’t do Virtual Training?
- If your new employee doesn’t have access to virtual training or prefers to keep the camera off, still show your face when doing a walkthrough.
- If connection speeds are a problem, hop on a call or turn both cameras off and remain voice to voice.
- When in doubt, reach out. Send a survey to see how they are feeling.
Recap and Remote Training Checklist:
Here is a breakdown of what we’ve covered in this post. Use it as a checklist in creating your own remote training program.
What Worked Well:
- Loved E-meeting the team right away on the first day. Yes, it was a little intimidating, but it was good to see faces and know what everyone did on day one.
- The first week was scheduled for me. I wasn’t waiting for things to happen. They had a plan set with a full calendar week of calls and things to do.
- I enjoy learning then doing, so this process worked very well for me — however, I can see it being a challenge for others that can’t take a lot of information at one time.
- Eight-week onboarding process — this made things less overwhelming. It was still a lot of information, but it was well put together so I would have repetitive practice certain weeks.
- Weekly check-ins — this was great because it can be mentally tough working for a remote company. That never would happen because there are weekly team meetings, and one-on-ones with the boss to make sure everything is going well.
- LOOM! Loom video walkthroughs were amazing because I can always go back to them. If I was reading my notes and was confused about a step in the process, I could go back and watch the loom videos. This was great in the first month.
- Having a buddy. Something so simple felt so comforting. It is sometimes intimidating talking to the boss or asking them questions. But being able to go to my buddy knowing the conversation stays between us is like wearing the snuggly knowing you’ll always be warm.
What Didn’t Work as Well:
- I logged on my email to over 50 emails. These were mostly calendar invites, but very intimidating.
- Alternatively: Click “no” when asked “Would you like to send invitation emails to Google Calendar guests?” and send a quick email letting the new hire know they can check out the calendar for what the upcoming week looks like.
What I Wish Happened:
- The laptop that was provided already had the tools/software download (this would’ve been easier if there were an IT team).
What I Recommend:
- After sending out the offer letter to your employee-to-be, think about the tools and hardware that the employee will need to succeed on their first day. Follow up with them until that first day starts to verify that everything got to them on time.
- When you compile a list of onboarding tasks or add it to their calendar, separate the subjects. Don’t talk about a Project Management System, and then switch over to the Finance System. It wouldn’t make sense, and the new employee could confuse the two. Instead, walk through one on Monday and the other on Tuesday.
- That first week should allow for many small breaks (15ish minutes) for the employee to digest information. Because as we know now, the working memory can only hold five to nine pieces of information at a time.
- Be sure to hold video calls whenever possible in the training stage. It is essential for the hire’s mental health, and they can ask questions in real-time. They may need you to go over a task differently so they can understand it.
- My favorite onboarding experience is that my superior and I have weekly calls to check in. This ranges from any work matters to talking about our personal lives. It allows me to ask all the questions I need to and take a minute to step away from work and catch up with a coworker.
Will you be doing more hiring? Check out our Guide to Hiring a Top-Tier Content Writer.
Hopefully having an employee perspective on remote training will help you in the development of your own.
Whether you use a formal learning management system or just a few training materials, adopting a “learn at your own pace” practice for at least a few training elements will increase the chances of retention. Remote working is the future, so set a plan now for remote training success.