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A Step-by-Step Guide for Onboarding Remote Employees

Proper onboarding is an equally vital process for in-house employees and for staff-augmented teams, outsourcing, freelancers and so on. Whatever hiring model you’re employing, the success of your operations will greatly rely on good onboarding practices.

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Proper onboarding is an equally vital process for in-house employees and for staff-augmented teams, outsourcing, freelancers and so on. Whatever hiring model you’re employing, the success of your operations will greatly rely on good onboarding practices. 

However, remote onboarding comes with its own set of unique challenges and nuances and requires a comprehensive approach that goes beyond traditional on-site strategies. 

Remote vs In-Person Onboarding: How Is It Different? 

The goals of remote and in-person onboarding are the same: to introduce, integrate and socialize the new employee. Many of the steps may be the same, too. However, the practical means and certain specific processes are quite different. 

Many companies make the mistake of trying to mimic the in-person onboarding experience, to translate it to the virtual environment. This is not always possible and it can neglect certain remote work specifics that actually have to be addressed during onboarding, such as communication channels and tools, remote work policies and remote employee dynamics. Remember that there’s no watercooler in remote work, no place where employees spontaneously gather and introduce each other in a natural way. You have to arrange for all this, and it can be a challenge.

That’s why onboarding should be tailored specifically for the virtual environment.

It will help overcome issues like: 

  • Boring and uninspired video presentations and welcome emails 

  • The new employee feeling overwhelmed by the new information and the wealth of resources

  • Too much insisting on socializing can be counterproductive for shy or introvert employees

  • Attention span is shorter online

  • Learning is faster on-site.

Remote onboarding does have its strong sides: 

  • It’s faster and more efficient

  • It’s more cost-effective

  • It has a wider reach as it doesn’t depend on location

  • It can actually lead to stronger social connections (through organized and monitored meetings, etc)

  • It helps streamline learning, training and feedback processes.

What all this means is that, with a good remote onboarding strategy and carefully planned stages, the remote onboarding process can be even more efficient and give better long-term results (especially in terms of productivity and retention) than the traditional onboarding.

Remote Onboarding Stages

Like any other strategy, the onboarding process for remote developers will work best if neatly divided into essential steps or stages. The stages can work as a checklist, helping you make sure everything is covered. 

  1. Pre-Onboarding Preparation

  2. First-Day Essentials

  3. Initial Training

  4. Communication and Role Clarity

  5. Ongoing Support

  6. Team Integration

  7. Collecting Feedback

1. Pre-Onboarding Preparation

After a candidate has accepted the offer and before they join the team, there are some onboarding elements that are better prepared in advance. 

  • Even though the employee won’t need access to office space, facilities and equipment, you still need to set up technology and access. In particular, this means setting up all the required accounts and login details, and sending invitations for internal communication channels (messengers, chats, team groups). The same goes for all other tools the employee will be using within the team: bug trackers, task managers, productivity trackers and so on. 

  • Next, the employee will need introductory and learning materials. This may include tutorials, directories with links to all the important documents, access to knowledge base, and so on. This can be a single document or an email, but don’t forget to include access to all the relevant contacts (employee emails, organizational chart, etc) as well as a short intro to the company’s missions and goals. Be careful not to overwhelm the new employee with too much information. Provide the essentials, and fill them in with the rest as they go. 

  • Another thing you may want to take care of in advance is the mentor/buddy for the new employee. While your new hire can be successfully monitored by the supervisor or team senior, recent findings have shown that peer monitoring works better. 

First of all, onboarding buddies who are equal team members guarantee for a more open and honest communication on both sides and reduce hierarchy-induced stress. Furthermore, it can be beneficial for the buddy, too - the role of the mentor gives him or her the chance to try out a supervising role. 

Some of the mentoring duties may include: 

  • Explaining the workflow, the company development and testing standards, tools that are used and different teams that work within the company

  • Explaining the project (the stage it’s in, the goal) that the new hire will be working on

  • Provide questions to any questions the new hire might have 

  • Introducing the new hire to the team

What to avoid at this stage?

When assigning a mentor/buddy, make sure you pick a team member who has a relatively clear schedule and who is voluntarily up for it. Otherwise, you may overburden the mentor which may result in resentment towards the new hire, not to mention decrease the efficiency of work. 

2. First-Day Essentials

After you’ve prepped everything and the new developer has joined the team for their first day, it’s time to start the actual onboarding. 

The first day can be a bit too much for any new employee, and for remote workers it can be even harder since everything is happening in a digitally mediated way. But since you’ve already prepared everything beforehand, the first day should be smooth and pleasant for everyone involved. 

  • A virtual meet and greet is something you may want to do right away, before everyone gets on with their daily tasks. This can be conducted by the team manager or the employee’s mentor/buddy. If you have an all-hands or town hall meeting scheduled for that day, all the better.

  • Your next step should be a brief introduction to the company culture. If you don’t already have some ready-made material (video, documents, employee guide, etc) it can be just a casual chat with the new hire. At this stage, the new remote developer should get acquainted with the company goals and mission, as well as the values and the vision. 

  • During the first day at work, the new employee might need some IT setup assistance, so make sure to set aside some time for that, and double check if everything is working properly, including account credentials. 

What to avoid at this stage?

Don’t put too many things at once on the new employee’s plate. The first day is stressful as it is, and the remote setup can make it even more disorienting. 

3. Initial Training

Regardless of their skill level, knowledge and expertise, every new hire will need some level of initial training, if nothing, then to get acquainted with processes and work methodologies in your company. 

At this point, your job is to provide all the resources and materials for self-learning: courses, ebooks, handbooks, knowledge bases, Q&As and so on. 

It’s also useful to conduct an assessment (to complement the one conducted during the candidate selection process) to determine the new employee’s experience level and skills gap, and then provide appropriate training accordingly. 

Sometimes new employees feel a certain aversion towards initial training, especially if they are entering medior or senior positions and already possess considerable knowledge. In such cases, training may seem boring and redundant. That’s precisely why it’s always recommended to perform a needs assessment, to determine the employee’s specific individual objectives when it comes to training. 

This is also the stage at which you should introduce the project specifics to the newly hired employee - the goal, the process and the stage the project’s at. 

During training, it may be useful to start with a small, self-contained task for the new employees, in a risk-free environment, where the result won’t affect the project in a negative way. The employees will be able to apply what they’ve learned, to gain confidence and to “break the ice” for the next, more significant task. For the supervisor, it will be useful for assessing how fast the employee will be able to fully integrate into the team. 

What to avoid at this stage?

Don’t expect them to know everything right away or to be delivering results in a matter of days. New employees need time to get familiar with the project, the environment, the tools, the processes, and so on. 

4. Communication and Role Clarity

Remote work is, by its nature, completely reliant on digital communication and project management tools. However, this doesn’t mean that communication between remote teams, employees and their managers should be anything less than smooth, streamlined and open. The human factor is the most important one here, and it’s essential that your team fosters a culture of open, sincere and timely communication. This notion should be an important part of the insights the new employee gets from onboarding. 

Team communication norms and tools should be clearly explained and presented straight away. If your teams use multiple channels, it should be clear which channel serves which purpose. The same goes for the tools. 

This may be the perfect time to explain the company policy regarding the required availability. This is an essential element for successful remote work in teams. For instance, in some companies, all employees need to be available at certain hours or core times. This needs to be stated very clearly. 

The availability issue is particularly important in teams with members working in different time zones. If your company is using a single-reference time zone, or uses a specific way of prioritizing messaging and task distribution, it is essential that these be communicated to the new employee during the onboarding phase. 

The same goes for the use of tools for performance measurement and productivity tracking. 

At this stage, the new remote employee needs to have a perfect understanding of his or her role in the team, the responsibilities and expectations, as well as any potential dos and don’ts. 

What to avoid at this stage?

Don’t forget to make sure that, despite the rules and procedures, the new employee should feel comfortable and confident in the team. 

5. Ongoing Support

Onboarding newly hired remote developers doesn’t end with the first day procedures and initial training. The following period needs to be marked by ongoing team and manager support, making sure the new hires feel seen and supported and that they always have someone to turn to in case of need.

Daily check-ins (which eventually become weekly or monthly check-ins) help in identifying the pace of the progress and potential difficulties. They also help the new team member remain up to date with the project and with other team members. 

After a while, you will probably want to introduce performance reviews to establish potential skill or learning gaps and to identify areas in which the employee might need additional help from you or the mentor/buddy. 

At this phase, the employee should make use of your resources for continuous learning. As you assign them more important tasks, they will need constant access to your resources and you should also encourage them in reaching out to other team members for help and information. 

What to avoid at this stage?

Don’t make your initial performance reviews too strict. In the initial period, the employee is still adjusting to the workflow and very negative reviews can kill their confidence and cause stress. 

6. Team Integration

According to a recent Glassdoor study, 89% of employees believe that a sense of belonging is vital for workplace satisfaction. With a remote work setup, the chances of employee loneliness obviously increase, so an important part of onboarding should be to encourage both the new employee and the team to reach out to each other and form a supportive, tight-knit community.  

Nothing can beat face-to-face interactions and physical presence, but there’s still a lot that can be done to foster closer team relations. 

  • Organize regular virtual team-building activities. In addition to all-hands or “town hall” meetings where the entire company is present, you can do the same on the level of teams. The new employees should be introduced on their first day and then encouraged to participate in the following sessions.

  • Don’t forget to nurture the social component by organizing quizzes, challenges, virtual pizza parties, tours of remote working locations, etc. It’s also a good idea to establish a virtual break room. 

  • Encourage collaboration by organizing hackathons, pair coding sessions, knowledge sharing sessions, and so on. 

What to avoid at this stage?

Don’t insist too much on socializing if it doesn’t feel right for the new hire. Everyone is different and your new hire may be more on the introvert side, so don’t push and don’t insist too much on sharing and public speaking.

7. Collecting Feedback

The perfect remote onboarding strategy relies on constant modifications based on insights obtained through employee feedback. After a while, when the new employee has settled in, schedule a 1 on 1 to collect their feedback and their impressions about your onboarding process. Use the insights to improve the stages of the process, introduce new ones, if needed, or fix potential bottlenecks. 

Make sure the new employee understands that it’s perfectly okay to share thoughts, impressions and feelings about the onboarding at any of the stages. The open, frank communication will create the soundest possible base for future work. 

What to avoid at this stage?

Don’t forget that, as much as you’re assessing new employees and their skills, they’re also assessing you, your team and your whole company. 


Onboarding remote developers has become a crucial process for organizations aiming to maximize productivity and seamlessly integrate new team members. By following the stages outlined in this guide, the process can be conducted with extreme efficiency. From pre-onboarding preparation to ongoing support, each stage plays a crucial role in creating a positive onboarding experience.

It is important to tailor the onboarding process specifically for the virtual environment, leveraging the strengths of remote work while addressing its unique challenges. Remote onboarding, when executed thoughtfully, can be more efficient, cost-effective, and lead to stronger social connections and streamlined learning experiences. By embracing remote onboarding strategies, you can set your remote developers up for success, enhance team integration, and pave the way for long-term productivity and employee satisfaction.

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