The world has changed over the past twelve months. Walks suddenly became the highlight of our social calendars, “you’re on mute” was probably the most uttered phrase globally and masks are now a common sight.

The world of work has also been reconstructed to reflect this new order, as offices emptied, we all began to work remotely. While the shift to home-work was initially temporary, many people enjoyed the extra flexibility that it provided to their workday. It became easier to handle wider life responsibilities such as childcare, and most businesses reported increases in productivity and employee happiness.

As a result of these unexpected benefits, most businesses are seeking to permanently introduce more flexibility into their work patterns.

This is an ongoing revolution, but we’re already beginning to see signs that our work processes are adjusting. For example, rail operators have begun to introduce part-time, “carnet” season tickets, which will be targeted at people who are only in the office a few times a week.

Other companies are investing millions in their technology and cloud infrastructure, to let their teams access files as seamlessly as if they were in the workplace. However, not everything can be adjusted as easily.

Joining a new company often inspires excitement and fear in equal measure. We have the elation of being offered a new role – which comes as a reward for all of the hard work exerted during the job seeking process.

But we also have the fear of the unknown – moving to a new environment where we may not know anyone, as well as the need to impress and prove that you were the correct candidate to hire.

Organisations have an incentive to reduce this fear. Most companies want someone who can come in and hit the ground running, by seamlessly slotting into an existing team. Employees can’t do this if they’re nervous and anxious, so the ideal onboarding process will support the confidence of a new joiner.

The difficulties of remote onboarding

Before the pandemic, most new joiners to an organisation would be able to walk into an office and acquaint themselves with their new colleagues. Many companies would often go further, in organising an activity such as a welcome meal to help their new team member settle in.

This helped to build familiarity and rapport amongst employees, as they learned how to operate with each other, and acclimatised themselves to their surroundings. As they became more familiar with the new company, they’d become less anxious, and this would allow them to work to the best of their abilities.

Working remotely complicates this process. Getting to know someone is far more difficult when limited to purely digital forms of interaction. Much of the way that we communicate with each other is non-verbal, and we often pick up cues through body language and tone. These aren’t things that are easily transmittable through instant messaging or videocall services, and this makes it harder for a new joiner’s confidence to be built up.

Methods of improving the remote onboarding process

Invest in building personal relationships among your team

It’s impossible to overstate the value of team rapport. Teams that are closer to each other have a much higher likelihood of working more efficiently – for example, by helping out a co-worker who might be struggling with the workload in a busy period.

The key to building up this kind of closeness is through proximity and interaction. In a normal office environment, this happens naturally, think of striking up a conversation at the water cooler, or cracking a quick joke at something which has happened.

These are all shared experiences that help to bring teams together. When working remotely, the likelihood of these relationships developing organically drastically reduces. As such organisations need to make a real effort to create the environments and channels to support social development, and for teams to learn about each other.

As a suggestion, you could think about setting up a once a month Zoom call where work related conversation is banned. This will help your teams get to know each other!

Set clear expectations

We often want to prove ourselves when joining a new organisation. Whether we’re aiming to please, showing off what we can do work wise or attempting to make friends, we’re often in constant showcase mode for the first few weeks that we join the company. All of this pressure, and the high expectations that lead to it drive feelings of uncertainty and anxiety, and this prevents new employees from operating at their best.

By setting expectations that are clear and easily measurable, you remove some of this uncertainty. New team members will be confident that they are fitting in well. Further, this creates clarity at a time where they’ll likely be overburdened with new processes and inductions!

Remove ambiguity and provide relevant information

In starting a new role, our brain is often filled with large quantities of information. What the passwords to computer systems are, where to save a document, who has allergies in the office – it takes a lot of mental effort to put these details to memory. This is even harder when we’re working remotely, as we’re unable to turn to our employees to ask for help.

By only keeping the information shared to the most relevant details, we reduce the odds of a worker being anxious about forgetting something.

The past year has brought with it changes that would’ve been unthinkable just twelve months before that. We’re still determining the best way of working going forward, and unfortunately, this has created gaps in how we can effectively onboard workers. However, by setting clear expectations, sticking to relevant information and investing in the personal relationships of your team, you can begin to enjoy the benefits of confident workers.





Marcus is the founder of Totem, an employee engagement and culture app that provides teams space to share achievements, Kudos, common interests, and updates to build community, trust, and belonging. Prior to Totem, he led development teams at Mind Candy in London and at Electronic Arts in LA and San Francisco, then founded Play, a gamification and product design studio that creates consumer-grade digital experiences for businesses.