Remote Onboarding – Tips for staying human

April 15, 2020

I’m writing this from my couch. You’re probably reading it from your couch. I guess that’s the new normal for those of us fortunate enough to be able to work remotely during this pandemic.

It’s been an adjustment for everyone. Some of those adjustments have been easier than others. Moving a weekly check-in to Slack might have been easy, but trying to remotely onboard a new hire is a little trickier. It’s hard to maintain the human element of your onboarding experience when you’re trying to create it from a distance.

Here are just a few tips we’ve seen from People teams striving to make their new hire onboarding workflows fun and personal while mitigating as much anxiety as possible.

Send them something fun

You’re probably already shipping them a laptop and some other critical supplies, so use the opportunity to throw in a few more things. A short hand-written note goes a long way to let them know there’s a person behind the package. And maybe include a company shirt that they can proudly wear on their first day, or a branded notebook they can keep on their desk at home. You could even be a little sneaky and add a “What’s your favorite candy?” question in their intro survey, then throw a box of that in the shipment as well. Just imagine an amazing spread on your new hire's desk for their first day in an office, then try to replicate it.

Schedule one-on-ones with the team

Working remotely, everyone is more reliant on tools like Slack and Zoom. And that’s a difficult enough adjustment for everyone, but it’s even harder for a new hire who hasn’t created in-person connections with the team. Help create those connections by scheduling one-on-one time (on video) with their team members. Don’t overwhelm them — keep the meetings to 30 minutes and make sure they aren’t back to back with other meetings or sessions — but help them build the connections that will allow them to work and communicate with their teammates remotely.

Create social downtime

In their first week, a new hire's schedule is likely to be packed with a lot of meetings and orientation sessions. (If not, make sure to schedule time so they have direction!) In between those scheduled blocks, you don’t want them feeling lost or unsure of exactly what they should be doing. They should have downtime (or they'll be totally exhausted), but they won’t have their team members around them to chat with and pass time like they would in the office. Do what you can to facilitate that informal socialization in a group video call (we highly recommend a virtual team lunch on their first day) or a fun Slack channel (where you can coordinate asynchronous games like team bingo or two truths and a lie). And make sure there are enough fun things (plus a few productive things) they can do to pass time, so your new hires aren't stuck wondering what to do and feeling unproductive/bored in an already anxious time.

Share tips on remote working

There are some great guides to remote working from companies like Buffer and Gitlab, which have had fully distributed teams from the start. And there are endless blog posts you could share. We also recommend sharing some personal tips you have for working remotely, or some of the healthy patterns that your company has settled into that could help them acclimate to working remotely at your company specifically.

But, again, don’t be overwhelming. Only send them what you expect them to read. Don’t send a ton of reading that they have to find time to do. Some light reading might be a good in-between-meetings activity, but a long list of guides and blog posts might increase anxiety if they feel like they have to get through all of it.


We hope this helps. More than anything else, it’s important to be as empathetic as possible. Put yourself in their situation and try to feel what they’re feeling — hopefully lots of excitement, but probably with an extra dose of anxiety.

We’d love to hear any tips you’ve found useful for onboarding new hires remotely, and we’re always down to chat best practices if you want to give our team a shout at!

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