The new realities of the coronavirus pandemic and the social distancing orders of state and local governments have forced many businesses to transition their workforces out of the traditional office space and into the remote home office environment.

For over eight years, my company has relied exclusively on the remote home office environment for its workers and has gained extensive experience in the recruitment, onboarding and retention of these vital home remote workers in the U.S. and abroad.

We have developed a highly successful program consisting of four stages: the remote interview process, preboarding, team integration and ongoing training/employee educational development. Based on my experience, here’s how you can navigate these four remote workforce onboarding stages.

The Interview Process

Over the past eight years, we have discovered that a successful onboarding program begins with a relevant and detailed job description that informs the applicant of the company’s objectives and delivery methods. When creating a job description for a remote position, it’s important to be as detailed as possible regarding the responsibilities of the position, reporting structure and explicit work requirements. You will also need to pay close attention to the software tool needs and skill level for each of your remote workers to guarantee that everyone is working on the same system for efficiency and team management purposes. Interviews can be conducted via video conference using tools such as Zoom.

During the interview process, the remote applicant is further informed of detailed job responsibilities and company expectations. In each of their interviews, the remote applicant should typically meet at least three members of the team that they may be working closely with. In my experience, a remote workforce is further developed into a team when each team member has assisted in their recruitment. You can implement this interview strategy by communicating with team members and managers on specific job requirements to include in the job advertisement. I do not recommend delegating the interview to a recruiter or someone without knowledge of the job functions. Instead, involve senior members of the team in the interview process.

Preboarding

Once hired, the new employee should undergo a detailed preboarding process. This process should begin with a welcome email that provides an itinerary for the first few weeks and a management team contact to answer any questions. This new employee onboarding itinerary should map out all the necessary employee forms to complete, contact and bio information for each of their new team members, a short synopsis of department goals for the year, along with any necessary client project information.

At my company, we also like to provide new hires with a company handbook and access to our Slack channel, so that they can “meet and greet” their co-workers before their first day. To make them look and feel a part of our team at their home office, we send all new hires a polo shirt and coffee mug. Slack is used in most tech companies, but other broad-based communications platforms can be used for virtual “happy hours.” Making a small investment in free gear also goes a long way in establishing goodwill and helping employees feel like they are part of the team.

Onboarding

Beginning with their first day at work, we like to integrate new hires with their respective teams by having them participate in a Zoom welcome meeting with their team. We also provide them with an organization chart that identifies key management personnel and includes an overview of reporting requirements. One tip that I have found helpful is to assign new hires a dedicated mentor who can answer any questions and help them succeed in reaching project goals and company objectives. This solidifies the employee’s connection with the work and helps them feel more welcome.

Also, weekly virtual one-on-one meetings with supervisors can further the integration process and help employees reach project and professional goals. Have your new remote worker participate in one-on-one meetings with your HR, finance, IT and product development teams during the first week of work. Each of these teams plays an important role in the onboarding process by training the new employee on a wide array of company matters, such as time entry and company products and services, along with an overview of your brand and competition.

Ongoing Training

The final piece to a successful onboarding program is ongoing training. Through these virtual training sessions, my company likes to provide additional support with processes and tools specific to its operations. In my experience, this can help increase employee retention, foster innovation and improve overall job performance in a collaborative work environment.

One way to provide ongoing training is through small weekly team meetings, where the various small teams meet and go through hot topics or issues that have come up in the past week on their team project. These should be short, agenda-focused meetings that cover an issue that needs to be handled by the team. I have found that a team-based approach to handling an issue works best in this type of meeting and brings the team closer together while working through the issue resolution. Short training videos, strong mentor relationships and one-on-one meetings are some of the most successful ways to train your remote workforce.

Final Thoughts

Relying on a remote workforce is not without its own set of challenges, such as coordinating virtual meetings across multiple time zones apart. However, I have found that success in remote worker recruitment and retention stems from the development and implementation of an onboarding program that directly involves team members and management in the recruitment and interview process, makes the new worker feel welcome, and continues with the educational and professional development of the worker throughout their career.

Original article on Forbes

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