A terrible comic I just made. Featuring "Julie the remote worker" 8AM - First day at my new job! Grinning face with smiling eyes 8:30AM - mmm... wait... how do I start my day? Grimacing face 8:45AM - refresh refresh refresh!!! Pouting face(Julie opens her email and is annoyed) 9:00AM - Oh no... do I even have a job? did they forget about me? Face with cold sweat 9:30AM - What time is it for my manager? ooooh , 4AM! Smiling face with open mouth and cold sweat 9:45AM - well, I'll send an email to HR and my manager, I guess!? Thinking face Julie waited for 2 hours without access... and it could have been avoided!

Remote Onboarding 101: tell them Where, When, and How to show up.

“How do they know I started my day?”

Your new employee at 9AM, wondering if you already fired them.

Why aren’t they here yet? It’s 10AM!

You, because you assumed someone else told them how to login to Slack.

A while back a friend was about to start a job in a remote organization, and they sent me a panicked message: “It’s 10 AM, I don’t even have the credentials to login to anything… what am I supposed to do?” followed by their brain running wild, thinking that maybe their offer had been rescinded. Unfortunately, that was the first but not the last time I would hear a similar story from a new remote worker.

You went through so much trouble to find a great person to join your team. You sold them on the mission, you evaluated a lot of people, and they evaluated you. They met some of their new teammates. Everyone was excited when you extended an offer, and you were relieved when they signed. But now it’s finally their first day, and instead of excitement about meeting their new team, they are worried because of a problem that could have been prevented with a short e-mail. That’s no way to start a new relationship. You know where I’m going with this…

You can stop this from happening by setting clear expectations ahead of time.

Ensure no new employee has to wonder “Do I still have a job?” on their first day.

Be explicit, avoid panic.

Write a welcome email that they can refer to from their personal email account to get started on their first day. This isn’t the full onboarding documentation, it’s simply a set of guidelines and expectations that help them be confident as they get ready to start working together. The next few points cover what I expect to see in such an email.

Tell them when and where they are expected to “show up” on their first day.

Many remote organizations don’t have a “start time” or specific work hours that they expect employees to respect, so they forget that new people may need clear guidelines. A new employee being told “you can set your own hours” may be happy to hear that in the interview, but the first day shouldn’t allow for that much uncertainty. They don’t really know you, and they don’t know what’s going on unless you tell them. Even if you really don’t have a daily schedule, make sure they have a “check in” time that’s been agreed upon ahead of time. You can do this with a calendar invite very easily.

Ensure someone will be online to welcome them to the team

Someone from their team (it can be the manager, but it doesn’t have to be) should be around to greet them, ensure they are in all the right channels and have access to every critical tool. They should be someone who can offer to answer any questions they may have and help them as they go through the initial onboarding tasks. The way I like to do this is combining the calendar invite for their “initial check-in time” with a 1:1 meeting, so their first hour or two is really about showing up for a call and getting to know each other, instead of trying to read through docs on their own.

Plan for things to fail at the worst possible time.

Let them know what to do if for any reason they cannot log-in to a critical system that they require to start their day. I’ve had situations where someone’s power went off unexpectedly, and it’s really stressful if you don’t know what’s going on.

The solution? Share a phone number that they can call if something is preventing them from coming online.

Tell them what their first day is supposed to look like

I will go over the details in another post, but I wanted to mention the importance of letting people know what to expect on their first day. If you know that X, Y, Z things will be happening, it’s good to let them know too.

Ask for their feedback

The welcome email is a good opportunity to ask for their feedback about the interview process. If you can, add it in the welcome email, and then ask again in your first 1:1. A new employee remembers details and how things made them feel. While they may not be ready to be fully transparent yet, it sets a good expectation, and some people actually share their thoughts once asked.

Welcome e-mail template

Dear $name, 
welcome to $company. We are all looking forward to working with you! 
As your first day approaches, we wanted to send a few important details about your first day to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible.
Of course, if you have any questions about the process, or run into any problems, do not hesitate to ask.  

# Start time

While we don't have official, company-wide working hours, we recognize that the first day in any company requires more structure. I would like to invite you to join me for a 1:1 at $time on $day, where we will be going over your onboarding plan, getting to know each other, and ensuring you have access to all the critical systems and tools you will need. Please confirm your attendance in this $link, or suggest a different time if you have any conflicts. 

# In case of emergency
If you run into any problems on your first day, please email or call me at $number.

# Gear

You will be receiving your company issued laptop and a welcome package in the mail by $date. Please verify you received everything in good shape, and let me know if you run into any issues. 

# What to expect

We want to ensure you are set-up for success in your career at $company. You will be meeting with me during the first 2 hours, and after our meeting you will have a couple of hours to work on getting your environment set-up and say hi to your colleagues. At $team, we believe in build strong relationships with everyone, not just the people in our immediate group. I encourage you to set up a few 1:1s with peers in other areas to learn more about the organization (don't worry, we can arrange this during our first call). 
Our team has their weekly staff meeting at $time, please join us. You will have an invitation for this meeting in the $company calendar.
I will walk you through the plan for the week, and we will be setting up your onboarding task list together, so there's no need to worry about that yet. 

We know starting a new job can be stressful, so please do let me know if there's anything else you would like to know. 

I would love to hear about your experience interviewing at $company, so please bring your comments to our first meeting (or e-mail me). We want every new employee to have a great experience, and new employees who just went through the hiring and onboarding processes often provide creative and important fixes and feedback that the rest of us missed. 

Thank you, I hope you have a great day.  


Do the little things right.

After the candidate signs the offer and has a confirmed start date, you can use a template similar to the above, include all the relevant information, and send it via email.

You don’t want your new teammate to start their day worried because they can’t manage to log into Slack or get to their Email account… and while onboarding often takes months, even the little things we do have an impact in how people experience the process.

There is more to do before the end of their first day.

I will be covering Onboarding Checklists, Feedback, preparing for infrastructure failures, and other initial tasks in other posts. Subscribe to get more remote onboarding tips in the comfort of your inbox.

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