Remote Employee Onboarding, Done Right

I had my first job the summer I turned 11, at the local fabric store where my mom worked part-time. When the sales floor was full of customers, I would put fabric bolts back into their slots on the color-coordinated shelves after a yard or two of material had been cut. When it was quiet, I’d sit in the back office, typing customer names from the store’s handwritten guest book into the computerized mailing list.

Now, a “certain” number of years later, my resume doesn’t fit on one page. Since graduating from college, I’ve had six different employers: a Congressional office, an advertising agency, a retail company, state government, a laboratory, and most recently, Dragonfly Editorial.

As my start date approached, I wasn’t sure what to expect. On the one hand, my “new job” wasn’t really that new; I was doing the same type of writing and content creation work I’d done for years. I was bringing two of my long-standing clients with me, and on my first day, I sat down at the same desk in my dining-room-corner home office that I’d used the week before.

But in other ways, my first week at Dragonfly was very different from any other job I’ve ever had. 

After sending a few emails to my “carryover” clients, I drummed my fingers on my desktop for a moment. What would I do until my HR orientation Zoom meeting? I opened my new Dragonfly email account, assuming I’d see a blank screen.

Instead, a message awaited me with login information for Dragonfly’s project management system. I followed the prompts and discovered “Nancy’s Onboarding Project,” complete with several to-do lists of resources to explore and — helpfully marked with “START HERE” — the standard first-day admin tasks to complete. Thanks to this helpful list, I was able to start right away on the following tasks:

  • Reviewed assigned chapters in Dragonfly’s online training manual, which contain short written sections and brief video messages from the company’s founder and president
  • Familiarized myself with general policies, company values, and detailed information, such as:
    • Unique service offerings
    • Target customer profile
    • Marketing strategy
    • Conference schedule
    • Elevator pitch to prospects
    • Financial goals for the coming decade
  • Studied an overview of the company’s entrepreneurial operating system (EOS)
  • Learned about EOS’s role in the operational vision for all levels of the organization

I was instantly struck: This was more information than any previous employer had shared with me, certainly on day one, and sometimes ever. I’ve never been through any formal employee onboarding program, nor have I ever had an actual performance review. The extent of my “training” at any of my previous jobs wasn’t much more than what I’d gotten at the fabric store when I was 11. 

I can say, both from my own experience and from national data, that well-considered employee onboarding programs are the exception, not the rule. According to a statistic from CEOWorld Magazine, while 98% of CEOs say that onboarding programs are a key business tool, only 69% have a formal onboarding program, and 53% have a program that lasts less than a week. As more companies go fully remote, it’s critical to establish a remote onboarding program that helps employees feel like part of the team from their first day on the job.

So, what can I take from my unusual and highly positive experience as a new employee at Dragonfly (itself a fully remote organization) that might help other employers — from small businesses to large, governmental, or fast-growing organizations that sometimes struggle to get out of their own way? 

Here are a few ideas.

Creating an onboarding program is time-consuming, but totally worth it.

Be thoughtful about what you want new hires to know about your business — not just what they need to know. It’s a given that you’ll go through policies, benefits, and basic expectations and that you’ll show them how to use your business tools. But what else will help them be successful out of the gate? 

At Dragonfly, my onboarding project included “Read Me” folders for the company’s biggest clients, so I could get up to speed on the likes and dislikes of their best customers before I did any assignments for them. When projects did come my way, I felt more prepared.

Share information. 

When employees are “let in” to important internal details — like strategy, goals, resources, past challenges, and how to talk about the company — not only will they feel more included, but they’ll also be better equipped to contribute from the start.

While you can expect that employees will have informed themselves about your company during their interview process, they deserve to know more than what’s on your website once they’re hired. Of course, you need to empower employees to do the specific job you’ve hired them to do, and that usually means trusting them with some confidential information. (Yes, that goes without saying, but maybe it still needs to be said; I’ve heard of at least one marketing manager who wasn’t told the size of the company’s marketing budget, even after their first week on the job.)

Even beyond sharing mission-critical details, being open and transparent with new hires helps companies take full advantage of the fresh perspective a new employee offers — a vastly underestimated asset that has a very short shelf life.

Which brings me to a related topic …

Ask for honest and critical feedback.

One of the bigger items in my Dragonfly onboarding project was to do a marketing and communications audit. While this assignment fell naturally into my job description — since I’ll be helping to drive the company’s content strategy, in addition to writing outsourced B2B content for our clients — I’d argue that a mini-audit would be a great thing to ask of any new hire in their first month. Why wait until the end of someone’s employment, at the exit interview, to do a candid download?

Employers can gain valuable feedback from honest first impressions. And soliciting ideas for improvement at a time when the employee has a strong personal stake in helping to implement those recommendations and seeing the company succeed makes a lot more sense than asking for “parting thoughts” as someone heads out the door.

Your culture is only as good as your actions.

Talking about your compelling mission, or having an enticing list of cultural benefits on your website, will only get people to apply. Regardless of everything you say, it’s what you do after they’re hired that will get them to stay. If you pride yourself on an open and inclusive company culture, make sure your actions back that up.

One of the critical parts of the mission at Dragonfly Editorial is to decrease our clients’ stress and to approach our work with kindness and good cheer. That came through, loud and clear, during my first week as a Dragonfly employee, not because those statements appeared in the handbook or on the website, but because of the way I felt included, trusted, empowered, and truly welcomed to the team. 

For other employers wondering how to improve the onboarding experience at their own companies, I’d say Dragonfly is a strong example to look to.

Remote employee onboarding means welcoming and informing new hires.


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