3 ways to improve remote onboarding and offboarding

by Stephen Danos

A stack of boxes with the words "Welcome to the team" written on them

Onboarding and offboarding employees remotely poses some new challenges to human resources (HR) and information technology (IT) teams. These professionals are adapting to virtual interviews, workstreams, and strategies that have the potential to reshape how they do their jobs moving forward.

In addition, new hires find themselves physically disconnected from their new teams and stakeholders, working from home until for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, employee exits are either in or out of the employee’s control, so it’s critical for employers to provide support and treat them with empathy.

With all of the changes to how we onboard and offboard team members, one thing hasn’t changed: A seamless and engaging experience helps you retain new hires, and can create advocacy for people who leave your organization. 

Many professionals connect and share content via LinkedIn (which has over 303 million active monthly users) or post reviews on sites like Comparably and Glassdoor. Positive responses to your onboarding and offboarding processes can lead to new hire recommendations from within and outside of your organization. Long story short: these experiences matter, as they can help strengthen your business.

To ensure more seamless remote onboarding and offboarding processes, HR and IT departments need to work together to find the right digital solutions, effectively manage the employee lifecycle, and create an empathetic work environment that empowers employees to be adaptable.

Profile view of two laptops, with two hands giving thumbs up gesture

1. Foster collaboration between HR and IT

Virtual communication is now the norm for many businesses, so effective collaboration is critical to improving your onboarding and offboarding processes. Siloed departments tend to impede attempts at collaboration, often leading to miscommunication, duplicative efforts, missed improvement opportunities, and incongruous business programs. 

To make sure that new hires get what they need, such as laptops, monitors, and access to the right software tools, each department should create remote onboarding and offboarding checklists in a collaborative work management (CWM) platform, such as Smartsheet. This approach provides better visibility into progress and can help you start breaking down those pesky silos.

For example, the new hire checklist would cover preboarding, the signing of digital documents, IT equipment requests, and more. The IT checklist should leave new hires feeling pretty confident that they have the right hardware and software to get work done, corporate accounts access, and proper security training. In a virtual environment, HR and IT won’t be able to meet  in person for onboarding and offboarding, but they can still make themselves available throughout the process. 

Checklists are a good place to start, but how do you provide visibility into onboarding and offboarding progress and information to HR reps, IT staff, and people managers? According to BambooHR, the average cost per hire is $4,125, so it’s important to create a process on a platform that helps align HR and IT while they support processes for onboarding and employee exit management.

Both departments can use a CWM platform to document process improvements and create information dashboards to improve transparency into onboarding. They can create an employee resource portal that provides access to HR forms, benefit documents, employee handbooks, IT service request forms, learning and development opportunities, and payroll resources. 

Going one step further, you could create a portal specifically for new hire orientation that includes a welcome video from your CEO. In the new reality of dynamic onboarding, everything you can do to make a new hire feel welcome, that they belong, and set up for success can boost the chances that they stick around in the long run.

The same goes for your offboarding experience; a thought-out digital dashboard or portal can give people who are leaving your organization a seamless transition. This could include guides for mailing equipment back to the employer, reimbursement details, best practices for virtually handing off responsibilities, and more. Ultimately, HR and IT need to collaborate on the best way to tackle the challenges that remote onboarding and offboarding create in order to stay ahead of the curve.

2. Improve employee lifecycle management

It’s important to give employees the attention they need, which means thinking beyond their first or final week with your company. According to a report by the Human Capital Institute, 87% of organizations that develop an ambassador or buddy program during the onboarding process find that it's an effective way to speed up the proficiency of new hires. 

This type of program can accompany standard HR onboarding procedures, such as 30, 60, and 90-day check-ins from an HR representative with both the employee and manager. These quick meetings help your HR team learn how well new hires are fitting in, field any questions about benefits, and help them acclimate to their new work environment, even if it’s virtual. 

During these uncertain times, you might want to limit the number of activities new hires need to complete during the onboarding process. If you don’t pare down these activities to align with remote work, the employee could become overwhelmed, stressed, and feel underqualified — all of which often lead to higher turnover. HR and IT teams can collaborate on the optimal approach for their organization, but there are three things that should be included in their processes:

  • After electronic documents are signed, create a checklist of essential activities for each new hire to complete that is shared with their manager. This list will vary based on the employee’s role, their professional goals, area of expertise, and if they are an individual contributor or a people manager. 
  • Before an employee joins or leaves your team, you can prompt them to quickly fill out a survey on how things went. This lets employees know that, while this is a standard process, you’re listening to them in order to improve their experience.
  • The IT service desk team should report any metrics on employee equipment, hardware, software, and other technology-related issues, so that they can continuously improve the process. In addition, you can create a digital form for IT requests, and flag any created by new and former employees, and track how quickly tickets are resolved. 

This granular approach can help you identify any gaps in the process, and improve the employee lifecycle and deepen the employee’s connection to the organization. IT can then check in with HR on new hires and identify any equipment gaps. Does the new hire need to be shipped anything? Are they missing a software license? 

For exits, is there a program that automatically transfers ownership of software licenses, digital documents, and more, to their manager? Do you have a list of equipment assigned to each employee, so that you can identify any equipment that’s missing, then take the appropriate next steps to retrieve it? Who knows, an employee chasing a new opportunity could return to your organization at some point or refer new talent, so you might as well provide a first-rate experience. 

Empathetic and adaptable workspaces

3. Set up adaptable, empathetic work environments

As company leaders create plans for returning to the office, they need to remember that everyone’s home situation is different. As we work through and beyond this moment, returning to an office with an open floor plan might feel daunting for many employees. In fact, some experts think we’re going to see a paradigm shift in how we work within shared office spaces.

Many companies will likely take a phased approach to moving people from their homes back to the office. If that’s the case when you’re bringing on and potentially relocating new employees, their home workspace needs to set them up for success. 

As people ramp up, increasing the frequency of manager one-on-ones can help new hires acclimate to their role, team, and how their work fits into the greater organization. Even under normal circumstances, it can take 8 to 12 months for a new hire to gain proficiency, compared to coworkers who have been at the company longer. A lot of that ties to understanding internal processes and procedures, both of which a competent manager can explain in detail, when applicable. 

A dynamic work reality might require a shift in mentality and internal communications strategy, but it will help to activate your super talented employees to think critically and contribute faster. So, check in with your new hires once or twice per week, whether you’re their manager or HR representative. A little human connection goes a long way in our current situation. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic pushed us to remote workspaces, companies with longer onboarding processes saw that new hires gain proficiency 34% faster, a difference of four months. With employees working from home, it’s potentially more important to prolong the onboarding process. And since people are connecting virtually more than they’re used to, HR and IT leaders can team up to send out regular updates via email or video recordings. For example, essential updates could include best practices for how often you should restart your laptop to improve speed or submitting IT support tickets so the team can gather data points on the severity of the issue.

Have managers check in with new hires more often during the first couple months to make sure they have action items and everything they need: training, equipment, software, documentation, and information on employee benefits and resources. If you help keep the new hire invested in the company, their work, and their professional development, you’ll improve your retention rate — and have happier employees wherever they’re working.

HR and IT teams are the backbone of successful onboarding and offboarding. The partnership between these departments can grow stronger by breaking down silos and maintaining visibility into important workstreams and processes. Remote work could become standard at many organizations moving forward, creating new pathways for attracting and retaining the best talent. So, whether your new hire lives 10 or 2,000 miles away from your corporate headquarters, HR and IT teams play pivotal roles in making sure they stick around.

There’s no doubt that HR and IT departments have their hands full right now. Smartsheet offers template sets for remote onboarding and remote offboarding, IT operations for remote workers, phased return to work, and many other critical processes. To use these template sets, you can sign up for a free, 30-day trial.