How to Conduct Remote Onboarding That Doesn't Suck


In-person or remote, employee onboarding is broken. Gallup found that only 12 percent of employees think their company did a good job onboarding. Companies lose 17% of their new hires within the first three months and 20% of all staff turnover occurs within 45 days of employment—and ineffective onboarding is a big reason why. 

A survey of people who left jobs soon after being hired revealed the top things organizations do wrong with new employees: not clearly defining job responsibilities; poor or ineffective training; and a lack of friendliness and helpfulness from colleagues. 

Hassle aside, turnover also creates unnecessary expenses: The cost of replacing an employee ranges from 90 percent and 200 percent of their annual salary. For an employee who was making $50K, that’s $45,000 to $100,000 that could be spent on developing your current employees or growing your product. 

Meanwhile, a strong onboarding process can actually improve new hire retention by 82 percent and productivity by over 70 percent, according to Glassdoor.  

So your company needs to invest in onboarding in order to succeed. That’s especially true now, since the shift to widespread remote work has complicated the typical onboarding process.

Because if your employees can’t raise questions or concerns to a live human that will respond quickly, they’ll feel confused at best, neglected at worst. If your employees need to send five emails to get one login, they’ll start to resent you. If you have to reschedule all your onboarding Zoom meetings, your employees will be stuck at home with nothing to do—and no way to prepare for their new role. 

All of that contributes to churn. But it is possible to conduct remote onboarding that meets—and exceeds—the in-person equivalent. All it takes is planning, powerful tech, proactive communication, and the most important part: a true desire to help your team succeed. 

An example of a remote onboarding solution offered through BigMarker

1. Don’t skimp, restructure

After a year marked by Zoom meetings, we all know that our attention spans get shorter online. To keep your new employees’ attention (and let’s be real, get them started faster), you might consider shrinking your onboarding program to just the essentials. Don’t.

Your employees—your talent—are your company’s single biggest investment. So it’s better to err on the side of overpreparing them before they act on behalf of your company. 

That said, online-only onboarding can be a huge mental and physical drain. So restructure it in a way that improves attention, comprehension and enjoyment. 

Take some tips from Zoom webinar teachers; Opt for more frequent, shorter videos (10-25 minutes) over fewer, longer videos (45-90 minutes). This way, your audience can break down big concepts into more digestible components—and master one topic before needing to memorize five more. Besides keeping people engaged, it creates a more manageable learning environment. 

Just be sure to display the length of each video next to its name on your platform. Otherwise, your employees will see that they have to watch 100 videos, assume they’re full-length and instantly check out. 

And just like you’re breaking up big topics into smaller chunks, vary the content of individual videos. Instead of lecturing at the screen for 20 minutes straight, consider speaking for 10 minutes, playing a video or screen share to visualize your message, then speaking again. Switching up the stimulus will hold your audience’s attention while also explaining the material from another perspective. 

2. Automate training

In my last job, I went through an in-person onboarding week that included 21 sessions with my colleagues. My coworkers cancelled 14 of those meetings for deadlines, client requests and “things that came up.” 

Come Friday afternoon, I felt totally unprepared to do my job. More importantly, I sensed that my company prioritized making quick deadlines over developing their talent—and was talking to recruiters within 2 months. 

By no means should you outsource your entire onboarding program to the machines. But you can pre-record the bulk of your training content ahead of time, then upload it to a virtual onboarding solution with enough engagement features to keep your employees interested. For instance, BigMarker’s virtual training solution and engagement hubs can be used for onboarding, and provide the powerful and immersive video experience your employees need to master their job. 

This way, your employees can receive the information they need, at their pace, with minimal scheduling issues or interruption for your team.  

On BigMarker, users can build automated training sessions by organizing the session's elements into a pre-scheduled workflow (pictured above)

3. Incorporate your brand personality

Brand “personality” can be exaggerated and overplayed, but it’s a huge value-add for remote onboarding. Why?

So much of an employee’s satisfaction—and performance—comes down to culture fit: how they mesh with fellow employees and align with your company’s broader mission. In-person, they’d be able to join conversations in the break room, overhear conversations with customers, or simply look around and see if they feel, work and approach life similarly to their peers.

Those instant gut checks aren’t possible in a remote setting. So your employees will look elsewhere for cues—your onboarding videos, your initial emails, etc. If your onboarding program is dry, stiff and stilted, your employees will assume that people in your company are buttoned-up and uncommunicative, whether that’s true or not.

So write and narrate your onboarding materials in your company’s “voice” and style. Valve’s employee handbook achieves this perfectly: Before interacting with a single person, new employees will already know how they function within the company’s culture, and how to respond to inevitable situations at work, just from reading that guide.  

4. Create different tracks for different job skills

In an ideal world, you’d individualize your onboarding program entirely to each new employee’s learning style and personality. Unfortunately, that’s not possible for most businesses. However, you can and should tailor your training programs to different skillsets and job functions within your organization. 

Let’s say you’re the COO at a software company conducting onboarding for new dev, marketing and support employees. 

While everyone will need the same basic intro to the company, their tracks need to diverge from there. The marketing person needs a thorough but top-level overview of the software so that they can sell and message to it effectively, explained in “real” terms that outside audiences will understand. Meanwhile, the dev person needs to know all your arcane technical features in order to perform their basic job functions—and can probably digest that industry jargon already. 

Produce different sessions for each of these use cases. Then for each employee, outline a schedule of which lessons to take, in which order. This produces a cohesive experience that teaches people what they need to know, and nothing they don’t need to know, in a language they understand. 

5. Send new employees a welcome pack

Before beginning a remote job, your new employees may not know what to expect. The week before their first day, send a “welcome pack” email that gives new employees the general information they need in their first days and months at the company. 

That includes: 

  • the telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of important colleagues that the employee will be collaborating or working with
  • any logistical information they’ll need to access their virtual onboarding program
  • troubleshooting tips and a process for escalating tech issues
  • a welcome video to give them an informal, bright greeting and a sense of belonging
  • a meeting invite for a 1:1 call, scheduled for the employee’s first day

That last point is by far the most important. Even the most independent remote employees need a human welcome to their new companies. Schedule a 30- to 60-minute call to “meet” them, and let them ask questions that require a longer answer.

Where we spend our time, we make our priorities. So this shows your new employee that you care about their experience at your company—and starts the relationship on the right note.   

Bonus: Make your onboarding pack a living document. If your current employees ask you the same question three or more times, assume that your new employees will have that question too. Add it to your onboarding pack to make that topic clear for your new additions moving forward. 

6. Provide immediate access to mission-critical online tools

Remote work lives and dies by the logins. New employees will need access to many online tools to do their jobs, so provide that information in a clear, always accessible document. 

Create a guide that shares what tools your company uses and how the employee can join each one, providing links, contacts and troubleshooting tips whenever possible. The less friction your employees experience in joining these platforms, the more quickly they’ll be able to collaborate with other team members—and deliver value for you. 

Also address how login credentials should be shared to minimize the risk of a data breach. 

7. Make it interactive and responsive

“OK, how is this any different from those dry driver’s ed videos I watched in high school?” you might ask.

Your employees may assume they shouldn’t interact with the presentation or actively participate. After all, nobody’s on the other side of the screen, right? In an automated webinar, employees can still interact with the presentation as if somebody’s there. Encourage them to submit comments and questions in the session’s room chat. Use a Slack relay to redirect your employee’s questions to a Slack channel, so you can answer from your phone in real-time, or close to it. 

You can also create one-page documents summing up each session, then share them via the Handouts functions. Using pop-up polls, check their understanding throughout sessions. 

An automated BigMarker webinar that is being used for product training. These webinars can be easily used for employee onboarding as well.

8. Add targeted assessments

Since you can’t always answer questions right away or read your employees’ body language, you need to rely on assessments to see what topics are sticking—and what requires more training. On BigMarker, you can create single-question and/or embedded quizzes that live right within the platform. You can also integrate with online course providers, including Thinkific, if desired.

Aim to include one assessment per topic so that you can easily pinpoint where your employees are struggling. If several employees perform below average on one assessment, ask for their feedback, then clarify or revamp that lesson accordingly. 

9. Measure results

Can’t see how your new employees are doing during their training? Get data that tells you what’s happening on a minute-by-minute basis. 

Virtual onboarding softwares capture every chat message, question, poll answer and click your employees take during each session—and even whether they’ve got your session open in their browser. The platform can also report on assessment outcomes, then push that data to your LMS, HRM, or other systems.

Use this to evaluate not only individual progress, but your onboarding apparatus as a whole. If engagement metrics and/or quiz scores are below average in a specific section, consider changing either your content or your delivery to improve understanding. Also ask your employees for feedback to ground any changes that you make. 

10. Maintain a personal touch

Your remote employees may be out of sight. But if you want them to stick around, you need to show them that they’re not out of mind. That way, if they start experiencing setbacks, they’ll know they’re supported by their team and stick with your company. Here are some simple ways to start: 

  1. Give them a weekly touchpoint: Give your new employee a slot on your calendar and stick to it. Your employees will feel more supported and secure if they’re sure that, at least once per week, they can address their concerns and talk about their development. This also saves them the uncertainty of wondering when things will be answered, when they’ll receive important feedback, etc. 
  2. Mail them a physical swag box: There’s a reason everyone’s posting pictures of their new company half-zip, coffee mug, bumper sticker, etc. to LinkedIn. People crave community—and a physical representation of their belonging to that new community. Surprise and delight new employees with a little swag—and help them celebrate the beginning of a new journey with your company. 
  3. Schedule informal connects between new and current employees: Your virtual onboarding solution will teach your employees the technical stuff. What it can’t replace are the coffee dates, elevator conversations and all the informal touchpoints where employees get comfortable with one another. So schedule 15- or 30- lunch conversations between your new employees and friendly, reliable team members. Encourage both parties not to talk shop—just get to know each other and lay a foundation for a good working relationship. 

Want to learn more about how the world's most innovative companies are harnessing video and virtual events to drive business results? BigMarker's Account Executives are here to help.

Ready to learn more?

We're available to provide pricing and guided tours of our webinar, virtual, hybrid & in-person event solutions.

Request a Demo