Building Connection in Remote Teams — It Starts with Onboarding

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Home Office

You’ve Got an Onboarding Problem — and it’s time to fix it.

These days, employers and employees are spending a lot of time online finding the right fit. In a world of remote work and endless LinkedIn profiles, it can be exhausting to go through every open position, or similarly, every available candidate. Through it all, we (sometimes) persevere and find our match.

But the matchmaking is just beginning. It’s at this point that the ball is dropped by companies around the world (yes, including yours too).

And it’s because joining a team just feels different when there’s no office to arrive at. There’s no desk set up, no awkward hellos in the hallway, and no getting-to-know-you side conversations. Instead, it’s just a walk from your kitchen to your desk, wondering what Day 1 might have in store. Remote and distributed teams often function in a disconnected and asynchronous manner, putting new employees in a tough spot.

The first day of a new job is supposed to be exciting, and ideally you’re about to really like your coworkers. But when your initial days of onboarding are just you talking to the Slackbot? Not exactly the watercooler conversation you were hoping for. Companies should be putting their focus on connection, especially ones with a remote or distributed team.

Build Connection From Day One.

According to McKinsey, 51% of employees who left their jobs in 2021 said they lacked a sense of belonging. Now they’re coming to your company. What do you have in store to make sure this time, they feel welcomed, and stay with you for years to come?

Your new hire’s first week is your chance to get them engaged, excited, and onboard. Connections to coworkers are integral for team morale and retention. As Harvard Business Review puts it, “belonging is good for business,” with a 56% increase in job performance when employees feel like they belong.

So then why is onboarding a 👋 in Slack plus some self-guided tasks?

Leadership teams need to prioritize connection amongst remote teams — because the time, energy, and money put into a workforce directly benefit a company’s health.

Get Comfortable with Hybrid and Distributed Teams.

Remote and distributed teams may be relatively new to most companies, but one thing is certain: they’re here to stay. There are plenty of businesses still perfecting their asynchronous work system.

Here are some employee-forward initiatives that companies can and should implement to show they care about coworker connections…and ones you as an employee might look for in your next role.

#1: Day 1 Introductions - Less More is More

In an office environment, the first week of work is like being the new kid at school: Where do I sit for lunch? How do I fit in with groups that have known each other for years?

In a hybrid or work environment, add these feelings to the challenges of an eerily quiet start from your home. Faceless connections and welcomes on Slack. Maybe some team wave reactions on Zoom, if you’re lucky.

At home or in the office, the results of inadequate onboarding are the same: mental exhaustion, loneliness, and a lack of belonging.

Make sure your new employees feel connected from day one by providing them the opportunity to connect with their new colleagues. At Wisq, we ask all new hires to set up a Wisq profile and make an intro post. This is not only an excellent opportunity for them to tell us a bit about themselves, but for team members to identify areas of shared interest. Immediately, everyone begins conversations and speeds up connection.

#2: Go Back to the Basics

More than ever, employees are looking for meaning and purpose in their work. During the onboarding process, companies should provide a fireside chat to new hires about the history of the company, the founders, and the mission. Ideally, this should be hosted by an executive or tenured employee. For bigger companies, this might be a monthly chat with a cohort of new hires. Building the context around the vision and mission increases connection and makes new hires feel like part of the bigger picture.

#3: Give Them a Map

Take the guesswork out of who to meet with and what’s on tap next. Creating a Day 1 guide might take managers some time upfront, but long term it pays off dividends.

Design a welcome packet with the heads of departments, a list of peers, and go-to contacts employees need to get to know in the coming weeks. Managers can also use this opportunity to share a bit about themselves — including how they like to work or their communication style through a “how to work with me guide”. Encourage employees to use the guide to kick off conversation around how they like to work as well.

You can also leverage productivity tools to release those checklist endorphins. This not only provides a sense of accomplishment, but provides a view of what’s to come. Don’t know where to start? Most project management tools have templates you can copy! Here’s a few from Airtable, Asana, and Trello

#4: Offer Peer-to-Peer Mentorship for Ongoing Success

In a hybrid and distributed workforce, it can take significant time to become acclimated, with some remote employees still having coworkers they haven’t met months after being hired (even digitally). Instead, a company might take the “the buddy system” to a professional level with peer-to-peer mentorship. It offers instant insight into company culture, tradition, advice, and office know-how without having to talk to intimidating higher-ups

#5: Give Permission — And a Space — For Socializing

Creating space for employees to get to know one another is essential when a physical space isn’t present. As the pandemic continued and remote workers needed a place to socialize, many companies adopted the “virtual watercooler.” At face value, a virtual watercooler is a chat session dedicated to topics you’d toss around the watercooler: sports, news, pop culture, and personal life. Where companies fall flat is that these conversations just scratch the surface, the topic may be chosen by someone at random, and it ends up feeling forced.

The existence of a virtual watercooler session in itself is not enough. Chats should be dedicated to personal conversations, and management should encourage (paid, on-the-clock) time spent in these digital hangouts.

Social at work should be a separate platform, not a plug-in or a channel in your workplace project management systems. By separating the two, employees are permitted to truly turn off their “work mode” and embrace genuine human connection in a new environment. Wisq, for example, is a platform dedicated to the personal lives of employees and allows them to connect about shared interests.

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