The average company spends 24 days and $4,000 on each new hire. Yet, 31% of employees quit within 6 months of starting a new job. This is a sunk cost.

To rein in these numbers and retain workers, engage your employees right away with an effective training program.

Over the past year, many more companies have had to tackle employee training remotely. Some have done so begrudgingly to comply with COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. Others have embraced the opportunity to accelerate a shift to remote work.

Since the pandemic, 74% of companies work remotely. 58% of businesses plan to keep remote work even after the pandemic recedes. That means there are a lot of companies that need to get good at remote employee hiring and onboarding.

58.25% of companies plan to combine remote and in-office work in the future

In the rest of this article, we’ll highlight the challenges to be aware of when it comes to remote employee training. We also introduce some strategies to help you position your team for success in the virtual workplace.

Remote employee training — what’s the difference?

A team member’s first few weeks on the job are crucial to their long-term success. And an effective onboarding program paves the way for productivity and retention.

To accomplish that, training should do all of these things.

  • Teach new hires the practical tasks they need to do their jobs
  • Connect people to their job’s purpose
  • Create a sense of community
  • Recognize early accomplishments and provide timely feedback
  • Introduce new people to your company culture

In a physical office, some of these happen organically with face-to-face interactions. But you’ll need a different approach for effective remote training.

Remote training is different. There’s more to think about.

Technology — train for digital tools

Remote employees need both hardware and software. They also need a basic level of technology literacy.

Distributed teams use a lot of different technologies to stay in touch. At the very least, you should share user guides for everything. This includes your basic communication platforms and all job-specific software.

Keep in mind, unless you are running a dev shop, not everyone on your team will be an engineer.

Train your team on all digital tools so they feel comfortable and competent. The things that seem intuitive to you can be difficult for people who came from a different industry or aren’t tech natives.

It’s hard to be productive when you struggle with tools and processes.

Even your most tech-savvy new hires will get up to speed faster and work more efficiently if you train them to use your tools wisely.

Communication — the more the better

There will be no taps on the shoulder, watercooler chats, or team huddles. At least, not physically.

In the remote workplace, silence is a lot louder. Team leaders need to intentionally over-communicate.

Establish a process for feedback. Plan for both synchronous and asynchronous communication. Get in the habit of recording video meetings and following up calls with written notes.

At Hubstaff, our Communication Manifesto defines how we collaborate and the tools we use to stay connected. We’ll share more about our Communication Manifesto later in this article. In the meantime, you can download a free copy here.

Scheduling — keep it flexible

Especially if you are working across time zones, think about flexibility. You may need to offer more asynchronous training.

To avoid being unfair, establish norms and stick to them.

For example, you can select a certain time window for remote employee training and require all new hires to attend. Or, you can build a library of training resources for asynchronous onboarding activities.

If you work asynchronously, specify a few hours each day when the entire team should be online and available. Schedule live training during those overlap hours.

Keep live sessions organized by sharing the agenda and necessary resources in advance. It also helps to set rules for participation. For example, each person may present for 5 minutes with 2 minutes for questions.

Social — foster community online

Employees miss social interaction when working from home. When we studied the impacts of the pandemic on remote work, leaders told us that it was one of their teams’ most common complaints.

Be intentional about bringing company culture to remote team members during training.

Jen Klingmann from HR For Life recommends a structured approach to get your new team members acclimated. Here’s what she has to say:

Employee experience has never been as crucial as in 202. Especially for new team members, it is vital to build relationships and feel a sense of belonging and inclusion.

But how is that possible when we are working remotely?

On Day 1

  • Assign each new starter to a buddy or mentor.
  • Deliver a welcome package and make sure the new starter has everything to have a successful first day (hardware, software, SWAG, etc.).
  • Welcome new starters to the team. You can use platforms like Slack, Zoom, or Google Hangouts to connect.
  • Have a virtual coffee catch-up with their buddy or mentor at the end of the day.

In the first four weeks, provide job-specific training and schedule regular check-ins with the mentor. Try to work in a team bonding event, and make sure you’re intentional about introducing your new person to the team and culture.

Onboarding new starters remotely can be challenging; that’s why it is essential for team leads and people and culture teams to think outside the box, be flexible and adjust onboarding programs to remote working environments where needed.

Lead by example. Participate in fun activities and connect with people on a more personal level. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Theme/meme chat channels
  • Virtual coffee dates or happy hours
  • Weekly blog updates on topics of interest
  • Friday show and tell (yes, kindergarten style)
  • Other non-work-related sharing

Here at Hubstaff, we encourage our teams to propose activities they are interested in. For example, one of our team members gave a virtual cooking class on how to make temaki.

When remote team members feel connected, they perform better and stay with your company longer.

Hubstaff team cooking

Now let’s drill down into some strategies for effective remote training.

How to train remote employees

It’s one thing to know the challenges you may face. It’s another to make an actionable plan to overcome them.

Here at Hubstaff, we’ve been a 100% remote team since our inception in 2012. Over the last 9 years, our team has gained a fair amount of knowledge in remote employee training and onboarding.

To document some of that knowledge, we had a chat with Tyler Sellhorn, our Director of Customer Experience. Tyler has a two-prong onboarding strategy guided by zoom-in remote training practices and zoom-out remote work policies.

“New team members need to zoom-in on how they are going about their day-to-day responsibilities,” Tyler says.

On a practical level, new hires are constantly asking themselves, “How do I do my job?” As a team leader overseeing training, it’s your job to make sure they have the answers.

You also need to help new hires zoom-out. They must understand why individual tasks matter, how they work with colleagues, and how their work connects to the greater company purpose.

First, let’s take a look at zoom-in.

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Zoom-in: training your remote team

Zoom-in training focuses on getting employees up to speed on how to do their jobs. At this phase, teach them to use the tools that compose your virtual office and help them get used to their daily responsibilities.

Let’s break this down.

Start by figuring out the details. How do you help a remote hire learn the ropes when you aren’t physically there? We recommend these four steps.

  1. Document everything
  2. Use training videos
  3. Customize onboarding lessons
  4. Build a knowledge base

1) Document everything

For remote teams, documentation is not negotiable.

Think about this:

When a team member has a question about where to find information, how to tackle a problem, or how to manage a new project, how do they find that answer? If they need to ask you, then your team can’t be productive unless you’re available.

Give your team a way to answer their own questions.

Instead of teaching new hires how to do everything, you only need to teach them how to find the process documentation that tells them how to do things.

At Hubstaff, we use onboarding checklists for processes that new hires can go through independently. These checklists show them how to:

  • Create your usernames and passwords for important systems
  • Go over workflows and project boards with your ambassador
  • Post about one of your hidden talents in the #random Slack channel
  • Schedule video calls with teammates so you can start getting to know other people in the company
  • Create an introduction video and post it in Slack

Include training resources for the tools that compose your digital office. Most of these tools will have their own tutorials. Your documents can at least point people in the right direction.

Put together a master list with links to the user guides of all of your most commonly used tools. One simple way to do this is in a shared Google Drive folder.

After a couple of remote onboarding cycles, you should have a good idea of how effective your documentation is.

If you don’t have any documentation yet, start with the most mission-critical processes. Then, tackle the things your team asks about most often. You can build your document library gradually.

2) Use training videos

You shouldn’t have to spend hours with every new hire. That’s not scalable. Instead of constantly repeating the same lessons with each new person, make training videos.

Use videos when a written explanation may not cut it.

This is a great way to handle software training since it’s more visual. Instead of describing where an option lives in a menu, it’s way easier just to show it.

Write down the most common questions you always answer for new hires. Use that list to build a video FAQ.

Videos are also a good way to walk through complex workflows that require more initial hand-holding. Pair a good video with a thorough process document so that team members have a quick reference option.

If you don’t have video editing experience, don’t stress. Tools like SRecorder, Monosnap, or SoapBox make it easy to record your screen, edit, and share training videos. Training videos don’t have to be professionally produced. They just need to be clear.

Videos work well for ongoing training, too. We talked to Springworks, an HR tech company that specializes in recruiting and engagement. Their CEO, Kartik, says:

“At Springworks, we take an asynchronous approach to up-skilling. Each team member has access to learning content of their own choice, so they can take up what works best for them whether that’s access to paid communities, newsletters, cohort-based courses, or self-paced video courses.”

3) Customize onboarding lessons

You can create more traditional online lessons for new hires if that’s your style. Zapier, a remote company with more than 300 employees, uses Sapling and Lessonly for their onboarding processes.

Zapier uses the Sapling onboarding platform to deliver job-specific content, auto-assign tasks, and provide managers with onboarding updates.

They also use Lessonly to customize self-paced lessons for each hire. The tool’s drag and drop feature to add videos, images, documents, and assessments make it easy for anyone to build onboarding lessons.

Creating these kinds of courses is more labor-intensive, but they’re easier for new hires to grasp. Consider using a tool like this if you’re scaling quickly and don’t have time to offer extra one-on-one support during onboarding.

Gary Stringer from HowNow, an intelligent workplace learning platform, shares this excellent advice:

We use our intelligent learning platform for two key things, which every business can apply: connecting new starters with the people they need to meet and the information they need to know.

That starts with personalization! If you use the exact same onboarding course for every person, you end up with this one-size-fits-nobody situation. Does someone need to know about all 300 employees on day one, or just the five or six in their team?

It’s a similar situation when it comes to what they need to know. If you’re building an onboarding course ask yourself two simple questions to start with: what does every employee need to know? What does this individual need to know?

Don’t forget, asynchronous training videos and lessons should always be supplemented with live sessions. This helps to check employee understanding and build a sense of community in the virtual workplace.

4) Build an internal knowledge base

You already created your process documents. Now, it’s time to organize those documents into a help center.

To organize documents, training videos, and lessons, build an internal knowledge base. This serves as a central hub to organize and access information. A good knowledge base reduces the time employees waste searching for information.

An internal knowledge base can contain:

  • Company information – contact lists, annual reports, organizational charts
  • Process documentation – standard operating procedures, checklists, templates
  • Training material – lessons, videos, third app links, health and safety
  • Legal documents – policies, regulatory documents, contracts, release forms
  • Customer service and support documents – Email/call scripts, FAQs
  • Vendor information – vendor contracts, contacts, POs

An internal knowledge base takes time and planning. If you don’t have one yet, assign a dedicated project champion to help bring your knowledge base to life. That might be you, but if time is an issue, delegate it to a trusted teammate.

You can also consider a knowledge management software like SharePoint or Confluence. This helps to streamline the document migration process and improve interoperability with the other digital tools you use.

Zoom-out: policies and practices for your remote team

The Zoom-out prong focuses on policies that guide how you work together and function as a team.

This is the phase where you think about overall strategy. Help your new team member see how they fit in the bigger picture with these steps.

  1. Formalize feedback
  2. Create a communications manifesto
  3. Create or update a remote work policy

1) Formalize feedback

Feedback should be frequent, timely, and specific — especially during the first few weeks. Feedback is how team members learn what they are doing well, and what they need to improve.

This isn’t difficult to do, but there’s an emotional component. Feedback can be uncomfortable. Team leaders may struggle to give good constructive feedback because they’re worried about hurting feelings.

On the other hand, they might be fine speaking their minds, but still have a hard time making feedback useful.

That’s why you should create a formalized structure for feedback.

Some teams do this with one-on-one weekly sit-downs. Zapier, for instance, has employees meet with their team lead to answer four simple questions:

  • What’s one thing you are excited about?
  • What’s one thing you are worried about?
  • What’s one thing I can do better to help you with your job?
  • What’s one thing you can do to improve?

Other teams prefer to use an application like Lattice or Officevibe to formalize feedback processes. With this tool, team members can give and receive feedback from peers and managers at set intervals or on a per-project basis.

Remember, feedback isn’t always criticism.

It’s equally important to recognize achievements and give kudos for a job well done. Boost team morale by publicly recognizing accomplishments in chat channels, via Email, or on a dedicated board in your internal knowledge base.

At Hubstaff, we recognize great work in our Hubstars channel.

Hubstars Slack channel

2) Create a communications manifesto

A communications manifesto lays the ground rules. It covers everything from which channel to use for different types of questions and how to gracefully avoid interruptions during deep work time.

Here at Hubstaff, our manifesto covers general communication expectations, the tools we use, guidelines for focus time, and the rules of engagement for Slack and group meetings. Get a copy of it here to use as a template for your own team.

Create your own manifesto according to your culture and workflows. Here are a few of the clauses we recommend from our policy:

  • Monday through Friday, you are expected to respond to Hubstaff team members within 24 hours (or one business day if it’s Friday).
  • No one is expected to respond to any communications on Saturdays or Sundays or while away for planned time off. Answer those messages when you get back.
  • Focus time is encouraged. You may turn notifications and shut down email for 4-hour increments while you’re working on deep work. Use a Slack status to let your teammates know that you’re using your focus time.

You can also cover when and how to schedule meetings, your break policy, and how to handle video call fatigue. This is important for remote teams. If you don’t have some way to unplug, it can start to feel like you live at work instead of work from home.

3) Create or update a remote work policy

A remote work policy explains everything about how you handle remote work at your company. It must be thorough enough to answer most employee questions, but simple enough to read in a few minutes.

For an effective policy, keep these questions in mind when writing out your document:

  • Which departments and positions are allowed to work from home?
  • What criteria need to be met for those employees to be approved for remote work?
  • Under what circumstances, if any, are employees not allowed to work remotely?
  • What will management do to keep communication flowing?
  • What equipment do you need when working from home, and who provides it?
  • Is asynchronous work acceptable?
  • How will you handle cybersecurity?

Remote employee training is here to stay

Even as vaccines are distributed and COVID-19 is brought under control, remote work is here to stay.

In our 2020 study, we found that 44% of companies expect remote work scenarios to improve profitability and more than 63% expect it to increase employee happiness.

Another study by LiveCareer found that employees valued remote work so much that 29% would quit their job if it was no longer an option.

Remote happiness

If remote work is here to stay, so is remote employee training. To build a workforce for the future, retain employees, and create productive teams, establish your remote employee training and onboarding practices today.

Next steps

Here are some steps you can take to start this effort now:

  1. Make a must-have list and wish list for the tools you want to compose your virtual office.
  2. Consult your team to understand their preferences, and write your communications manifesto.
  3. Write or update your remote work policy.
  4. Design a formalized structure for feedback.

Okay, that may seem like a lot. It’s manageable when you tackle it in bite-sized chunks.

Building a remote employee training program is an ongoing process. To get started, open up a Google Doc for each of these four steps, and take down some initial notes to get the ball rolling. You can bookmark this post and come back when you’re ready for the next step.

Additional resources

Here are some resources we think you’ll find useful.

A Complete Guide to Hiring Remotely in 2022

How to Master Remote Communication: Everything You Need to Know

How to Increase Employee Productivity: The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need

This post was originally published in December 2015. It was updated in March 2021.

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