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Summary:

Inducting a new remote team member can be a real challenge — especially as they’ll be working off-site. Your remote recruit’s future performance in your team will depend, in part, on your ability to induct them successfully. There are four key factors to consider.

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Inducting a new remote team member can be a real challenge. Whether your new recruit is a permanent or contract employee, working part-time, full-time or casually, the fact that they’ll be working off-site presents unique needs from Day 1.

Typically, you’ll have little face-to-face time in which to give the right impressions, effectively communicate job-, team- and culture-related information, and create appropriate expectations. In some circumstances, you may even need to induct the person remotely, which makes the task even tougher.

In any case, your remote recruit’s future performance in your team will depend, in part, on your ability to induct them successfully. There are four key factors to consider.

Access to Systems … and People

Of course, every team leader will ensure that the new recruit has access to the work systems they need: email, the intranet, the company’s shared file system, wikis, version control — as well door keys and building access codes if they’re coming on-site for induction.

Your remote worker already feels the tyranny of distance — even if they work remotely by choice. It’s important to communicate that you’re expecting them on Day 1, that their input is valuable, and you’re excited about having them join your team.

Fail to organize systems access in advance of their arrival, and they may infer that they’re an afterthought, troublesome, or that their work isn’t important. That negative perception — even if it’s acknowledged as just a twinge of hesitation — can be insidious, damaging the potential for a  successful working relationship with that employee in the longer term.

Good team leaders will also ensure that their new team member has access to the people that they’ll be working with, and will need to speak to on their initial projects. If the remote team member is only in the office for a day’s worth of induction, it’s a good idea to at least introduce them to project stakeholders or clients on the day.

Having some face-to-face contact with the people they’ll be working with really is important. You may not need to arrange a fully-fledged meeting with a stakeholder: a quick “hello” in the lunch room lets both parties put faces to names, and a casual conversation may start the working relationship on a more natural footing than an official meeting with an agenda and a whiteboard.

For the same reasons, if you’re inducting the new recruit remotely, try to get them talking — over Skype or even on the phone — with those stakeholders as early as you can.

Finally, consider giving your new remote team member a “buddy” for their first few weeks — someone who they’ll work closely with, can ask questions of, and has the time to help the new recruit settle into the role and organization remotely. If you take this route, have the buddy help induct the new recruit on Day 1, so that the foundations of this working relationship can be formed from the very beginning.

Also consider relieving the buddy of some work tasks in those weeks, and arranging their schedule so that they’re around and accessible whenever the remote recruit needs them.

Understanding Process … and Culture

If they’re going to perform well within your team and your organization, your new remote team member will need a solid understanding of the work processes you want them to adhere to. If you have these documented, Day 1 is the time to hand that documentation over. If you don’t, sit down and discuss them in as much detail as you can.

While you won’t want to overload team members with information they’ll easily pick up on the job, remote workers won’t necessarily have the opportunity to ask quick, incidental questions about this stuff once they’re up and running from a remote location.

If they’ve worked remotely for a while, they’ve probably developed their own approaches to problem-solving from a distance. Are those the approaches you want them to use in your organization? An inability to raise colleagues on IM to ask a question, for example, might lead them to guessing how a process might work, with time-consuming — or potentially disastrous — consequences.

Make sure your new recruit understands what they need to do to adhere to key work processes. Ideally, you should also give them access to a source of relevant information that’s always available online (not a human being).

The other element your new remote worker will need to begin to understand from the outset is the company culture. Among other things, this will impact who, or where, they go to when they have a question about those processes you just outlined. But it’ll also influence the speed and ease with which they’re integrated into their immediate team, as well as the wider organization.

Culture is often overlooked in remote worker induction — probably because, unlike processes and passcodes, it’s not often written down and flowcharted. Yet how close your new team member feels to their colleagues, and how strongly they feel they’re a part of your organization, will depend largely on this point.

In those first few days on the job from a remote location, the team member will have a lot of questions — as well as work to do. How they juggle the demands of working without experience or knowledge of your systems — and respond to the questions that other team members ask them — will set a foundation for future working behavior. Whether or not you manage to get the new recruit online for the first weekly team meeting, project meetings, and so on, will be similarly important.

Getting it Right

The way you communicate company processes, attitudes, and philosophies throughout the first weeks of a remote recruit’s tenure will not only set future expectations within that person; if you choose methods that don’t communicate effectively, you may undermine that person’s ability to ever fully meet your expectations for performance.

But the care you take on Day 1 to give them access to systems and people, information on processes, and a feel for your culture is crucial. If you’ve inducted remote recruits — or have undergone induction as a remote recruit — we’d love to hear your thoughts. What works, and what doesn’t?

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  1. Having been a remote worker I completely agree with Goergina. Getting the lay of the land is tough. Knowing who to turn to with a question, feeling appreciated and useful, knowing what one should be focused on working on are tough things to do. Appropriate levels of communication are key and email is a poor tool for managing this. But, being a NEW remote worker in a team is as problematic as being an old hand if the team is dysfunctional (or rather suffers from a lack of proper infrastructure)

    Caveat emptor (or rather reader beware) I work at a company now that is trying to smooth this integration. Cohuman is ideal for teams, whether remote or central. Communication is a by product of action in our coordination tool. Transparency, accountability and priority are what sets us apart from other tools. If everyone knows what every one else is doing (transparency), if everyone on a team knows who is directly responsible for what (accountability) and finally if everyone knows what’s most important to focus on (priority)… well, everyone is on the same page whether new to a team or old.

  2. Thanks for sharing some really useful tips. I’m about to take on some remote workers and this article highlighted a couple of things that I should consider as part of the induction process.

  3. I’ve worked for over a decade with remote team from various parts of the world, from diverse background and I’d say that one must have an open mind when it comes to working with a remote team. First, there’s language barrier as these people may know how to speak in English, but sometimes, they think in their local language. This is why communication is a must, second to trust. With plenty of tools available for online collaboration, I think the future of work might as well be –mobile. Gone are the days when an office building defines your job; Your work is where you are.

  4. Thanks for the great article Georgina. Starting any new job can be daunting and I would imagine working remote you could feel very isolated as well. These useful tips will no doubt help employers to ease the transition for a new remote staff member.

  5. Georgina Laidlaw Wednesday, February 23, 2011

    Hey guys,
    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. Shaleen makes a great point about trust and communication, and keeping an open mind.

    Flexibility is pretty important on both sides of the equation, I think — but within the limits of what’s actually workable. As Ronan alludes, being part of a dysfunctional or infrastructure-less remote team can be a real nightmare.

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