10 things we’ve learned about remote onboarding

We recognise that, over the coming months, it may become necessary for new hires to start work without being able to come into the office. While this presents challenges which many firms in the investment industry have not encountered before, it’s nothing that hasn’t been done by larger firms in the corporate world for years.

Fortunately, we have some experience of this ourselves, having had a couple of remote team members for several years. We therefore thought it might be helpful to share some thoughts on how to navigate this challenge. We’ve arrived at these through conversations with our clients who have done this before, discussion with contacts in other industries who have some expertise in the area, and examination of the lessons we have learned from our experiences working with remote staff.

Generally speaking, if you have a clear and thorough onboarding plan, you are likely already well set. If not, the process of setting one up during this period will stand you in great stead over the years to come.


Be prepared weeks ahead of time

As obvious as it sounds, putting thought into a new starter’s first month well ahead of time is crucial. When everyone is working from home, it’s much harder for someone to learn through osmosis; you will have to structure a lot of the relationship building and tasks that they need to complete a lot more than usual. This takes time, not least because people will need to formally make time in their diaries to help the new starter.


Nail down your processes

“How should I get in touch with IT?” Questions that would normally be asked casually over a computer screen are much harder to answer at the moment, and in our experience the distance of remote working can be a barrier to a new starter asking the obvious questions. There are hundreds of internal process questions which can come up, and emailing your manager about all of them can seem so intrusive that most will avoid asking.

Spend some time brainstorming all the internal processes and systems that you can think of and make sure that, at least, there’s a point of contact for each topic. In addition, it’s useful to…


…Appoint a buddy

Most firms have a buddy system, but often it’s very informal and quickly neglected in a busy office. If you are starting someone remotely, it’s crucial that the new starter’s buddy knows that they have a bigger responsibility, and that they take the time to build enough of a trusting relationship that they can be asked all of the difficult questions that can be thrown at them.


Let them know that you need them to seek clarity

We normally place the entry-level members of an organisation, and even so we can forget what it’s like to be the newest, most junior person in a well-established team. Often our placements have come from much larger organisations with more well-defined processes, HR, and a large team of peers. Working in a much smaller environment will likely be a new experience, and it’s worth taking no chances when it comes to setting expectations.

Make it clear that you need them to seek advice if they are unsure and give them some examples of people they can turn to if their MD is too busy to explain things further.


Be clear on their work outputs

We know from experience that this is easier said than done. However, the clearer you can be on what someone needs to achieve in their first week, month, and quarter, the easier it is for both parties.


Make sure their manager spends more time with them than they think they need

Catch up every day in the first week. Catch up twice a week at least thereafter. Put the appointments in the diary and do everything possible to keep them there. Even if a good pattern of work has been established after a couple of weeks, keep making time for 1 on 1s; in our experience this makes sure that the habits are well established after the first surge of enthusiasm has dwindled. They will also feel quite isolated and not part of the established culture, so the more you can do to make them feel a part of the team the better.


Use the phone

It’s all too easy for tasks to be given by email, and when neither party knows each other’s working styles, this leads to misaligned expectations. When someone’s starting, you must maximise the personal interaction. Make it clear to the new starter, as well as their buddy and their manager, that they should be communicating at least by phone, and preferably by VCC, whenever possible.


Get time in the diary with everyone in the team

The absence of a physical water-cooler or coffee shop will make it difficult for a new starter to proactively build their own relationships in the firm. Structure time in the diary with as many people as possible, starting with their immediate team first. There shouldn’t be an agenda – these should be ‘get to know you’ sessions. One of our clients has booked in 30 minute calls with over 20 professionals across the global offices to replicate these informal, usually spontaneous, conversations.


Set up calls with external parties ahead of time

Associates will need to interact frequently with advisors and setting up time for them to speak to the main ones – even if there’s nothing active at the moment – can be a good use of time for the future. Similarly, introducing people to management teams before they are knee-deep in a project can make the transition easier.


Get a training schedule in place

Set up calls with external parties ahead of time