When remotely onboarding your new hires in the 'new normal', make sure to cover the organisational, technical, and social aspects, for an effective process, says Liam McNally, Recruiting Manager, Engineering, GitLab.

As the impact of COVID-19 continues to significantly alter the way we live and work, companies in Asia need to transform the way they engage new employees to meet the demands of the new normal. Whether it’s the integration of more remote-friendly practices, keeping your team all-remote for the foreseeable future, or approach proactive crisis management differently, it is critical to review onboarding processes to ensure it reflects the current reality of welcoming new employees.

In my role at GitLab, an all-remote company, I have been involved in onboarding new remote hires globally from day one. While there are specific cultural and logistical challenges to creating an engaging new employee experience in a region as diverse as APAC, we have relied on a values-driven, integrated approach to enable new team members to stay and thrive in their roles. Coupling this with a greater understanding of the cultural differences in an array of countries, allows us to be better prepared as a business but also makes the transition from traditional to all-remote less daunting.

Onboarding is more important than ever

The long-term benefits of an efficient onboarding process are well-documented - better team member retention, more productive, more quickly, reduces anxiety and sets expectations.

However, when hiring remotely due to the varying degrees of restrictions, a cohesive onboarding process is especially important because not only do you have to give new hires the information they need to do their jobs, you have to empower them to think remotely as well. Remote onboarding relies heavily on documentation, anticipating the needs of new team members, and a dedication to continuously improving the process based on feedback.

How to make the most of a remote onboarding process

There are three key dimensions to an effective all-remote onboarding process.

1. Organisational onboarding

A large part of onboarding is providing answers to logistical questions, such as “how do I sign up for benefits?”, “what tools should I use?”, “where do I go to find answers?”

Traditionally, Asian companies usually rely on trainers in person or more hands-on approaches to help new hires navigate their surroundings. All-remote companies have to be more efficient and make information easily accessible, so documentation will be essential for a smooth onboarding process. At GitLab, we provide a detailed handbook that is always evolving.

The handbook is the central repository for how we run the company, containing 5,000 searchable pages that serve as a single source of truth all team members can reference and depend on for answers about the company.

For onboarding, we're able to direct new hires to a huge repository of information and also teach them to be self-sufficient and proactive when looking for answers. Because we've implemented a handbook-first approach, the GitLab handbook is always changing and growing as we learn new things.

2. Technical onboarding

While tools are an important part of any role, new hires need to feel empowered to use them. Companies can help build technical confidence by setting up early wins with action items the new hire can complete as they move through their training.

Organisational onboarding provides access to information through handbooks/documentation, and technical onboarding is about using that knowledge to work through the tools.

A recent Gartner poll highlighted that 54% of APAC HR leaders indicated that poor technology and/or infrastructure for remote working remains the biggest barrier to effective remote working. Give new hires access to the tools they'll be using in their roles and, most importantly, encourage them to use the tools as early as possible. Using tools, even for very small tasks, builds confidence and helps new employees to feel productive and empowered.

3. Social onboarding

Starting a new job can be overwhelming. If a new hire is used to working in a traditional office, as was the norm in most APAC markets before the outbreak, adjusting to the remote work lifestyle might be a challenge.

Ensuring that expectations are set early prior to onboarding is important. This ensures that candidates who are from traditional work environments, which is almost always the case in this region, are clear and not surprised by this transformative approach. Having socialisation as part of the onboarding process can help team members feel more connected to their new teams, even though they don't share an office.

In an all-remote company, it's important to encourage informal communication so that team members can build relationships. This can be incorporated into the onboarding process by assigning an onboarding buddy and formalising information communication. Leaders should organise informal communication and provide structured opportunities for new hires to get to know their co-workers. At GitLab, we incorporate socialising tasks into our onboarding template such as scheduling coffee chats, introducing yourself in the #new_team_members slack channel, or participating in a video call.

Flexibility is key to the experience

The beauty of an all-remote setting is that onboarding can be as high-touch or low-touch as a new hire wishes. Those who prefer visual learning can engage in a series of video calls and screenshare sessions to walk through each element of their onboarding issue. Those who prefer more self-learning can benefit from thorough documentation and readily-available resources for self-guided learning.

That flexibility is unique to the all-remote environment, as those who prefer a self-guided experience are typically forced into a very social onboarding at co-located companies.

As many companies continue to grapple with the new working reality, creating a remote-friendly onboarding process is a compelling way to empower new employees to embrace a new way to live and work, while achieving longer-term efficiencies.


About the author: Liam McNally is Recruiting Manager, Engineering at GitLab, based in Sydney, Australia. Liam is a remote people and talent leader with over 10 years’ experience, working remotely over 3 years. He specialises in building all-remote teams and culture.

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