Your Guide to Digital Employee Onboarding in a Remote Environment

As employers and employees increasingly embrace remote work, it can be tempting to focus solely on its benefits and ignore its challenges. Communication difficulties, maintaining a work-life balance, dealing with isolation — these can be serious impediments to productivity.

But perhaps the most difficult challenge facing employers interested in switching to a remote work environment is hiring.

Digital employee onboarding is challenging in the best of times. When your HR administrators, candidate mentors, payroll experts and other key employees are all working from their individual homes, it can seem impossible to get everyone onto the same page.

Good news: Digital employee onboarding isn’t impossible. It doesn’t even have to be hard. All you have to do to make this process easier is to follow these three key steps.

1. Focus on remote I-9 and E-Verify

Completing the remote I-9 process is easily the most procedurally challenging aspect of digital employee onboarding. We’ve written about the remote I-9 process before in depth, but here’s a quick recap of the most important elements.

First, you need to strategize around who your remote representative is going to be. Almost all components of the I-9 form can be filled out in the comfort of your candidate’s home, but Section 2 — where an HR professional would normally review the candidate’s information and sign — has to be filled out by a trusted representative in the presence of the new hire and on the original document. Reviewing and signing a copy of an I-9 isn’t lawful.

So, you and your candidate need to designate a remote representative of your company to review and sign the remote I-9 form. They don’t actually have to be from your company; in fact, a remote representative can be pretty much anyone, such as a friend or family member of the candidate.

Regardless of who your remote representative is, you and your company are still liable if the candidate’s I-9 information turns out to be incorrect. Thus, some companies like to direct their candidates towards trustworthy representatives, such as notary publics.

Second, your representative needs to fill out and sign Section 2 within three days of the candidate’s date of hire. While a trusted third-party such as a notary public might be attractive to companies looking to ensure compliance, it may be more difficult for a candidate to get their I-9 form to such an individual before the three-day time limit is up; in contrast, having a family member review their I-9 could be much more expedient.

2. Maintain a personal connection

Ensuring that employees stay connected and engaged in the company in a remote work environment is clearly an issue, and one that many companies are dedicating a lot of time toward addressing. It’s important to maintain a personal connection with your existing employees, but it’s doubly important for new hires.

According to SHRM, 69 percent of new hires were likely to stay with their company for 3 years if they had a great onboarding experience. The question is, what makes for a great onboarding experience?

Part of it is an easy paperwork process, clear requirements, well-conducted training and so on, but all of this isn’t going to matter much if there isn’t a personal connection with the people that make up the company. It’s important to get to know your new hire, talk over their strengths and weaknesses and introduce them to your team. Otherwise, they’ll feel isolated in their new role and won’t feel like they really belong in your organization — ultimately leading to lower performance, absenteeism and a shorter term of employment.

Does this matter for staffing agencies?

For most businesses, the importance of building a relationship during the onboarding process has always been clear. But for many staffing agencies, the effort can seem like a waste. Why build a relationship with a candidate if they’re not even going to be working with you? Odds are, you’ll never see that person again.

However, this is the exact reason why staffers need to focus on building relationships with their candidates. Unlike other industries, staffers have little to no time to repair a bad first impression with their candidates. Once they’ve met you and you’ve guided them through your portion of the onboarding process, that’s it.

But if you provide them a truly memorable experience and build a connection, you stand to gain serious benefits. High-quality candidates will be more likely to return to you when they need work again. When their peers are looking for work, they’ll remember you and refer them your way. They may even give you a positive review, driving even more candidates towards your staffing organization.

Many organizations have always paid some attention to this aspect of onboarding, but in a fully remote environment, building this connection isn’t just nice-to-have — it’s an absolutely crucial differentiator that will make your organization stand out from the crowd.

3. Don’t let process get in the way of performance

As important as the human connection is, there are more transactional steps in the digital employee onboarding that can’t be ignored. If you’re busy manually filling in data for background checks, verifying information with federal databases, filling out tax documentation, tracking down forms and more, you’re not going to have the time to spend on the tasks where your abilities truly shine. These are things like sourcing great candidates, assessing fit, facilitating training and enculturation — the human part of your job.

Just because you can do the procedural tasks of your work manually doesn’t mean that you should. This is especially true in a remote work environment, where added communication delays can make even simple tasks drag on when you can’t get a key stakeholder to respond via email.

When you’re in the midst of the digital employee onboarding process, the unnecessary additional time that it takes to conduct these procedural tasks manually can really kill your ability to connect and excel as a hiring professional.

Instead, use a software solution to automate these tasks when possible or otherwise facilitate them. At Essium, we designed the Xenqu platform to enable staffing and recruiting professionals to exercise their human touch, even if their work takes place in a totally digital environment. Learn more about how Xenqu can support you with digital employee onboarding.