How to manage a remote workforce: 5 tips for onboarding new starters


19 Nov, 2021

If the past two years has taught us anything, it's that it can be perfectly acceptable to start a new job wearing pyjama bottoms on Zoom in your living room. The pandemic has opened up opportunities for hiring talent remotely, regardless of geographical location or accessibility requirements. Nowadays, having the option to work remotely has become a necessity as opposed to an added bonus - a May 2021 survey revealed that over a third of employees would quit if told to make a permanent move back to the office.

But positives aside, remote work isn't all rosy. Managing new starters can be particularly challenging, as workplace loneliness becomes increasingly pervasive, with 16% of remote workers reporting feeling isolated. Not to mention the difficulties employers might face training and evaluating employees they don't see on a regular basis. But fear not, we're here to help. We've compiled a list of 5 top tips for onboarding new starters, no matter where they are in the world.

How do I manage a remote workforce?

Managing can be difficult enough in person, never mind when your team is distributed. Answering the question of how to manage a remote workforce is not a simple one - it requires a combination of good technological support and a shift away from the proximity bias that many managers find themselves facing. If you're not familiar with the term, you'll certainly have seen this bias play out in real life.

"Proximity bias is the incorrect assumption that people will produce better work if they are physically present in the office and managers can see (and hear them) doing their jobs." That's at least according to Rebecca Corliss, Head of Team Development and Culture at HubSpot. Previously, the stereotype of the lazy remote worker has persisted. Such a mindset was more prolific pre-pandemic, but multiple lockdowns gave companies no choice but to try remote work on a mass-scale - and unsurprisingly, productivity largely either increased or remained unchanged. So the key to managing a remote workforce could be managing your mindset.

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1) Prepare your new starter for their first day and week

As you're not going to see the new starter face to face, it's even more important that they feel comfortable and clear on what they will be doing straight away. This is often overlooked but is crucial to making new starters feel comfortable as quickly as possible. Give them a clear induction plan with what they should expect to learn on the first few days, how long it will take and how you'll support them.

Also, identify specific training needs ahead of them starting. Some new starters may not have all the skills required for a role, which may result in their manager becoming frustrated by having to do more teaching than usual. It's good to identify these potential weaknesses so that initiatives can be put in place.

2) Set up their equipment

Emails, communication channels, project management software... make sure your new starter has accounts ready to go before they are. This is an obvious but key component of how to manage a remote workforce.

Another important aspect how to manage a remote workforce is making sure they have quick and easy access to resources they need, whether that's information or equipment. Many employers forget that they still have a duty of care over their employees throughout the working day, wherever they are, and failing to set up proper resources could lead to a sticky situation. 

For a worst case scenario, take this example of a carer who sued her company after slipping on ice as she travelled between patients' homes. While the employer had conducted a risk assessment, they had failed to take adequate steps to mitigate danger, rendering them liable for her injuries. No matter where your employees are working, you should be taking steps to ensure their environment doesn't pose them any physical or psychological risk (which at the very least means providing a suitable desk).

Worried about future implications of WFH? Why not let your remote workers choose a local workspace with NearU? These come fully set up with furnishings, wifi, and other utilities to minimise risk to both you and your employee.

3) Assign an informal buddy

To make your new starter feel comfortable, it is good for them to have someone who is not their manager to speak to about the company informally. The new arrival can be assigned a buddy, someone who will help with their induction and introduce them to different teams within your company. This will speed up how quickly they get onboarded and how well they fit into the team.

Socialisation is such a key factor in creating a healthy company culture, especially remotely. And companies that maintain a good level of interaction are actually more successful, reporting 25% higher productivity amongst staff. In fact, we're such big believers in employee collaboration and socialisation that we've made it a key feature of our app. Our latest feature, Who's NearU, allows users to see where their colleagues and external networks are working in real time, making it easier than ever to catch up with distributed teams in-person.

4) Set clear lines of communication

It's important that new starters understand how to communicate and operate within the company, especially if things are not going well.  It will help to set up how and when they should communicate with managers, team members and peers. Scheduling daily check-ins for the first week is a good practice that is worth considering.

Like most companies these days, here at NearU we're big fans of Slack, and it's the chief way our team chooses to communicate. We especially love the variety it offers - you can message directly, have an audio-only 'Huddle' or hop on a more formal video call. Giving your new starters options is vital, as they may be more reluctant to use certain forms of communication than others.

We love championing new tech so much, whether it's for communication or otherwise, that we've even started a new content series all around it, and how tech is supporting the switch to hybrid working. You can read the first instalment of Tech Talks, which we did in collaboration with our partners over at what3words, here.

5) Let them choose where they work

Working remotely might conjure an image of a half-dressed employee balancing their laptop on an uneven stack of books - but it doesn't have to be this way. As we emerge from the pandemic, it's clear that the future of the workplace will be more than just WFH or commuting to the head office. In fact, choice could be the key factor to tap into if you want to get the best out of your staff. A recent study by Harvard University found that when employees were allowed to choose where they wanted to work, researchers saw a 4.4% real rise in productivity.

NearU offers hundreds of local, flexible workspaces at your fingertips through our simple pay-as-you-go booking platform. Employees want more than just four white walls and a desk, which is why we specialise in sourcing a variety of spaces. From creative independent locations, to professional corporate chains, to convenient offices in commuter belts, there's something for everyone. And the best part is, there's no contract. Because we know people like a change of scenery every now and then, so why rope them into a sneaky subscription?

You can download NearU from the App Store or Google Play to see some of our listings for yourself. Or if you're interested in rolling out NearU on a wider scale, why not book a demo with a member of our team? We'd love to chat to you.