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A Startup’s Guide to Remote-First Onboarding

January 11, 2021
by
Kara Sheldon

The onboarding experience can make or break a new hire’s trajectory. Onboarding a new employee should be a full introduction to how your company communicates and functions.

Now that the world is turning into a remote-first workforce, remote onboarding tools are becoming more and more essential. Without in-person interaction or the opportunities for new hires to physically observe and immerse themselves in your business, it is vital to get your remote onboarding right.

On top of this, your onboarding process can impact recruitment. Top talent will naturally gravitate towards leading remote-first teams.

SafeGraph is an entirely remote company, with employees spread across North America.

SafeGraph has always been a remote-first company. We’ve learned a thing or two about growing a remote-first team and in this guide, we aim to share our knowledge.

5 Reasons Why a Strong Onboarding Process is Essential

A good remote onboarding process is crucial for a variety of reasons, including:

  1. Employee morale - No new hire wants to feel like they are alone or without guidance in their new position. In a remote-first environment, it is even more important to go above and beyond by personalizing each new employee’s experience.
  2. Camaraderie - Trust is critical to the success of any team. Remote-first companies can find it hard to build relationships, especially in a new hire’s early days. The right onboarding tools can facilitate camaraderie by building trust.
  3. Employee retention - A study by The Wynhurst Group showed that 22% of staff turnover happens in the first 45 days of signing an offer letter. Fail your employees with a poor onboarding process and you risk losing them. Employees who had a positive onboarding experience were 58% more likely to stay with the company after 3 years.
  4. Maximizing productivity - Onboarding new hires effectively will allow them to be better at their jobs, sooner.
  5. Company culture - Growing a culture within a remote-first team is difficult, but crucial. A standout remote onboarding process will not only tell new hires what the company's values are, but also show them by leading examples. When it comes to company culture, show don’t tell.

4 Tools for Successful Remote Onboarding

There are a ton of tools out there that are worth considering once you hit 50-100 employees, but many of these tools require a lot of time to build out and an internal IT admin to assist.

Below are tools that will help you optimize your remote-first onboarding process, especially for companies under 100 employees. They take little-to-no-time to set up and require no IT admin or knowledge.

  1. Fleetsmith - Remote Computer Management- Most companies do not hire an internal IT admin until they have reached around 300 employees. IT support is really expensive and in a nimble startup, there often aren’t enough IT tickets to help justify paying for a full-time employee. Finding tools that require no IT background to set-up is hard; however, for remote-first startups, it is worth it. Fleetsmith is one of the diamonds in the rough. The tool took only one hour to set up and distribute across our entire company. We now can manage all computers and remotely delete computers when needed. No IT background or IT knowledge is needed to set-up, manage, distribute, or use Fleetsmith.
  2. Notion - Internal Company Wiki - Notion is a user friendly tool to use as a company wiki (amongst many other uses). In a future post, we will dive into how to create and maintain transparent communication through a company wiki or intranet. For now, we’ll share how SafeGraph uses Notion for onboarding. A company wiki holds all internal information and processes that help new employees learn how their team and company function. It also helps them to stay up-to-date on new processes as they form. We chose Notion for many reasons, one of which is its UI functionalities. Making it easier to edit, read, and search is extremely important because the process of writing information down is already a daunting task. Notion requires no training to find, access, and input data. Getting users to data dump into a company wiki is hard enough - why make it harder by picking a tool that requires training to use?

    SafeGraph’s wiki scavenger hunt.
    A week before the new hire starts, we send out a fun interactive wiki scavenger hunt. This scavenger hunt prepares the new hire for their first week. The goal of the scavenger hunt is that new employees end up with a good grasp on how to utilize the wiki, how their department functions, and how their company works as a whole. Each scavenger hunt contains the most common questions across the entire company, as well as the frequently asked questions from the new hire’s department. To encourage people to complete it, we offer a prize if they submit the answers before their first day - so far we have only had one new hire who hasn’t submitted their answers.
  1. Donut Onboarding - Automate Onboarding Introductions - Donut allows you to automate onboarding intros and send reminders directly through Slack. Most companies use the Slack integrated tool, Donut, to boost morale and encourage employee bonding, but a lot of teams don't know they have an onboarding feature as well. With Donut Onboarding, you can automatically assign new hires to their manager, onboarding buddy, and more. You can make use of customizable templates that trigger on specific dates to specific roles. You no longer need to manually tell people what to do and when to do it - Donut Onboarding does it all for you. On a new hire's first day, you can sit back and relax knowing the new hire is connected to the right people.
  2. Asana - Tracking Tool for Admins and New Hires - Asana can be utilized quickly and easily as a pre-onboarding tracking tool for both admins and new hires. When onboarding remotely, it is important to stay organized and create a straightforward process for your new hires. All new employees need to see an overview of the tasks at hand. This ensures that they do not feel overwhelmed when they have 20 different invites in their inbox to documents they have to sign or tools they have to accept. With Asana, you can create a to-do list where both the admin and new hire can track what needs to be done and when. This makes everything far more manageable for both your company employees tasked with managing onboarding and, most importantly, the new hire.

3 Tips for Live Onboarding Sessions

In the age of remote work, new hires expect some form of back-to-back virtual onboarding sessions to learn about the company, team processes, and meet their coworkers. Onboarding meetings should not be tiring, long, and boring. No one wants to sit on Zoom meetings all day.

With that in mind, here are our guidelines for onboarding meetings:

  1. Limit to a maximum of 5 hours of onboarding meetings per day - This prevents new hires from ending their day burnt out and in a bad mood. Any more than 5 hours and we’ve found Zoom fatigue is likely to set in.
  2. Only one of the 5 hours per day should be spent in onboarding meetings outside of the new hire’s department - This leaves room for the new hire to connect with their direct department by leaving space for team members to add spontaneous calls or social events to their calendar.
  3. No more than 1.5 hours of back-to-back meetings before a meeting break - This allows all new hires to process what they just learned in their meetings and prep for the next round.

4 Golden Rules of Onboarding

As well as our thoughts on the right onboarding tools and process, there are plenty of onboarding tips we can share. We will go through these in more detail in a future post, but for now, these simple tips can help you to implement your newfound tools in the most effective and efficient way:

  1. Don’t overload new hires - There is no denying that most new employees have a lot to learn. If you dump everything on them at once, it can quickly become very intimidating. On top of that, they’re more likely to skim through new information in a hurry to move onto the next. It is far better to break it down into bite-sized chunks, and spread out over time as much as possible.
  2. Team up - A “buddy program” might sound corny, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. There are certain aspects of company culture that can’t really be conveyed in writing, and a buddy can help. On top of that, a familiar face or voice is comforting for a newcomer.
  3. Set up regular one-to-one meetings with anyone required - If your new hire is going to have to check in with a manager regularly, get them accustomed to this right when they start.
  4. Get feedback on your onboarding process - You won’t get it perfect the first time. A remote onboarding process is always a work in progress, and new tools might crop up that lead to you altering your processes. Always ask for feedback from people once they’ve completed their onboarding. Ask what worked and what didn’t, what they enjoyed, and what they think could’ve been better or different.
SafeGraph's completely remote team maintains strong connections through team events even after onboarding.


For some companies, becoming remote-first has been a huge transition. There aren’t a lot of resources out there telling you what to do and how to do it. We hope that sharing this knowledge helps startups that are transitioning into becoming a remote-first workforce.

The good news is that remote onboarding doesn’t have to be too painful or complex, and getting it right can save you time, hassle, and money in the future.

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