onboarding dos and donts for your distributed team

Onboarding do’s and don’ts for distributed teams

Managing distributed teams presents a unique challenge for organisations who, up until this point, have managed the recruitment process and onboarding of new team members face-to-face.

Without the opportunity for face-to-face inductions and introductions, it’s crucial that organisations take the time to review their processes and adapt them for a remote working environment.

Today we’re going to take a look at the do’s and don’ts for onboarding new employees in a distributed team so that you can ensure you’re providing a great experience for both your newest team member and the team they’re about to become a part of.

Let’s get straight to it, shall we?


Onboarding tips for distributed teams.


DO: Get to know your new team member before they arrive.

While you’ve probably hired this new team member for a myriad of reasons, like skillset, knowledge and experience, it’s important to take the time to get to know this new team member on an individual level too.

When you are familiar with the interests, passions and values of the new team member, you’ll be able to accurately start painting the picture of who this new team member is as a person and how to support their success in your team. 

With this information in hand, you’ll be able to create a welcoming virtual environment for your new team member (custom Slack emojis, a surprise delivery of their favourite dessert on their first day and a virtual team morning tea). As well as communicate to your existing distributed team who this new person is and what they’re all about.

Some ideas for questions you could ask a new recruit before they join the team are:

  • What’s your favourite dessert? In preparation for a special delivery.
  • What’s your favourite holiday destination and why? To gain a little insight.
  • What’s your favourite quote? This can be presented as a screen saver or in other ways.
  • What’s your favourite movie of all time and why? Again, to gain a little insight.

Remember what you felt like on your first day; a mixture of excitement and nerves. Consider this when making preparations for your new team member, and don’t forget that first impressions count – make them feel welcomed and part of the team.


DON’T: Make the new recruit a complete surprise to the team.

When your teams are working remotely and collaborating over Zoom, Slack and Email, it’s easy for messages to be missed and for announcements like a new team member joining the team to be overlooked.

A week or so before a new team member is due to join your team, make sure to not only tell your team as a whole on a company-wide video conference call, but also take the time to speak with individual team members that the new recruit will be working closely with. Give them some background and further information on the newest team member and what it means for them and how they can welcome the new team member.


DO: Schedule times for virtual 1:1 get-togethers between team members.

When we aren’t working in a close-knit office environment, it’s difficult to build rapport with new team members. There are no water cooler conversations, no face-to-face interaction and very minimal non-work-related conversation.

This can lead to a largely transactional relationship forming, which if you’ve done our Dealing with the Tough Stuff program you’ll know doesn’t lead to good things if it goes on for too long.

To create a high performing remote work environment for your teams, you need to ramp up the communication and connection, so be sure to set up 1:1 video meetings and other opportunities for your new recruit to get to know their colleagues, and vice versa.

We know that the more we know our colleagues on a relational level, the more likely it is that we will be able to collaborate, empathise, give feedback, and ultimately, work together effectively.


DON’T: Leave it to the new recruit or existing team to start the convo.

While we’d all like to believe that our teams will jump up and down and reach out to their new team member while working remotely, we can also admit that it can slip our minds when we aren’t seeing this new face bobbing around the office throughout the workday.

There’s a degree of separation that comes with distributed teams and so it’s crucial that you take the time to tee up opportunities for your new team member to get to know their colleagues on a relational level, especially in the first few weeks of the new role.


DO: Find a way to celebrate and showcase your company culture.

We may not be working from the same office spaces, but that isn’t to say that we can’t display and celebrate our company cultures. 

Find virtual activities and team rituals that tie in with your company values and make sure to incorporate and highlight these throughout the first few weeks of your new recruit’s employment journey. Helping the newest member of the team understand the cultural rhythms and ‘how we do things here’.

Of course these team rituals should continue on long after the onboarding period has passed, but there may be a couple of key activities that you bring to the fore whenever a new team member joins the team. This could be a fun get-to-know-you quiz, a game of guessing which picture belongs to who, etc.


DON’T: Continue on as business as usual for months before sharing your culture.

For any new team member it’s valuable to be familiar with the values and rituals associated with their new company. As part of your onboarding process make sure to share your company values and explain how they are operationalised while working remotely. Be clear on the expectations around these values and the team rituals that they tie into.

Give examples of what healthy culture looks like and also what the unhealthy type looks like too, so your newest team member understands from the outset, and is not left guessing if they are on the right track.

The more you can communicate and articulate your company culture, the more success you will have onboarding a new team member and making them feel like part of the team.


Did you find this article useful? If so, please share it with a fellow leader who’ll find it useful over the coming weeks and months.