How to make your outsourced remote employee part of the team

Onboarding remote and outsourced employees is essential for virtual team building.

Remote or in house, onboarding is essential for teambuilding.

Feeling like a part of the team is difficult for every new hire. This is especially true when your coworkers may not be located in the same city or country as you are. 

With the rise of outsourcing, more and more workers are transitioning to digital workspaces. It makes sense, outsourcing benefits include flexibility, efficiency, and scalability (not to mention saving money on things like office space and equipment). 

But the gig economy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Unfortunately, many remote workers experience loneliness and sub-par communication, both of which reduce the overall productivity of your team. 

An onboarding process is just as essential in a digital workspace as it is in a physical one. Stop treating your outsourced and remote employees as second class citizens: onboard them properly to increase workplace efficiency and collaboration. 

How can you ensure that individuals who may live across the world feel as if they are a part of the team? While it’s true remote workers face a specific set of hurdles, fully onboarding outsourced employees is still possible. With the help of technology, a few best practices, and a little creativity, they’ll feel like one of the gang in no time (even if they do happen to be located in different time zones). 

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Communication is key

Some cliches are here for a reason. When it comes to onboarding a new employee, establishing clear and open lines of communication is your first priority. 

An onboarding checklist is an essential tool here. Tried and tested, it’s just as important to have one for your digital workforce as it is for your physical one. While you probably don’t have to show them where the kitchen is, a rundown of company policies, structure, brand, and working hours (if applicable) is essential. Ensure they have access to all the files, software, and technical equipment to do their job. Don’t forget to explain your invoicing and payroll process, as well as any upcoming due dates. 

Give your new outsourced employee an introduction via email or messaging apps like Slack, or invite them to introduce themselves. Specific questions encourage them to share personal details, injecting some humanity into your slack channels. For example, if you have an agtech company, you could encourage your new employees to share their favorite vegetable, or to come up with a grain-based pun as their nickname. “George Dubyah Bushel” is much more memorable than “George the new marketing guy”. 

Once you’ve opened up those lines of communication, you’ve got to keep them open. Check in during their first day to ensure there are no issues. Continue to check in throughout the first week to nip potential problems in the bud. Invite your new employee to ask questions, and make feedback channels clear. Let them know who they can go to with specific questions or concerns. 

Whenever geography allows, in person is almost always better in terms of communication. Even if only for a quick intro or lunch, a personal introduction goes a long way towards making someone feel welcome and establishing personal relationships. After your team has met in person, keep them connected via frequent video chats. 

Video chatting software like Zoom or GoToMeeting allows your team to see each other face to face, allowing for better communication. Screen sharing and video conferencing can make it feel as if everyone is in the same room together, even if they are actually miles apart. 

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Build your team 

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: team building is not optional.

Social trust among team members is the number one indicator of success.

Luckily, the same principles of team building apply to both remote and physical workspaces

Whenever physically possible, invite your outsourced employee to company-wide team building events, lunches, or after work hangouts. However, if your team of outsourced employees is heavily scattered around the world, in person team building can be prohibitively expensive or logistically impossible. In this case, try out virtual team building exercises. 

Here are some of our favorite methods for virtual team building:

  • Fortunately/unfortunately: This campfire classic can be easily adapted for online teams. Start with a simple sentence that sets up a scenario, then each player takes turns adding to it, creating a funny and original story. The twist: players must alternate between starting their sentence with “fortunately” or “unfortunately”. If you have a large team, split up into groups, then have each group share their story with the rest. Vote on who made up the wildest tale.
  • Whose is it? : Invite each team member to submit a photo to the moderator of something unique they own or use. Have everyone else guess the owner of each object. This game has many variations that can be repeated endlessly: ask your team members to submit a photo of an everyday object like their coffee cup, pen, or mouse pad. Then, start each weekly meeting by guessing whose is whose. Who would have thought Dave from HR writes in purple pen??  
  • Online multiplayer games: If members of your team already love a specific online multiplayer game, organize a time when everyone can get together and play. If you need more ideas, check out Scribble (virtual Pictionary), Quizbreaker (virtual quizzes), or Words with Friends (self explanatory).
  • Lunch and Learns/ Virtual Coffee Breaks: This is a great method for continually developing your team’s camaraderie. Schedule team-wide coffee or snack breaks, and invite one member of your team to give an informal talk about anything they are passionate about. It can be a new coding language they are learning, a hobby they are passionate about, a trip they took recently, or a charitable cause that’s in line with your company values. Rotate speakers to allow everyone to learn more about their colleagues as human beings, not just icons on a screen.

Why can’t we be friends?

While your digital workspace probably doesn’t have a watercooler, establishing spaces for non work related conversation (the coveted ‘watercooler chat’) is essential to the health of your team. Friendships at work are a crucial element of employee satisfaction and retention, not to mention engagement and productivity. 

Invite employees to share non work related news, jokes, or cat memes in dedicated communication channels. Support special interest groups among both outsourced and in-house employees, like Marvel fans, k-pop junkies, or just people who like the hot wings at that dive bar down the street. A few minutes of non-work related conversation can actually help your productivity. Since remote workers are more likely to lack these essential work friendships, you need to provide opportunities for bonding and foster spaces for virtual watercooler chat. 

Think long-term

Onboarding isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Creating and maintaining camaraderie among your employees is a task that requires constant attention and careful management. However, a well-onboarded, fully trained, and engaged remote workforce is a powerful thing. When workers feel as if they are a part of the team, they will be more productive, collaborative, and happier at work. Onboard your outsourced employees properly, and reap the benefits of a well-built team. 

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