Onboarding International Employees: The Essential Guide with Chase Warrington
Onboarding international employees can be more complex than welcoming domestic recruits. Although the process and resources that go into hiring are the same, it's crucial to be sensitive to cultural differences, and find ways to make your new employee feel like a valued part of the team.
An excellent international employee onboarding program is structured, strategic, and scalable. You should go beyond paperwork to help your recruit feel valued, included, and like a successful part of your team. According to SHRM, 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding.
The success or failure of onboarding international employees revolves around one thing —how well you integrate and include them within the organization. While onboarding processes can be different around the world, there are a few essentials to support your new hire on their path to success in your organization.
Best Practices for Onboarding International Employees to Your Company
Great onboarding for your international employees makes them confident in their decision to work with you. The most successful international employee onboarding processes do this by pre-onboarding.
Pre-onboarding is an integral part of the onboarding process. According to a study by Aberdeen, companies that invest in the pre-onboarding process, see an increase in employee retention and engagement.
Pre-onboarding refers to the period after a candidate accepts a job offer but before their first day. The period after accepting a job offer can be a difficult phase for the new hire. It can be even more difficult for an international employee to start a job with people of diverse backgrounds, interests, and ideologies.
For this reason, their future employer needs to stay in touch with them and provide them with reasons to be excited about starting their new job during the international onboarding process. Those first interactions can make it easier for the new employee to adapt and feel comfortable.
We asked Chase Warrington, Head of Remote at Doist about what the pre-onboarding process at Doist is like for new international hires and he shared:
"Our pre-onboarding begins with the hiring process itself, which may seem odd, but is very intentional. Our future hires begin to form a preliminary understanding of our culture, their role, and the people they’ll be working with during our hiring process before we’ve even identified them.
It’s important to us that the entire experience is representative of the culture we have at Doist, so once we do eventually hire someone, there’s an almost natural transition from their hiring process to their onboarding experience. For us, that involves making the hiring process as people-first and collaborative as possible while being transparent.
Once we identify a future hire, they partner with a member of the People Ops team in preparation for their start so they know what to expect and feel comfortable leading up to and after their first day."
Go hard or Go Home: Nail the First Day
Companies need to nail the first day, especially for Gen Z, who are very impressionable. The first days at a new job can set the tone for the rest of your employees’ careers. You risk making the wrong first impression by not investing time in designing the right first-day plan.
On their first day, a new hire shouldn't be overburdened with information or left sitting at their desk with nothing to do. Create a plan for a memorable international onboarding experience, and figure out what that should look like. Make sure to align new hires with the company's mission, teams, and culture from the moment they enter their new office.
With preparedness and a first-day onboarding checklist, you can turn the typical first-day employee anxiety into genuine excitement. Making the right impression will not only prepare your employee for their new role and the responsibilities that come with it but also help them to feel comfortable and welcomed in your organization.
Chase shared the Doist First Day experience with us, and it was nothing short of exciting. When asked what a typical first day at Doist looks like for new employees, he said:
"We intentionally create a very calm first week at Doist for our new hires, and the first day is considered extremely light. We suggest they spend a few hours reading through Twist, an async team communication tool, and get familiar with how we work."
"They are given access to a dedicated Todoist onboarding project,” he continued, “which lays out a series of tasks, links to handbook pages and relevant threads, access to tools with login information, some suggested books and articles that explain how we work as a remote team, and some fun activities to help them get to know their teammates over the coming months. Some examples include:
- Posting 10 interesting facts about themselves in a dedicated thread in Twist
- Setting up 5 introductory meetings with teammates outside of their immediate team (usually, the team head will make some suggestions)
- Join our non-work channels in Twist, like #parenting, #cooking, #fitness, #travel.
One key here is that the new hire will immediately see that we work 95% asynchronously. They are not asked to attend any meetings or participate in any standups. Everything is delivered and communicated async, and they are shown that they can craft their workday as it works best for them.
The team lead will also take this opportunity to introduce the new hire to their mentor, who will be their guide through the first six months of employment."
Andrew Gobran, the People Operations Generalist at Doist, also added, "We invite our new hires to schedule a 1:1 with their team lead to build rapport and introduce what that working relationship will look like. However, most of the onboarding indeed happens async.
In many cases, new hires start their onboarding without any live guidance which is both empowering and sensitive to those who might find it stressful to be thrown into a bunch of social interactions very quickly."
Aim for an Excellent First-Week Onboarding
Generally, the first weeks should build on what was started on the first day. Employees should be provided with all the equipment and tools they need to do their job well. The first week is very important in validating your employee's decision to join your company.
The reality is that you don’t know for sure if your new international hire is committed to their new work situation. Transitioning to a new workplace is hard and can be stressful for everyone. People navigating a new work environment are bound to feel like fish out of the water.
A new hire might spend their first week missing their previous job, colleagues, bosses, or another employment opportunity they were pursuing if the first week of international onboarding is not strategic and focused.
A strong international employee onboarding process is the best way to show new workers that your company is their ideal fit. You make lasting impressions in those first few days, so it's critical to continually remind your new hire that they are in the right place. Actively communicate that your organization is thrilled to have them on board.
Chase talked to us further about the first week's experience for international new team members at Doist. He said, "We don’t distinguish too much between hours and days —we think more in terms of weeks and months."
"New hires are given access to this project and the tools we use and then expected to spend the first week simply getting settled in. We expect the first day to be more like a half-day, and the whole week to be more like ⅔ of a week,” he further explained.
“They shouldn’t feel pressured to commit to any synchronous sessions or produce anything, necessarily. This week is mainly about getting comfortable with how we work, asking questions, and perhaps connecting with a few colleagues.
Surprisingly, one of the ways people connect best is over the 10 interesting facts posted. Instead of asking people to stand up and mention a few interesting points or introduce themselves, we ask them to do this asynchronously and give it some real thought.
During the first week, the new hire has a task assigned to them in Todoist to complete this, and it’s amazing what people are willing to share! More importantly, this helps them immediately connect with others, when they’re given the time and space to think about this and craft the message as they want.
I’ve seen friendships formed instantly as people learn they have a shared passion for anything from scuba diving to knitting, parenting to religion. It’s pretty powerful, and a very simple activity to introduce."
Understand Onboarding Never Really Ends
When does onboarding end? Ideally, it never ends. To keep your remote workforce engaged, motivated, and productive, you have to be intentional about maintaining onboarding as a continuous process.
Chase Warrington agrees with this and said: "I don’t know if that (onboarding) ever ends, but generally, we space this time out over six months, at which time the formal mentorship 'ends', but again, I don’t think it ever really ends."
Provide Remote Work Equipment, Tools, or Stipend
Companies can choose to give employees the equipment they need by providing a stipend to buy it or by buying it directly for their employees. Others opt for a Bring Your Own Device strategy that allows employees to use the equipment they already have at home. For instance, Doist provides stipends for their new employees.
"We welcome new hires with a 'welcome budget' to buy a new gadget of their choice. They are provided $600 to spend on any device that will help them enjoy starting their new role. This may be a new tablet, phone, office upgrade, or anything along those lines.
We also provide our teammates with $3,500-$5000 every three years to upgrade their home offices. The amount varies a bit depending on your role and dependency on utilizing the latest technology, but generally speaking, everyone spends around $1500 per year on home office upgrades, paid for by the company."
Celebrate diversity and be Inclusive
As employers with new international employees, it is important to prioritize diversity and inclusion. There is no denying that diversity in the workplace and life is an asset. Individual experiences are different and most of the time they inform our preferences, our conduct, and our decisions.
When everyone in the organization has similar life experiences, comes from similar backgrounds, and shares the same ethnicity, you can expect some similar thinking —fewer dissenting opinions and maybe even a narrower range of possible business options.
What if your company were to have a workforce that is diverse and made up of people with different ideas, priorities, and tactics that become part of internal communications? In a globalized economy that caters to a growing number of fragmented markets, the opportunity to consider a broader range of options can be valuable to businesses.
Employers should celebrate diversity and inclusion. Chase, when asked how Doist celebrates the cultural differences of international employees, said: "We’re 100 people from 35 different countries, so every third person is from 'somewhere else’. That diversity is our superpower and we want to harness this as much as possible.
We encourage people to be open and honest about their opinions, practice radical candor, and share how they would approach a subject or challenge, as often as possible. This conversation happens in Twist, but we also encourage synchronous virtual chats as well, which give people from across the globe a chance to connect and chat.
In short, our approach is not necessary to create specific cultural exchanges but to foster an environment where we don’t need to distinguish between an inter-cultural exchange, and just, exchange. We’re diverse and international by default, so baking this into the way we collaborate is vital for our success.
That said, there are some activities we’ve experimented with and/or are evaluating, like cooking classes, language exchanges, cultural background talks, walking tours, etc., that will give people an opportunity to share more about their lives in the places they live.
We also have some dedicated channels and threads on subjects like:
- Ask Doist: a single question that is posted to the team, and often asks people about how they do something in their home country (i.e., what do you put on your toast at home?). The answers to that question were actually really interesting!
Finally, one major change we made was in how we approach holidays. We now provide everyone with 40 days per year to use as they see fit. This means you can choose to use those days for Christmas, Kwanzaa, or Hanukkah, or decide to work on a national holiday and instead take the day off for a local festival that is more important to you.”
“The disparity between the way one country, like the US, approaches holidays and another, like Spain, is quite different,” he continued, “so we wanted to embrace a policy that allows everyone to have ample time to disconnect and enjoy the holidays that are important to them. The only rules are that vacation time is mandatory and checking in while on vacation is not allowed.
Doist also revised ‘sick days’ to become ‘health days,’ granting full-time employees 12 paid days (excluding PTO) to use if they are feeling unwell or need to tend to a sick family member. Together, this equates to a total of 52 paid days off per year, resulting in a 90% employee retention rate, where it’s typical for team members to have a tenure of 5-10 years."
A great onboarding experience for new international employees will make them well-informed, comfortable, and satisfied. An efficient, effective, and engaging onboarding process will be obvious when your new hire has socially, professionally, and practically integrated into your organization.
Employers can provide equipment to their teams using a third-party IT equipment management platform such as GroWrk. We provide equipment management solutions in over 150 countries so you can easily onboard international employees. Request a demo to start providing your remote employees with the equipment they need.