Remote Onboarding For Universities: 7 Things To Consider When Onboarding From Home


The new school year is rapidly approaching. By the end of the month, millions of students will be back in school, but the setting will look drastically different from the way it usually looks. Whether you are onboarding student workers or faculty and staff, remote onboarding for universities is essential right now.

There Are Multiple Aspects Of Remote Onboarding

Before we begin to talk about remote onboarding for universities, let’s go over some of the general aspects of remote onboarding and best practices:

  1. Paperwork: Most paperwork is geared towards face-to-face onboarding. When onboarding remotely, you need to be able to translate the paperwork electronically.
  2. Culture: Work culture is a massive part of onboarding. How do you ensure that employees are acclimating to the company culture online?
  3. Education: Last but not least, onboarding should educate new employees. What do they need to know? What do they need to have access to? Make sure most of this knowledge is shared during the onboarding process.

7 Essentials Of Remote Onboarding For Universities

Now that we understand the multiple aspects of remote onboarding, let’s dive into the seven essentials of remote onboarding for universities.

1. Recreate Your Onboarding Process Virtually

If you’ve already got an onboarding process that works in person, you don’t need to reinvent it! Think about how you welcome new employees in-person and create that online. As much as we’d love to meet in person, doing so isn’t safe. If you are holding out on creating a virtual onboarding process, you are limiting your university and the connection you can make with new hires.

If you’ve ever read books like The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins, you know the importance of the first few months of employment. Employees are continually making decisions during this time on whether they feel like your company provides a great place to work. Building a stellar onboarding process allows your employees to feel connected to the university, form friendships, and feel supported as they work online.

2. Choose An Onboarding System That Can Be Understood By A Large Range Of People

If you are in charge of onboarding at a university, you’re probably onboarding many people. On top of that, universities tend to employ a wide range of people like students, faculty, and staff members. You also use full-time and part-time employees. With all the hiring you do, things can get messy. If you want remote onboarding to succeed, you need employee onboarding software that everyone can understand. How do you move people through the onboarding process quickly? What are some potential bottlenecks you might encounter along the way?

Students will need frequent reminders to ensure that they are getting information in on time. You’ll also want to ensure that you have an excellent error resolution workflow to return paperwork that isn’t correct.

Older employees may need a bit of training on how to use the system. You’ll probably want to record a brief tutorial to keep everyone up to date on how the system works. Older employees will probably understand the forms they are filling out and how to fill them in correctly, which is great for system administrators.

3. Welcome New Hires With Digital Open Arms

After the paperwork is complete, you need to welcome new hires with open arms! Well, digital ones anyway. Make sure you send emails, Slack notifications, etc. to your new hire.

At WorkBright, we made a video welcoming all of our new hires into the company. The new hires got to play the video at their convenience during onboarding week. It was a sweet gesture and a quick way for new hires to see some of the faces of WorkBright.

Here are some other ways to welcome new hires:

  • Send a welcome package with university swag.
  • Sign a digital card welcoming the new hire to the team.
  • Host a virtual meet and greet with the new team members.
  • Feature new employees in a newsletter.
  • Shout out new hires on social media.

All of these ideas can be used at the university level or at the college/department level. As an HR manager, you’ll want to ensure that each new hire feels like a part of the university and their specific department.

4. Add A Mentorship Component

We’ve talked about the importance of mentorship on the WorkBright blog before. Mentors are critical, especially when you work for a large organization. It can be easy for employees to get lost and have a hard time acclimating to the culture. Sometimes it’s a matter of an employee who doesn’t feel comfortable going to their department chair for something. Everyone is getting to know one another. If you can provide a mentor whose duty it is to get to know your new employee, it will help your new faculty and staff members acclimate quicker.

5. Schedule Regular Check-Ins With New University Employees

Regular check-ins should come from two levels:

  • HR Leaders
  • Managers/Department Leaders

As an HR professional, you should take time to ensure that your new employees are getting everything they need to succeed. This isn’t just a department-level issue. As an HR leader, you might not have access to faculty and staff all the time, but you can provide resources that department leaders and managers can use.

For example, the University of Michigan has a Retention Toolkit on its website that managers can use. While they may not be reaching out to every new employee, they provide helpful resources that each department can use.

Alternatively, you can provide group check-ins. Assign each new hire to a group and chat with that small group on Zoom during a designated time. These group check-ins will:

  1. Allow you to meet with more employees in a shorter timeframe versus 1:1s.
  2. Let those employees meet people outside their department.

At the department level, you should be checking in with your new employees often. At WorkBright, we have regular reviews every 30 days during the first 90 days. Managers also host regular 1:1 meetings with their employees every week. During these meetings, WorkBright employees can meet with their manager, ask questions, get help with work, and keep connected.

6. Ensure Nothing Falls Through The Cracks

It’s easy for things to fall through the cracks when everyone is working from home. Do people have what they need to succeed? Do they have access to the technology, information, and other resources required to do their job?

Each department should list the resources and tools they use, from hardware like laptops to software like SPSS. Each new employee should get those items as the bare minimum. On top of that, departments should reach out to new employees to ensure they have everything they personally need, and if not, those items should be purchased (within reason.)

7. Don’t Forget To Help New Hires Acclimate Once They Get Back To Campus

Last but not least, you should be putting time on your calendar down the line when everyone gets back to campus. Even if your school has decided that Fall 2020 will be online, you might think differently in Spring 2021 or Summer 2021. If so, what will you do when school is back in session?

Working online is different from working in-person where you are meeting faculty, staff, and students face-to-face. Are your new employees prepared for the differences they’ll face?


What To Look For In A Remote Onboarding System For Universities

Next, let’s cover a few things to look for when purchasing a remote onboarding system for universities.


Security is of utmost importance for remote university onboarding. Universities have an immense amount of data on students, faculty, and staff members. Data like:

  • Driver’s licenses
  • Social security numbers
  • Personal addresses
  • Payment information
  • And more!

Due to the amount of information employers need to hire employees, any system you use to store that data needs to be secure.

While most universities have systems to store this information on campus, you need to ensure that you can keep the same security level online. You should be using a secure website to transfer this information in a way that isn’t easily accessible. Personally identifiable information shouldn’t be transferred via email because there are too many variables at play when it comes to hacking emails and phishing online.

User Permissions

Another unique setting you want in any remote onboarding software is user permissions. Universities have a lot of users who need access to paperwork. Human resources professionals need access to various documents, but department chairs only need access to records in their departments. How do you ensure that department leaders only have access to documents that matter to them?

At WorkBright, we have user permissions set up as an add-on to our onboarding package. While we allow unlimited admins with all of our onboarding plans, user permissions allow you to set up who has access to what. With so many departments in a typical university, you want to ensure that your admins access the information that pertains to them.

Paperwork Groups

Another cool WorkBright feature is our paperwork groups feature. When you are onboarding new employees, there is a lot of paperwork involved. Students, faculty, and staff all need slightly different paperwork. Putting those packets together can be time-consumptive for you or the employees who print off these documents. WorkBright allows you to assign each person a specific set of materials based on criteria you set up. That way, you can ensure you get the papers you need filled out, and your employees feel better about their work. 

Rehiring Capabilities

Universities hire, fire, and rehire all sorts of people–especially students. When you rehire students, sometimes you need additional paperwork to make that happen. For example, maybe you have a new policy that workers need to sign off on, or they need to re-do one of their government forms.

If so, you need a system that can do this easily. You don’t want to be stuck trying to figure out how to retain your employees from semester to semester. At WorkBright, we understand the importance of rehiring. We’ve built a rehiring functionality into the platform to help companies all across the country rehire with ease.

End-To-End Remote Onboarding

Last but not least, you need an end-to-end remote solution. We’ve worked hard to create a solution that’s remote-friendly. Recently we released a huge feature that allows you to verify the I-9 remotely. With this feature, we can provide a completely remote onboarding experience for customers across the country. 

Form I-9 is historically one of the trickiest parts of the remote onboarding process. Someone needs to be able to see the document and verify its authenticity. Typically employers do this within the first few days of employment, but this is more challenging now. Since your employees are working remotely, they likely won’t come into the office to have these documents checked. 

There are many ways you could do verify I-9 documents. Remote I-9 allows your employees to designate an authorized representative who can perform this document check on your behalf.

Conclusion: Remote Onboarding For Universities Can Be Easy

Remote onboarding for universities can be tricky. Most institutions have set ways of connecting with new faculty, staff, and student employees. While these methods worked when everyone was on campus, they can struggle when people work from home. We hope we gave you some helpful insight into what to expect when onboarding remotely.