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Onboarding is a difficult process under any circumstances. Now, with many firms working remotely, it has become even more of a challenge. The effect on businesses is tangible: some firms in need of staff have deferred hiring completely. What used to work may no longer be feasible, but for small and medium sized practices (SMPs) especially, hiring simply cannot be put off indefinitely.

To help your staff succeed with onboarding despite new challenges, here are measures to be considered:

Getting the Technology and Environment Right

The first step for onboarding is to organize a proper work-from-home (WFH) space for maximum productivity. Some tips include:

  • Do not assume that a new staff member knows how to set up a suitable workstation.
  • It is important the administration or IT department conduct a remote test on the set-up to ensure the new hire’s VPN, Wi-Fi connection, and system security are operating well.
  • Consider the need to have other office equipment for the new hire, such as noise-reducing headphones, a printer and printing supplies, smart lighting, and other ergonomic furniture. The firm may need to set policies on whether to provide these items or require staff to procure their own.
  • Sharing literature on creating an effective working environment can be a good way to encourage staff to think about their designated WFH space and their overall daily routine, including exercise, work, and breaks.

Communication and Work Expectations

The first day working remotely can be an unusual experience for the employer and the employee. Both need to make more effort to stay connected than would be necessary in an in-person environment. The immediate supervisor should set how often they want to hear from the staff and clarify what updates will be expected (and in what format). It is perfectly fine to adjust this as each other gets comfortable with the due process over time.

It is important to ensure that new staff are aware of the firm’s etiquette with intra-office communication and tools such as Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp, and Slack. For example, what is the firm’s policy on e-mail? Are they best reserved for formal communications? When should staff use the online chat functions? Most of these tools have online tutorials that can help staff learn how to use them.

It is essential to set some short- and long-term goals quickly. This will help new staff understand more fully how their efforts contribute to the firm’s operations and ultimately to its success.

Staff Interaction

Virtual employees can have a tough time connecting with a new team. It is helpful for firms to set up a buddy system in which a more senior staff member (but not the immediate supervisor) is paired with a new hire to help with adjusting in the first few months, and to be available to answer any questions. The senior "buddy" should check on the new staff regularly. This is especially critical in the new hire’s first few days on the job. Firms can use the “buddy” system to arrange relaxed catchups over coffee between the new hire and their senior mentor, or a virtual happy hour in which the “buddy” helps the new hire and the team to get to know each other better—beyond business.

Some firms have set up different resource groups, hosting regular talks or Slack channels focusing on areas of common interest such as sports, cooking, or pets and new staff are encouraged to join.

A Remote Work Policy Checklist

While many firms have quickly adapted to remote working since the start of the pandemic, it is equally important for them to establish a remote work policy, if they don’t already have one. This will certainly ease the process of onboarding of new staff.

According to an article by Distribute Consulting, a firm specializing in remote work consulting, having clear and accessible company rules and policies can make the transition to remote work easier for new hires.

Below is a checklist of what a remote work policy should contain:

  • A succinct summary of the entire remote work policy for quick and easy reference.
  • A guide to jargon and acronyms commonly used within the remote work policy and around the office.
  • Administrative protocol that clearly spells out due process for any need to change the remote working arrangement.
  • Policies on the firm's fixed asset stewardship to inform new staff about who or which department tallies the assets being sent to staff, the conditions of these assets, etc.
  • The workday schedule of the organization, to include the hours that the staff is expected to be “on,” the holidays that the firm observes, and—when possible—any guidance on when staff might return to in-person work.
  • Information security policies and security training to ensure the integrity and confidentiality of information being kept by the firm.   
  • Expectations for an employee’s working environment, such as “webcam-on” requirements during meetings and background noise control.
  • Details about liability and insurance relevant to the employee’s compensation insurance during remote work, as well as how the firm’s assets are secured in case of losses.
  • Directions on the use of communication channels, such as expectations for the use of different platforms for certain kinds of communication—including important official announcements from within the company.
  • Opportunities for learning and development that the firm provides, and how staff can pursue and benefit from these resources.
  • A comprehensive directory of contacts that specifies who an employee should reach in case of IT issues, such as connection, software, or hardware problems, as well as who in the office handles requests for supplies.


As more firms have discovered the benefit of WFH, a well-written manual covering many of the areas above and a flexible implementation regime will go a long way to improve and ease the process of remote onboarding.  For more of what should be included in a staff office manual, please refer to Module 1 of IFAC’s Guide to Practice Management for Small- and Medium-Sized Practices. Module 4 of the same guide on ‘People Power: Developing a People Strategy’ will also be useful reference for developing human resource policies.

After months of disruptions from COVID-19, some firms are questioning the need to have an office at all—even when the pandemic subsides. If that trend materializes, a good set of policies and a clear and accessible operational manual on remote work will be an indispensable reference for the practice of the future during onboarding and subsequent operations.   

The following are some articles on the Knowledge Gateway that deal with issues that may also be of interest:

George Willie

George Willie became a member of the Small and Medium Practices Committee in January 2015. He was nominated by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).

Mr. Willie is the managing partner of Bert Smith & Co. He has over 40 years of experience specializing in the audits of healthcare, government, and not-for-profit entities.

Mr. Willie has served in numerous leadership positions within the AICPA, including chair of the Private Companies Practice Section Executive Committee, member of the Board of Directors, member of the Board of Examiners, secretary of the Political Action Committee, and chair of the Minority Initiatives Committee.

Mr. Willie earned an MBA from American University and a BBA in accounting from Howard University. He is a licensed CPA in the District of Columbia and US Virgin Islands, a Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA), and a Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM).

Johnny Yong

Executive Director, Confederation of Asian and Pacific Accountants

Prior to joining CAPA in July 2023, Johnny was the Head of Capital Market & Assurance at the Malaysian Institute of Accountants (MIA) where his main role was to develop guidelines, standards, and technical guidance materials for accountants and auditors in Malaysia. Between 2016 and early 2021, Johnny was a Technical Manager in IFAC, managing the SMP Committee (now known as an Advisory Group). Previously he was a partner of a training provider in Malaysia, led MIA's public practice department, and initially qualified as an accountant following his articleship with BDO Malaysia.