The Challenges of Onboarding Isolated Employees

How to account for the unique challenges posed by isolated employees

Onboarding Isolated Employees

What do construction workers, delivery drivers, and production line workers have in common?

I’ll give you a minute.


Okay, sure, the article title kind of gives it away. The answer is that they all spend a significant portion of their time working in isolation from their peers and supervisors. They are not the only ones, either, as there are many other jobs that require employees to spend much of their time alone. However, these isolated employees present a unique challenge in the onboarding process and require their managers to spend a little extra time to determine how to ensure they are successful.

Because these isolated employees spend the majority of their time working by themselves, separate from the rest of the team in either task or actual location, it is easy for them to begin to feel left out. They may miss out on important decisions or conversations, and soon they can get the impression that their voice is not being heard. Once this happens, they become less invested in the success of the company because they do not feel valued.

Speaking of values, an employee who spends most his workday by himself will have a harder time instilling the company values into his work. He is less exposed to the culture than employees who work in groups, and this makes it harder for him to internalize it. Instead, his own personal values will continue to influence his behavior, even if these are at odds with what the company holds as most important.

This raises another important concern. Old habits are harder to break in an isolated employee, because he neither sees examples of how to perform tasks more efficiently nor is told when his approach is not ideal. Working on his own, no one is there next to him to offer encouragement or accountability. His productivity, then, is lower than it could be with better instruction and mentoring. In fact, an employee that makes $40,000 a year and spends one hour per day “figuring it out” on his own will waste $5,000 each year because of this lack of mentorship.

What’s more, working in isolation can be very intimidating. If there is a problem, he knows that he will have to solve it on his own. For new isolated employees especially, this can cause anxiety that hampers performance. And the problem is compounded further when the employee needs to interact with customers, as that provides a host of potential variables, such as questions he can’t answer or complaints he can’t resolve.

What, then, can a manager do to meet these challenges and provide the isolated employee with all the tools he needs to be successful?

Well, at the beginning of the relationship, the onboarding process should help set the tone for the relationship moving forward. It should explain the company values and how the employee is expected to embody them. This will help the isolated employee instill them and allow them to guide his work. Moreover, the onboarding process should set forth expectations and offer solutions about how he can best meet them. This will keep him accountable and offer the support he needs to perform his duties.

The next step for the manager is to try to reduce the feelings of isolation as much as possible. She should explain during the onboarding process that she will meet with isolated employees regularly, reviewing their progress and setting concrete goals. This way, they know what is expected of them and can be held accountable. Additionally, there should be team meetings to provide everyone with a sense of community and interdependency.

Finally, and relatedly, the onboarding process should demonstrate that there is a support system in place for any problems or questions isolated employees may have. This will help with the feelings of anxiety, as he knows who to call with any issue that may come up. Also, it will reinforce the idea that he is not alone in the workplace but that there are a number of coworkers on whom he can rely and who also rely on him.


For more information on onboarding isolated employees, see our other blog posts on