Whenever you walk into a hotel lobby for the first time, chances are you make instant judgments based on the environment and the way you are greeted and treated by the staff. Similarly, how a new employee is greeted and treated by his or her new team will set the tone for that work experience.

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Successful onboarding programs can increase engagement and retention. When you work with remote employees, an exceptional and thorough onboarding program is even more critical. Certainly it's challenging to keep remote workers engaged. But setting the right tone at the onboarding stage will improve engagement, productivity and employee satisfaction.

So, if your company utilizes remote workers, follow these four best practices to set up the entire team for success.

1. Recognize that onboarding starts at hiring.

Onboarding really begins during the hiring process . Managers must ask strategic, behavioral-interview questions that will paint a picture of a candidate’s work ethic, ability to work independently and his or her fit within the greater organization. Look for signs that candidates are self-starters and will thrive in an often isolated work environment.

It's important to remember that working remotely is very different from working onsite. A gregarious, extroverted people-person may fit in well at the corporate office, but that person may not be able to handle a virtual work arrangement. On the other hand, an introvert who may not fit in to a boisterous physical office environment may make a wonderful addition to the team from a telecommuting perspective. Assessing skills is important, but it is equally imperative to assess a candidate’s ability to thrive while working from a distance.

2. Deploy the right technology.

The rise in telecommuting has resulted from technological advancements. Use technology to your advantage to keep remote workers plugged into the home team. Video chats, meeting software, instant messaging, project management software and mobile applications make it easier than ever before to stay connected.

So, choose your technology based up on the needs of the group, and be sure that your company has the bandwidth and capabilities to keep those technologies up and running. These technologies humanize the digital experience, and foster a connection with remote employees that's stronger and better than a phone call or email.

3. Maintain a continuous connection.

It's easy for virtual workers to fall into the category of “out of sight, out of mind.” The first 90 days of any employee’s tenure sets the stage for future success, and managers must be willing and able to set aside time to connect with remote workers on a regular basis in in their first weeks, in order to establish a pattern and rhythm of staying in touch.

Remote employees and managers should speak each day for the first two to three weeks. During those check-ins, managers should make sure the employee is clear on his or her priorities and what needs to be done. Once progress has been established, those chats can be less frequent and ultimately fall into a weekly or bi-weekly communication, depending on the nature of the tasks at hand.

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4. Help telecommuters help themselves.

Managers aren’t the only team members challenged by telecommuting. The employees themselves also face challenges. Working from home can be isolating, and employees face a daily onslaught of distractions. Virtual workers can also face challenges when it comes to establishing connections with team members and colleagues.

Employers can help make the transition to virtual work easer by developing telecommuting best practices. Those best practices can be communicated through creative, Twenty-First Century methods. Consider options such as:

  • A telecommuting wiki -- Here, remote workers can share resources, advice and tips.
  • A video handbook -- Remote workers and other team members record short videos offering advice to new telecommuters.
  • A social media group -- Using an internal social media platform like Yammer or SocialCast, set up a group that lets virtual workers connect to resources and coworkers.
  • A “buddy” system -- Pair virtual employees with an employee at the home office to act as a mentor.

Onboarding remote workers isn’t difficult; it merely requires a commitment to make that employee feel connected to the team. Through strong hiring practices, the strategic deployment of technology, continuous communication and some creative thinking, managers can set the tone for a great working environment for even their most geographically distant team members.

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