7 creative ways of onboarding new employees: Lessons from real companies

January 7, 2022
June 26, 2023
Employee Onboarding

If somebody tells you that a branded pen, notebook or t-shirt is a creative way to win over new employees, it’s about time you stopped listening to them! That new employee might be a digital notetaker anyway, and in that case, all you’ve done is contribute to a cluttered desk that stresses new hires out as soon as they arrive…

The ways we work have changed, so have the places we do that work – the only thing that seems to be lagging behind in many companies is how they onboard and develop their people.

Well, we’ve taken inspiration from those doing things a little differently and compiled our favourite employee onboarding ideas, including a new perspective on company swag and connecting new hires to your values.

Intercom: Connecting new employees to values and leadership early on

How often has an all-hands meeting been shared with you during onboarding? At Intercom, employees receive the recording to a company-wide session where refreshed values were shared with the team. This is just one way the support giants moved to support new employees as they switched to a remote and virtual onboarding program.

When it comes to something like values, the medium is the message. It’s far more impactful to hear them from a leader’s mouth than read a ghostwritten parody – especially if they’re explaining the journey to those values – and that’s even more crucial during the employee onboarding period.

As you can see below, their updated approach also provides Q&A opportunities with product leaders to understand the strategy and where it’s headed.

Intercom onboarding program

TravelPerk: Grouping new employees together to experience shared onboarding

Think about all the times you tried something new and badgered a friend to come along! Nobody wants to visit a first yoga class alone or undertake their maiden group run as a solo sprinter – it’s much easier if others are in the same mindset and there to divert all eyes from landing on you.

At TravelPerk, they provide an onboarding equivalent of that yoga or running buddy by grouping new hires for their first day.

Normally, this takes place on the first or third Monday of the month and allows for greater efficiency. For example, week one consists of introductions to various departments in the company – something that everyone would benefit from, so it makes sense if that happens less frequently, in groups, providing a better employee experience.

Following that, the personal touch is added. Luis G. Valle explains that, as a software engineer, the team took time to understand which elements of the tech stack he was already familiar with. Flagging those he hadn’t used before, this allowed for a more tailored and useful approach that gets new hires up to speed sooner  and with a more personal touch.

“The starting day at TravelPerk is usually the first or the third Monday of each month. This way people are grouped together for induction — making everything way more effective and efficient.” – Luis G. Valle, TravelPerk.

HappyMoney: Sending a ‘Party in a box’ to a new employee’s front door

Annoyingly, HappyMoney’s Chief People Officer, Lisa Hennessey, doesn’t reveal what’s inside this party box, but the motivation behind it is certainly a lesson in employee onboarding creativity:

“[Our team are] focused on making new hires feel like a party is coming to their house with personal welcome videos, a “party in a box” welcome package at their doorstep and a team lunch. We want them to feel like their team has been eagerly waiting for them to join — which they have.”

In some ways, it’s better that we don’t know! Because any such celebration box should reflect your brand, be based on what you know about the new employee and feel like a personal touch has been taken. Sometimes, the best employee onboarding ideas are the ones that inspire us to take action, rather than simply telling us which actions we should take…

SPR: Welcome and introduce people before day one

The preboarding phase is a unique window, a chance to set in motion everything needed for a warm welcome to new hires! From setting up account access for a new employee to completing their paperwork ahead of start day, companies use that time in different ways. At tech consultancy SPR, it means announcing and introducing a new employee ahead of their first day.

“We started announcing new hires before their first day and sent out a companywide email about them personally and professionally, to welcome them to the company. We have focused on creating a sense of belonging.” – Stephanie Lyons, Recruiting Manager, SPR.

This is all part of a move to become more intentional in how they onboard people, to pay attention to the small things and provide more personal experiences. To ensure people are welcomed by the right colleagues at the right time and given space to connect with them wherever they work.

Buffer: The more buddies, the better!

Buddies are great! They take you out for lunch, fill you in on the company culture and introduce you to the right people – they’re an invaluable resource to a new employee. Now imagine you have three, and they’re each an expert in a different area – welcome to onboarding at Buffer.

The social media management mainstays connect new employees with a:

  • Leader Buddy: An experienced team member who acts as a mentor around the company values.
  • Role Buddy: Who understands and can teach them about their role, helping them improve over 45 days.
  • Culture Buddy: You guessed it, someone who eases them into the culture and helps them become a good fit for it.

“We feel that three buddies is a great way to give bootcampers a variety of interactions within and outside of their core areas. Bootcampers will interact with their three buddies, and they will also connect to those who have a similar role (e.g. other product creators) and team members they are paired with every week.” – Rodolphe Dutel, Buffer.

Marriott: Gamify the application and onboarding process

Technically this happens before employees onboarding begins, but imagine if you could get a flavour for running a hotel restaurant before you applied!? More than a decade ago, Marriott showed their forward-thinking side when creating My Marriott Hotel, a game allowing new hires to run a virtual restaurant and hosted on their careers page.

“The game, which we call ‘My Marriott Hotel,’ gives you a chance to run your own restaurant.  You get to buy equipment and ingredients on a budget, hire and train employees, and serve guests.  You earn points for happy customers and lose points for poor service and food.  When you turn a profit, you win!” –  Bill Marriott, Executive Chairman, Marriott International

Watch the trailer here and remember, go easy on the graphics – it was released in 2011!

Disney: Ensure people understand the traditions before they move on

Ever jumped into a film franchise on the third or fourth movie? You’re clueless about the characters or backstory and end up asking annoying questions to your clued in cinema companions. The same thing can happen when you join a company that’s been around a while without understanding their origins!

Perhaps aware of these potential employee plotholes, Disney ensure every new cast member passes the Traditions course before they move on – and it’s the first thing new hires do in onboarding! As Dennis Snow recounts:

“The first day of work for EVERY new cast member was a one-day class called ‘Disney Traditions.’ You didn’t start your job until you completed Disney Traditions. The class covered three important aspects of working at Walt Disney World. I believe these elements can be applied in any organization: Legacy, Our True Product and What’s Expected”.

Summarising these employee onboarding lessons (updated for 2022)

Although these seem like quite a random bunch of ideas to onboard new hires, there are a few common themes and lessons we can apply to our own onboarding process.

Whatever you do, it has to be on brand

Don’t do something because everyone else is doing it, do it because it’s a great fit for your brand and makes sense as part of an employee onboarding journey! Whether it’s those welcome celebration boxes or task simulations, they’ll only work if they’re applicable to the company and the problems new hires will be coming in to solve.

The employee experience is also a brand experience during those early days and you’ll want it to be an accurate representation.

If you are going to pre-board, do it carefully and considerately

A few of our examples include the practice of pre-boarding – starting the onboarding process before a new employee has started. This is most often used to wrap up paperwork or send over standard information about the company, but it can be used to get people familiar with their role and how they get up to speed.

Whichever way you choose to do it, you’ll have to apply some careful thought and a degree of personalisation. For example, an employee who’s currently out of work might be keen to start learning today, while a new employee who’s in their notice period at their current role might be overwhelmed if you’re sending over lots of emails and documents.

Without sounding like a broken record, this is why you have to personalise the new employee onboarding experience for every new person in the team.

Social learning is your friend, but friendship isn’t the only goal

Whether it’s TravelPerk grouping new hires together or Buffer bringing multiple people to the onboarding process table, it’s clear that creating a shared experienced is key to employee onboarding.

But not just for that usual cliche of making people feel welcome! In these instances, they’re adding a knowledge sharing and social learning angle to the onboarding experience.

If you’re two new employees going through onboarding together, you can team up to understand and apply what you’re learning together. Maybe you’re paired up with a knowledgeable co-worker who’ll provide contextual wisdom that helps you understand your role and the company faster and better.

While it’s nice for employees to make friends during the onboarding process, learning from company experts and applying knowledge as a group are far more useful than small talk. And again, this is something that has to tie in with company culture.

Don’t treat remote employees like second class citizens!

Even as 2022 comes to an end, there’s still a real disconnect between how remote and in-person employees experience the workplace!

Beezy’s 2022 Workplace Trends And Insights Report revealed a 15 percentage point difference between the two groups when it came to having time to learn and a 6% gap in having appropriate places to learn. The point is, there’s a lack of consistency and some of the techniques above do demonstrate a desire to address that.

A great example would be in-person sessions being uploaded as recordings for remote employees. They’re not only missing out on the chance to ask questions, they’re having to watch others do it! For employee onboarding to be fair and consistent, you have to think hybrid first and ensure new hires who can’t onboard in person don’t feel like second-class new faces.

Bonus onboarding lessons for 2022

When we wrote this piece, there were still a lot of companies figuring it out! The onboarding process was fluid, moving with the response to the pandemic and shifts toward hybrid working – so we had to rely on the front runners, the employee onboarding trendsetters.

Now, as 2022 comes to an end, we’ve got plenty more companies smashing it – so, we thought we’d include some quickfire new hire lessons.

Leverage your internal experts to give the onboarding process that extra shine

According to this Comparably roundup, Clearcover teamed up their people and marketing departments to build a new hire welcome video that provides the personal touch often lacking in remote and hybrid onboarding.

“There is a certain nostalgia that comes with walking into the office on your first day and seeing the smiling faces of your new coworkers. The People Team partnered with Brand and Marketing to create a new hire video that is now sent to new teammates on Friday before they start. We wanted to still be able to welcome our newest employees and let them know that we can’t wait to meet them.”

Video is a common theme and tool, which step-by-step guides also created to talk new employees through their tech set up on demand. There are also live sessions hosted on Zoom, helping people understand the company values, operating principles and benefits.

Use virtual breakout rooms to replicate spontaneous interaction

It’s worth giving another quick nod to another company in that roundp. Process management providers Appian run a 3-day virtual onboarding orientation, in which breakout rooms are used to allow new hires to engage with each other. The beauty is that this transcends the in-person and remote divide – regardless of where they’re joining from, they enjoy the same experience.

Preinstall all the tech you can

Simple one, but DigitalOcean ensure they preinstall software and account information on every remote or hybrid hire’s laptop. Most new hires are tech savvy but hardly tech experts, so any friction you can remove will be warmly received. Employee onboarding, especially in remote and hybrid settings, is about ensuring the touchpoints you do have are meaningful and useful. Not everyone is comfortable reaching out multiple times, so removing the common hurdle of tech challenges will help you make those connections and have those conversations with new hires.

For more creative employee onboarding ideas, effective strategies for welcoming new hires and advice from onboarding experts, read Employee onboarding: The complete guide for fast-growing companies

Employee onboarding The complete guide for fast-growing companies (1)

Check out our other employee onboarding resources