Your company’s growing, new people are joining the team at rapid speed, and it’s pretty useful if those first few months are happy and productive for each new face that walks through the door. We want them smiling and sticking around, not fleeing and frowning before the first month’s even over…
And if you’re going to do that, you need a consistent and tailored employee onboarding process that scales with your business. Luckily, this is the onboarding guide for forward-thinking companies that are growing fast.
Onboarding’s not what it used to be… and that’s kind of the point! A few years ago, it was probably a quick tour of the office on day one, a two-week induction plan and a few check-ins after you’re chucked in at the deep end.
With many companies moving towards hybrid and remote working models, we’ve seen a period of reflection and change. The process today is more intentional, whether that’s integrating people into the culture, stepping away from the one-size approach to help individuals better prepare for their role, or getting more in place ahead of day one.
However, the fundamentals of onboarding are pretty consistent – so we should take a step back and define those. It’s the process of welcoming and integrating new employees into the organisation, setting out formalised processes and milestones that help you assess when that person is up to speed and ready to do their job.
A good onboarding program typically lasts between six weeks and three months, covering employee handbook content, ticking off compliance training and connecting people with the knowledge and people they need to perform productively in their role.
It depends! Research shows it can take 12 months to reach peak performance! Treat onboarding as an ongoing process of identifying the skills someone needs to reach a goal or level of productivity, help them build those and repeat until they’re at their peak.
Underestimate the power of onboarding at your peril! It’s no secret that the first few months at a new company determine how you’re fitting in, how productive you are in the role and whether you’re going to bother sticking around.
And if you’re trying to get buy-in or budget to improve your onboarding journey, it can’t hurt to have a few statistics in your back pocket. Well, you’ve now got 20 crucial numbers on the onboarding process and how it influences employee productivity and retention!
We’ve seen the numbers but not ‘the why’! And it’s really that age-old adage that first impressions count for a lot. A good employee onboarding process helps you feel welcome, it sets clear expectations of your role, gives you the tools to get there, empowers you to make friends at work and shows that the company is committed to your development.
Sadly, it’s not all that common, so giving people a metaphorical onboarding hug could help your employer stand out when it’s time for attracting talent.
For a staggering nine years in a row, the Employee Retention Report named career development as the main reason people leave their job. Onboarding is your biggest opportunity to show paths to progress and that your company values that new employee’s career development.
People don’t leave companies, they leave bosses! A Gallup study found that 75% of the reasons people quit roles are related to their manager, but onboarding could be your antidote.
Suppose your onboarding journey pencils in frequent check-ins, encourages transparency from the manager and gives them the structure to drive employee development. In that case, it builds a better relationship from the start.
If you’re getting high-value information and lots of knowledge that’s related to your role, you’ll find yourself performing faster. If the expectations are clear and the milestones are manageable, progress seems in sight and like you’re heading towards it faster. If you’re meeting people and they’re teaching you how to use all the right tools and tech, you find yourself becoming a pro in no time.
In a lot of onboarding experiences, people don’t get any of this! There’s no clarity, no direction and they’re feeling overwhelmed. It’s as if they’re in the middle of the ocean, treading water and with no land in sight. A structured onboarding process is more like travelling across a long lake, where the next dry land’s always in eyeshot, and you can see the endpoint you’re heading for.
You might get by with a little help from your friends in the outside world, but in the office onboarding phase, making friends means more than getting by – it’ll help you fly into the role.
Across any business, people know the culture best – so connecting with them early on helps you understand the values and how it all really works. It’s also the perfect time to build fruitful relationships that stick with you as you grow into life at the company. And who doesn’t want to feel like they’re making friends and becoming part of the community in their first weeks and months!?
The more you build out these processes and structures, the more you create a consistent experience for new employees. Consistent doesn’t mean exactly the same, however, as we’ll get to later. It’s more about consistency of quality, where everybody has that clarity, those goals, clear expectations and is given the tools to hit the ground running – or perhaps jogging, it’s got to be at their pace, after all.
You know what they say about goals, they’ve got to be specific and measurable! The problem with many onboarding guides is that they focus on objectives that aren’t tangible, or at least they don’t help you define the outcomes you’re looking for.
Wanting people to feel welcome, for example, is a noble goal – but how are you going to determine whether you’ve achieved it? That is a mindset you need to have throughout the goal-setting stage, and it’s one we’ll apply here to make sure we’re only talking about actionable goals.
Let’s get the most boring one out of the way. What are the must-do courses and mandatory tests people need to complete for your company to be compliant? These might differ across roles, so it’s crucial you work out which are relevant and when they need to be completed.
Ironically, this is one we’re probably most vague with, and yet it’s the one you’ll need to get most specific with. How are you defining when that new employee has reached productivity? Is it that a customer service rep has led their own client calls or resolved a certain number of queries? Or is it when a sales rep meets certain milestones like a cold call, demo and closed deal? If so, what’s the timeline for reaching those?
We’ll take more about this in measuring onboarding’s effectiveness, but how happy people are in the role should absolutely be a concern! Typically, you’ll find that businesses aim for a certain engagement or satisfaction score on a survey. The questions you need to ask are what you define as success, how often you are going to ask that question and what you’ll do with the insights.
What’s your target for employee retention and turnover? More importantly, how are you going to use onboarding to reach that?
People value progression, they want to feel connected to your company’s purpose, and they typically want to feel part of the team. Consider how you’re weaving that into the onboarding process and measure your turnover or retention rates over time. Roughly a third of employee turnover happens in the first 90 days, so if you don’t do this at the objective stage, then you might get a quick lesson in why you should…
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t focus on and set goals around things like the employee understanding the company culture or having clear expectations about their role. It’s more a case of this being qualitative insights rather than quantitative data – the two compliment each other!
These are typically things you can discuss at one-to-ones and onboarding check-ins, but the answer is much more complex than performance metrics, happiness scores or retention rates.
Onboarding is like the proverbial piece of string, nobody knows how long it should be! Typically, it’s a three-month process that people split into a 30-60-90 day model – which makes sense to an extent. There’s no point asking someone to lead a project in week three and then giving them an introduction to the company in month three.
We’ll get to those 30, 60 and 90-day milestones shortly, but that’s not where onboarding or learning really begin…
Onboarding starts from the moment someone signs the offer! They’re now a part of the team and you should certainly make them feel that way. New job nerves are very much a real thing, and they can amp up if there’s been radio silence since they signed on the dotted line. You need to be less radio silence, and more drivetime radio host, with a reassuring tone and all the information they need to hear.
A VERY important tip: this is when you should be building out the employee onboarding process in your learning platform. You know the role, understand the new hire’s skills, and combine that knowledge into a learning pathway that takes them to productivity.
What product knowledge do they need? Which processes are crucial for them to understand? Who in the team is best placed to share knowledge with them? At which stage is certain information relevant and important? Which skills will they need to build and what tools or materials can help them do it?
These are all considerations you need to make as you build out a personalised onboarding process.
Expert tip: Personio‘s Stella Haniel von Haimhausen explained some of the preboarding tactics the HR and employee onboarding software provider implements during the preboarding period. Drop-in sessions allow people to jump in and ask questions during scheduled slots, while communications begin three weeks before start day to ensure clarity around the onboarding plan. They’ve also implemented hybrid onboarding modules, allowing people to complete parts of the onboarding process – including preboarding – either in the office or the comfort of their own home.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but you can guarantee that day one was important for its foundations! So, this is more a reminder not to overwhelm but to make sure you get the crucial boxes ticked during someone’s first day.
Why 90 days? We’ll let this tweet do the talking! If you don’t get it right in those first 90 days, it might take you another 730 to re-engage that new employee – presuming they hang around that long.
The first 30 days are all about making connections and understanding the role! During this time, you should be setting clear expectations and measuring progress towards those, discussing career development in order to understand longer-term goals, and closing the immediate skill gaps that they need to be productive.
This is why it’s so crucial that you’ve built out the onboarding journey ahead of time, otherwise you might find those first few weeks are disorganised and preventing the new employee from feeling productive. Alongside all the crucial knowledge, it’s important they’re starting to work on projects that allow them to put it all into practice – so keep that in mind too.
Finally, make sure you’re checking in with new hires regularly and collecting feedback continuously! That might be each day during week one and weekly after that, but clear communication is crucial.
The first 60 days: Month two arrives and you’ll typically find that new employees are settling in, applying more of what they learnt in those first 30 days to their role.
But your role is to understand their pain points and knowledge gaps that your onboarding course hasn’t accounted for. Collaboration should also be happening more frequently, giving you the chance to collect feedback from colleagues in order to paint a better picture of their progress.
Speaking of feedback, you still need to be collecting that regularly and having meetings, it’s just that you might have scaled those back to a fortnightly event. It’s also a good time to review the buddy process, especially if they’ve got to know each other well enough already, and they might benefit by getting to know somebody else better.
The first 90 days are when you’ll find that independence levels have grown, knowledge levels are rising, and you can ramp up responsibilities! This might be time to let someone take the lead on a project or assign some solo tasks that have real importance.
As you have been at the other stages, you’re looking at the numbers and speaking with the new employee to understand pain points and knowledge or skills that still need to be built. And this ‘final stage’ is no different because it’s not really the final stage at all. You might accept that the formal onboarding is coming to an end, but learning and development are just beginning. Set new goals and check-ins, collect more feedback and feed that back into their development pathways.
It might be the end of the honeymoon period but if you approach it right, you’re heading into a long and healthy relationship that’s built for success.
Onboarding and a smooth pre-holiday flight have a lot in common! They’re both dependent on ticking the right boxes before take off, you’ll have a far better journey if the staff and in-flight entertainment are top draw and turbulence can really cause a bumpy landing.
That’s why we split our employee onboarding checklist into two sections: pre-boarding and settling in.
Aside from the new hire themself, who else is involved in the employee onboarding process? It’s not a single person or department operation, you’ve got to work together to ensure a smooth transition for the new employee. Here are the people you need to keep in mind for your onboarding A-Team:
The process shapers and owners
Without the IT department, there’s no equipment! And if the HR team is missing from the process, say goodbye to all the paperwork you need. This isn’t just a reminder of whose good side you need to stick on, but that you’ll need to coordinate all departments that play a role in onboarding a new employee.
Whether you create a checklist or document listing everyone’s responsibilities or simply use one person to coordinate and liaise with those key departments, it’s crucial to have a structure in place.
The face of the operation, the manager is the one interviewing, welcoming and setting up the new employee in those early months. They’ll establish their role and responsibilities, build out the onboarding process alongside the L&D team, manage their progress and the projects they’re working on and really just help them settle in!
Whether it’s from a social side or career development angle, buddies and mentors are a helping hand and friendly face for any new employee. It’s important that they’re knowledgeable and enthusiastic so that they’re really able to help that person grow and that they’ve got the passion to do it well!
The managing director knowing your name or taking the time out of their busy schedule to welcome new employees can go a long way to integrating them into the team. Even better if they’re able to spend time with them during the onboarding process, there’s plenty they can learn from new team members and their fresh perspectives.
Perhaps more importantly, the leadership team is showing a culture where everyone is important, and there’s an openness at every level! Especially if you’re hosting these meetings in creative ways – how about lunch with the CEO or a happy hour with directors and new team members? As always, think about what’s a true reflection on your company and its culture.
In essence, there are three simple things happening in order: Knowing your goals, knowing your people and content, knowing your process and platform.
Aside from our general definition of giving new employees skills, this is about the specific heights you want them to reach. So, this stage is a case of setting clear expectations for your learner and establishing the skills they need to acquire through learning. For example, new customer success reps might need to independently carry out client support calls by the end of onboarding.
Personio summed it up nicely: “To make it clear how things will run over the coming days or weeks, the onboarding process should be fully explained to the new employee. This can also be aided by streamlined onboarding software, too.
“When helping new colleagues orient themselves, be sure not to overwhelm them by only providing verbal information. Give them as much written documentation as possible.”
Which subject matter experts are best placed to explain processes, products or people? Who’s creating the learning content? And who’s responsible for tests and assessments?
In many organisations, you’ll find companies repeating this for every new employee. But when these are repeat sessions and questions, shouldn’t we be recording those and making them available on-demand? The answer is yes!
Rather than carry out the same session four times, create a video that allows people to learn asynchronously and buys back time for internal experts. You can’t underestimate how chuffed people are when you share their content!
Job update: My supervisor tasked me with animating an employee benefits video for the company! MY video will be used internally during onboarding process for new employees and eventually for recruitment on the corporate website!!!! ???????? #bigcorporatejobenergy
— ????????♀️ (@_essenceofamber) August 25, 2021
If you are doing that, you’re far better placed to create something scalable and repeatable! Reuse the content that consistently needs to be viewed and use the time gained to build specific content or interact with your new teammate.
Great courses are filled with great resources, which are packed with great content! We call them Courses, Lessons and Nuggets in HowNow. Perhaps it’s easier if we show you what an employee onboarding pathway looks like…
As you’ll already know by this point, it’s a real shame when a rocky start ruins a potentially fruitful relationship and career within your company. And while we’ve covered plenty of the technical stuff, there are some general rules that’ll help you ensure it’s smooth sailing for new employees.
We mentioned preboarding already, but that might not be your brand’s style – or your new employee’s preference either! So think more generally about engaging your newest team member between offer acceptance and day one. They’ll understandably go through bouts of doubt in that period, but you can help replace that with excitement.
Send them an email to touch base and remind them why you’re happy they’re going to be a part of your team.
Ensure your door’s always open for questions they might have before day one, offer to hop on a quick call at some point, explain who their buddy is going to be or tell them about exciting socials that are happening in their first few weeks – there are plenty of ways to engage without going down the preboarding paperwork route.
People are like sponges in their early days, that’s why it’s the best time to absorb your company culture. It’s tempting to get your head locked into how you’re giving that person the skills and knowledge to perform their new job faster, but connecting them to the company’s mission, goals and culture can be just as important in them sticking around and thriving. You might even choose to set specific culture targets:
Arrange for them to engage with senior leaders and social secretary types, allow them to drop in on meetings and just absorb how people interact, ensure they’re invited to socials and perhaps even give them a chance to help arrange one.
We’ll cover this in more detail later, but personalisation is at the heart of better engagement, retention and productivity. If you don’t personalise, people might end up sifting through irrelevant information.
They also might be hit by information overload or connected with the wrong people for that stage of their onboarding journey. People need different information, in different formats and at different times, and the more you cater to that, the better their experience will be.
What you should be aiming for are consistent experiences with customised content. Someone in the US office really won’t need exactly the same resources as a UK onboarder, but it helps if they’re structured in a similar way and have an on-brand look and feel.
People appreciate it when you check-in, and they appreciate it even more when it’s done meaningfully. So, get out of the habit of thinking this just means a formal meeting scheduled at the end of every week!
If you’re setting up an onboarding course, work out the key milestones and follow their completion with a check in. When you’re analysing their performance or time spent learning during onboarding, look out for data that indicates they’re struggling or succeeding – use that as an opportunity to chat.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be scheduling in regular meetings, it’s more of a message to think outside the box but to still be clear on how you’ll do it.
You can’t manage what you can’t measure! And a lack of clear goals and expectations is a nightmare for leaders and new employees. They’re missing the crucial direction they require, and you can’t quantify their success effectively – which means they’re struggling for that sense of accomplishment, and you can’t prove their progress.
In the same vein, you need to really be measuring regularly and making tweaks to the onboarding journey! Data and dashboards are your friends, giving you nudges about what’s working, where people are getting stuck, and the types of content new employees are connecting with.
Part of that process should be collecting feedback throughout the onboarding process. Too often, a survey is sent at the end, which doesn’t really help you collect accurate insights into how people feel at days seven, 30, 60 or whenever they’re reaching particular milestones. The data will tell you some things, the people will explain why and your job is to channel that back into better onboarding.
If you’ve never been assigned a buddy before, you’re missing out! They’ll take you out for lunch, help you understand the work world outside of your team, and be there to answer the questions you might not want to ask your manager. That’s typically the role of the buddy, to help you understand culture and community within the business.
However, some companies choose to pair people with multiple buddies, all with a different purpose. So, you might spend four weeks with someone in a different team, then another four with someone who you’ll be working with more closely. Of course, that second person might actually act as a mentor, especially if they’ve done the role before or have traits your new employee will need.
And all of this drives social interactions, something which you should include throughout the onboarding process! If someone’s an obvious extrovert, you might even encourage them to help plan a social event in the early months. If not, ensuring they get all the invites and attend some of those events will help them build necessary bonds.
Ever find yourself saying ‘you’re leaving already’ to someone and recognising you’ve had no quality time to speak with them? That sometimes happens when people leave companies abruptly, and you’ve got a shoddy process in place for understanding why.
A good offboarding setup is equally as important as an onboarding one. You can understand why people are leaving, learn if their onboarding had any part to do with it, plan to crack open their siloed knowledge and feed it all back into the onboarding strategy.
We don’t like to dwell on the negatives, especially as we’ll have covered many of these in more detail elsewhere – but now is a good time to highlight the common red flags that crop up during onboarding:
The way we work has changed a lot over the past couple of years, but onboarding often gets put on the back burner and hasn’t evolved at the same pace – at least that’s the case at a vast number of companies.
However, plenty have shifted to hybrid and remote-friendly onboarding and have been transparent about the processes. And whether they’re big things or small ideas, there’s plenty we can learn from them.
Casual interactions and understanding culture can’t happen organically when we’re not in the office together, something Anisha Agarwal, People Development Program Manager at Intercom, recognised as they shifted to virtual onboarding.
“Onboarding virtually can be tough for our new hires. We can’t build connections by just saying hi when we bump into each other in the hallways. It’s more difficult to communicate the way we work and the nuances of our culture. We can’t turn to our peers to quickly ask a question – it takes longer to get things done.”
The solution has been “to lean in and provide more opportunities and space for our new hires to connect, learn, and engage with each other and the business.”
Part of that has been to revamp the amount of time dedicated to the employee onboarding process, creating a six-month structure that works both in-person and remotely. Here’s some of what that includes:
Many companies moving to hybrid working have struggled to provide consistent experiences across those in-person and remote settings. Intercom, however, have ensured that their onboarding process is always built around four key pillars.
In October 2020, Luis G. Valle gave us a peek behind TravelPerk’s employee onboarding curtain, revealing why it was an “unexpectedly inspiring experience” to join the corporate travel management company on their mission to take the stress out of business travel by bringing everything into one place.
One interesting point is that TravelPerk’s first touchpoint with new hires happens around one month ahead of day one, inviting employees to join their HR platform. This allowed Luis to complete paperwork in his own time and check out introduction messages from previous new joiners.
Luis provides a pretty thorough account of his experience, so it’s worth us picking out the important lessons we can learn.
Grouping new joiners together to ensure they’re bonding with others during the process: “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.”
Week one ensures you’ve got an understanding of each department in the business: “We had presentations from HR, Customer Care, Marketing, Product, Operations, Recruitment, our Value Proposition, Data, Sales, and Engineering. After that week, I had the feeling I knew more about this company than others I’ve worked at for years. I’ve seen goals for every department, company numbers, how we sell, how we help customers, where we want to go, why we want to go there, and what we’re doing to achieve that.”
Knowing all the moving parts of the company was one of Valle’s three key recommendations and takeaways from TravelPerk’s onboarding process, alongside that social element. But the big takeaway is teaching “new employees what they need to do the job.”
Speaking from a software engineering perspective, he explained how they get people up to speed with their tech stack and account for any gaps in their experience. “It’s expected that some people aren’t familiar with certain tools, libraries, or even languages used here. And the onboarding process accounts for that!” – which meant reviewing the tech stack together on week one and working out each new employee’s weak spots. The onboarding process and courses included in that were then tailored to it.
Google have been under the onboarding microscope for a few years now, with their ‘just-in-time’ manager checklists highlighting an efficient and streamlined approach to a typically elaborate process. The day before a new hire joins, their manager is sent an email with just five small tasks: (Source).
It’s less focused on corporate structure and more about company culture, as you can see from the focus on activities that connect people. Something that seems to have been unaffected by the recent move to more remote working, as this blog post with Asaf Paz, an Agency Lead on the Google Customer Solutions team, who joined the company from home shows:
Asaf felt that “all meetings being virtual helps me learn faster by attending more meetings as a guest and seeing everything in action”, highlighting a typically undervalued part of joining remotely. There are far more opportunities for you to drop in and listen to meetings passively, something that might feel more awkward in person.
He also highlights the openness of their culture and quality of their people in helping him feel part of the team early on:
“I was surprised by the depth of the connections I’ve established with my team and other Googlers so far. Maybe it’s the fact that we see each other’s houses and families on the first call that makes us open up and talk about personal things pretty quickly.
“Google has brilliant people that are humble and fun to work with. They go above and beyond to help another Googler. What I like most about the people here is that they measure everything, learn quickly and perform better the next time.”
If you join a company called Happy Money and you’re not feeling overjoyed by your welcome, you’re entitled to feel short-changed. The startup is designed to help people reduce debt, break up with their credit card and save more.
Thankfully, their Chief People Officer, Lisa Hennessey, revealed her Golden Rules for employee onboarding, and it looks like they welcome people in style (without breaking the bank).
“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.”
In the past, a few branded items might have got dropped off at your desk on day one, but an impressive welcome package can really make up for a lack of interaction for remote and hybrid joiners.
Happy Money also carry out culture workshops early on in the process, to ensure people are exposed to, understanding of and comfortable talking about values, DEI, cultural topics and issues they’re passionate about.
During remote onboarding, people can’t see these things in action – so you need to be transparent, clear and over-communicate those key values.
If you like a little mystery, this is the story for you! Convelio published a quick interview with an intern known only as Nicolo, which offered a couple of good lessons. No employee onboarding is a masterpiece, but the high-end art shipping company seems to have some fine strokes in their employee welcoming arsenal.
Firstly, the remote onboarding schedule is sent in advance, helpful for those who like to know what’s coming. Secondly, Convelio are keen to ensure everything a new employee might need can be found in one place, in this case that means Notion.
This allowed Nicolo to search speedily every time there was something he needed – particularly helpful for interns who are often working against the clock for three or six months.
Sometimes, as your old job is winding down, you’re itching to get into your new role! So it’s probably useful that new Amazon employees are offered optional pre-boarding a week or two before start day. They receive their laptops and can fill out paperwork ahead of day one.
Once preboarding’s over, Amazon are big on buddying. They’ll carefully select a seasoned company veteran to pair with new employees, and it’s not uncommon for someone to be paired with a new buddy once that first relationship reaches its natural conclusion.
Each stage of onboarding sees leaders stepping forward to “demystify the company’s intense culture”.
Amazon employs a lot of different people in a lot of different roles, and the company’s global workforce grew by 63% in 2020 to more than 1.2 million people. So they’ve had to perfect an approach in tailoring and prioritising onboarding based on someone’s role and how quickly they need to get up to speed.
Workers in specialties like engineering or marketing get the full-strength version, while briefer and in-person onboarding is typical for staff in their 180 fulfilment centres worldwide and in roles like hourly shipping and logistics.
When you’re looking at remote or hybrid onboarding, it’s pretty tempting to just take whatever you did in-person and move it online. So Publicis Sapient deserve credit for acknowledging that the path of least resistance doesn’t lead to the route of high efficiency.
Their all-day sessions have now become a series of 90-minute modules, spread out over a number of days or with at least two hours between those happening on the same day.
Cultural onboarding has also become a priority, with the focus on driving retention. This process includes “deliberate, thoughtful, and purposeful conversations about culture, values, and goals” to really immerse people in the culture. Part of that is recognition that culture and processes may differ slightly between locations, meaning there needs to for global consistency that’s applied locally and logically.
Indeed have received plaudits for their employee onboarding process in the past, with praise for their ongoing training opportunities, great coaching and comprehensive onboarding materials. But what happened when they shifted to remote onboarding? Glenda Kirby, Vice President of Client Success, joined during the pandemic and shared her experiences.
Creating a home office that feels like the right environment isn’t particularly easy, and Indeed provided two $500 stipends to ensure Glenda could upgrade her equipment. This enabled her to build a comfortable set up and separate her work life from home life by creating more of a home office than her temporary hot desk at the kitchen table.
Joining remotely in a senior position must make it tricky to immerse yourself in the culture and connect with people, so it’s nice to her that her team set up ways of getting to know her. A virtual happy hour was hosted in her honour, and they used that opportunity to hold a surprise Q&A.
“There’s nothing quite like being put on the spot in front of your entire team to accelerate the getting to know each other process. Thoughtful acts like this created a real sense of belonging for me early on.”
More of us are working from home than we’d ever have imagined possible pre-2020, 88% of organisations asked people to do so in response to the pandemic. This means we’re past the point of making do with makeshift processes for our virtual colleagues. Where you might have rolled out the red carpet at the office for someone’s first day, you’ve now got to bring that glitz to their front door.
So, you can’t just take what worked face-to-face and move it online! Eagle-eyed onboarders can spot when these things don’t translate, and you really don’t want them feeling like remote onboarding is the second-best option.
So many of the principles we’ve discussed so far can be applied to remote onboarding – setting clear goals, measuring effectively and establishing timelines are crucial regardless of where onboarding is taking place!
But it’s important you focus on the issues that are directly important to this type of new employee. Gitlab recommend that a remote onboarding experience should focus on three pillars:
Tip: Use coffee roulettes to pair random people (they’ve worked a treat for the HowNow team), create Slack channels dedicated to newbies, match people to multiple buddies with different purposes – put your creative thinking hat on and work out what fits your company culture.
Our first suggestion for a challenge you need to keep in mind and tackle comes from Stella Haniel von Haimhausen, People Operations Manager at Personio. Stella explains that people tend to underestimate the number of stakeholders involved in onboarding new employees, from office managers to IT teams and talent development professionals to the new joiners themselves. Luckily, the solution is fairly simple, sit down, make a list of everyone who will be involved in the onboarding process, to what extent and then communicate with them accordingly.
There is no IT desk you can wander over to on your first day, and that’s pretty stressful if you’re struggling with a system or still waiting for a piece of equipment to arrive. The onus is on employers to ensure a new employee has everything they need for day one, with as much set up for them as possible and guidance in place for everything else.
Tip: Set aside a tech audit or Q&A session within the first few days, giving the new employee a chance to troubleshoot any problems they’re facing and speak with a knowledgeable member of the team.
An office tour is a great way to see new smiling faces and having your fixed desk gives anyone you missed a chance to swing by and say hi. Obviously, you can’t do this remotely, but there are plenty of ways you can welcome people to the team virtually.
Tip: Record welcome videos from people in the team or collate their well wishes in one place, especially if there’s a discussion feature allowing your newbie to reply.
At HowNow, we’ve created our Meet The Team course, where everyone in the company’s recorded a short video message explaining who they are and what they do. It’s a big help in ensuring people don’t have to remember every name and role. And who wouldn’t want to see their name up in lights!? Every time a new employee joins, we’ll make an announcement on our platform’s homepage – a place where the discussion feature is switched on and empowering new colleagues to leave well wishes.
We saw in our stellar onboarding examples that people are getting creative in how they welcome new employees, sending goodies to their house or creating socials where they’re the star of the show. Again, consider what fits with your company culture and test those ideas out.
Being around your colleagues helps you learn far more than you realise. Overhearing people talk about projects helps you understand what’s in the pipeline, seeing people interact gives you a better feel for the culture, and being able to tap someone on the shoulder empowers you to pick their brains and find answers fast.
Tip: Remote employees don’t like to ask too many questions, the trouble is that a lot of the time they’ve got the same questions. Capturing answers to common questions prevents the repeat shoulder taps (virtual or in-person) that disrupt a colleague’s day and make an onboarder feel guilty for asking yet another question.
Hannah Watkins, Head of Content at flexible working and office space providers Hubble, also believes this is a crucial challenge but not an insurmountable one:
“One common onboarding challenge among the businesses we’ve chatted to over the past 18 months has been around learning from colleagues. Many businesses worry that the “learning by osmosis” that many are used to by working together in person won’t happen when apart—increasing the time it takes to get new employees up to speed. When they’re out of sight, it can also be hard for businesses to notice when a new employee might be struggling (either with a specific task or more broadly) or heading down the wrong path.
“It’s not to say that these challenges are insurmountable—far from it. But the vast majority of companies have been used to working together physically for a long time, and systems have been built around that. Now that we’re moving into a new way of working, we’ll need to re-evaluate the systems we take for granted, and check they’re still fit for purpose.”
How we do it at HowNow
Like most of you, we had to consider what our replacement for osmosis and shoulder taps would be! A big one was considering repeat questions and providing a consistent answer to those in HowNow – allowing people to find them on-demand.
Alfie Gardner, Customer Success Manager at HowNow, also suggested that “instead of a shoulder tap, can you consolidate those micro questions into a single discussion where you rapid-fire questions? This is a nice mood booster too!”
One of the biggest challenges in hybrid or remote settings is helping people get up to speed with the tech stack. Where we can, we’ll set up test environments for people to play around in tools but we’ll also schedule sessions where we’ll show them how to do it and take questions.
At this stage, it’s also important that you speak with new employees about their experience levels with similar tools or the tools within your company’s stack. There’s no point teaching people to suck eggs or letting transferable skills fall by the wayside.
It’s a similar point to the one above, but joining a company remotely can really influence how connected you feel to teammates, the organisation and its mission. According to Buffer, 19% of remote employees struggle with loneliness and 17% with collaboration and communication.
Tip: When it comes to communication and collaboration, think about whether your current tools and processes facilitate these remotely. If not, you’re off to a losing start! It also helps if you schedule collaborative projects into the onboarding process, whether that’s being mentored through a task by someone more experienced or working in a group setting.
Resource: If you want to add mentoring to your onboarding arsenal, check out this great guide from the team at Guider: Want to Improve Your Employee Onboarding Experience? Try Mentoring
HowNow tip: We always make sure there are regular touchpoints every week! We kick off with a Good Morning HowNow call every Monday, to chat about our weekends or plans for the week. Fridays are wrapped up with a retrospective, where we discuss our wins, lessons learnt and anything we need help with. In between, we use Donuts to randomly pair colleagues for meetings each week.
Bonus tip: Allow subject matter experts to create content! L&D and HR teams don’t need to do it all, especially when there are people with relevant experience in the company who’ve got a wealth of knowledge to share. At HowNow, we not only encourage people to create content, but to tap into the discussion feature to drive conversation. That often builds relationships, gives new employees a better understanding of the issue and allows the creator to improve on what they built.
Expert tip: Chris Salmon, Co-Founder at Legal Services Provider Quittance, believes that “the best way to keep employees engaged with their colleagues during remote onboarding is to have as many aspects of the onboarding process as possible led by colleagues. The more onboarding is directly led by other people in the company, rather than having the processed templatised and automated, the more engaged and assimilated new hires will become with colleagues.”
Yes, this is also very similar to the above – but we wouldn’t consider after work drinks a formal part of the onboarding process. There’s no obligation to attend, but we often do, to get to know our new colleagues better. It’s just as important to set aside time for those remote socials, even if you feel like you’ve reached your limit for quizzes!
Understanding and connecting with the company culture
What do our three points above have in common? They relate to the struggle of understanding the company culture when you’re working remotely. And it’s something Hubble’s Hannah Watkins believes goes a little deeper than just working remotely.
“There can be elements of company culture that are much more tangible when employees are working together in person, so in a remote team, it’s essential to be proactive about putting culture at the centre of all of your processes—from hiring to performance reviews.
“The first step is ensuring that you’ve properly defined your culture and values as a team. This isn’t always an easy process, but it’s one that’s important to spend time on if you want to reap the benefits in the long run. There are a number of excellent culture consultants out there who can help you do this in the most effective and sustainable way—we worked with Brett from CultureGene.
“Once you’ve done this first part, you can build systems and implement processes to ensure that your culture and values remain present in day-to-day life at your company, regardless of where you are physically located.”
It’s tricky picking up everything you need to know from the spare room at home! Your interactions are limited and it’s harder to decipher everything that’s sent your way. Which is why it’s crucial you’re personalising the onboarding process, giving new employees only the information they need at the moments they need it.
Quittance Co-Founder, Chris Salmon, flagged the too much/too little information dilemma when we we asked him about the biggest challenges of remote and hybrid onboarding:
“Since management in general is more difficult to do remotely than in the office, a big challenge that managers face when onboarding new staff remotely is getting workloads right for new joiners during their first 12 months in the company.
Everyone is different when it comes to the workload required to prevent them from suffering from boredom or becoming overwhelmed, and part of the onboarding process should be to discover what this sweet spot is for each new hire.”
Tip: Think about the things everybody in the company needs to know and when they need to know them. Work out what’s vital to this particular role and the different stages they’ll need knowledge by. Personalise the process so they feel it’s relevant to them, meaning they’ll only have relevant follow-up questions.
Surely you’re getting the best of both worlds when you’re in the office for some of the week and at home for the rest!? Those opportunities to build bonds and learn socially in-person pop up, but you’ve also got that time to focus which led 57% of remote workers to say they’re more productive at home.
The biggest hurdle to doing this well is scheduling! Are you sending the right self-directed resources to new employees ahead of their face-to-face time? Ensuring it’s fresh in mind on the day they can discuss it with teammates. Are you pencilling in introductions for the days people are in your office? Are buddies given the space and resources to take their mentee out for lunch on an in-person day. These are all things you need to consider…
Remote onboarding advice from HowNow’s Head of Sales
Our Head of Sales, James Lewendon, has not only joined remotely, he’s helped others onboard from the comfort of their own homes too! So who better to offer up some advice on welcoming remote employees into the fold!?
“Just because you’re onboarding remotely, there’s a tendency to book a tonne of meetings and almost have your new starters in back to back onboarding and training sessions. Don’t do this!
“Onboard as you would in the office, give the new starter time to digest the sessions and offer the autonomy to find things out for themselves. So, make sure they have plenty of free time every day.
“You should also create the right content, making sure you have slides/decks that you can walk through in each session and share those afterwards so that people can learn independently. That content should very much use a ‘leave behind’ approach, where a new person can look at it without any context and understand it.
“Lastly, give people more time – especially in sales! The reality is that you cannot expect the same aggression in ramp-up time as you did before. Remote onboarding and working in a new role are hard. Factor this in when building ramp times for your reps and new staff.”
When we spoke with Hannah, she was also kind enough to give us a peak behind Hubble’s onboarding curtain – hopefully this gives you a bit of insight into two key goals we’ve already discussed:
Here are a few things we do at Hubble:
There are plenty of companies out there who recognise what HR and people development teams are up against, creating a host of tools to ease the pressure. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single tool that does everything you need for a smooth onboarding process – it’s why many companies are building the modern tech stack they need.
It’s also why we’ve written the guide to nine tools a winning HR tech stack needs. A lot of these tools not only make for a great onboarding experience, but they also ensure a smooth transition to full-time employee status and a fruitful relationship beyond that.
However, what about the tools that are specifically powerful when it comes to welcoming new employees with open arms? Here’s a short round-up of those tools!
The less time you spend on paperwork, the more minutes you can dedicate to building relationships and having meaningful conversations with new employees! And that’s one of the biggest onboarding benefits of HR systems, they help you manage and organise all the admin associated with a new person joining the team.
For example, they’ll help you automate paperwork that needs to be sent out and send reminders when signatures haven’t been collected. They offer templates that help you customise the onboarding process by job role, department or location and automate follow up tasks to stop people twiddling thumbs when something important has been completed.
Platforms to consider:
The thing is, you can’t just automate everything. You can schedule six or seven files and tasks being sent, but how about stopping to ask that person if any questions popped up as they filled those in? That’s why so many managers like to map out the journey on project management tools, to create a complete view of the process and ensure they don’t overlook anything.
Why? Because timelines are important and exercises like this are useful for keeping track with yours. And this helps you keep everything in one place too, allowing you to attach resources or introduce employees to colleagues within tasks and so much more.
For example, here’s a Trello template that splits up the various stages for a new employee but also reminds a manager of their tasks AND creates a space for the onboarder to leave their comments on relevant tasks.
Other tools to consider:
Do you really know how well your onboarding process is being received? Sure, you might have metrics that most people have completed a course, but how many enjoyed it? People might tell you anecdotally that they’re happy, but where’s the data on that?
What those two examples should show you is that anecdotal evidence and hard data are two sides of a very necessary onboarding coin. One helps you understand how people feel and the other explains why they feel that way. Employee engagement and satisfaction tools help you work out both.
Send people a survey with questions on a scale of one to 10, but follow those up with questions that encourage them to think about why they’ve said that and reflect on how they feel. You’ll paint a far better picture of how employees view your onboarding process by doing this! More on that later…
Tools to consider:
Now, if you find the right learning technology, you could do a lot of the above in one single place! Take an all-in-one learning platform like HowNow, we help you create personalised employee onboarding processes which are triggered by milestone dates or dependent tasks being completed.
Within that, you’ve got social learning and democratised knowledge sharing to be incorporated, connecting new employees with the right people AND the right information in the same platform. Like we said, it’s not all automation, and managers needing to assess performance – which is why we empower them to view insights in real time and drive meaningful check-ins with new employees.
For example, if it took an employee several attempts to complete an assessment, ask them about their experiences. If they flew through a certain task, understand why it connected with them so much. That’s the value of real-time analytics.
People like to be heard during the onboarding process, so embed surveys, switch our discussions feature on for your content, encourage them to upload insights about their experience to the learning platform – the beauty of freedom within HowNow is that anybody can contribute.
And then there’s the elephant in the room, most onboarding employees don’t want complete hand holding! They want guidance but also the freedom and tools to satisfy their natural curiosity – give them the self-directed learning they crave by bringing all your scattered resources into one place. When everything you need is at the end of a single search, you’re more likely to search and find knowledge you need.
And what better place than HowNow!? Read a bit more about our all-in-one platform, watch a video tour if you’re not a reader or get in touch if you prefer the human touch. Like any good onboarding program, we want you to have the freedom to choose.
Imagine it’s your first payday and nothing, you open your banking app, and the balance is where it was yesterday! That is arguably the worst possible scenario in your onboarding process. Excuse the pun, but payroll is the one thing you can’t afford to get wrong – and plenty of tools exist to ensure you get it right.
And they’re getting more and more innovative, beyond the automation of payslips and easy management of PAYE, NI and overtime. For example, Paylocity’s On Demand Payment tool allows employees to “access a portion of earned wages before their scheduled payday, quickly, and without disrupting your payroll process with extra paperwork.”
Payscale’s software allows you to benchmark your salaries against others, QuickBooks lets you manage all of this on the go through their mobile app, Oyster helps you avoid transfer fees for global teams, and the list goes on.
Software to consider:
Where would we be without video calls!? Whether it’s facetiming family from across the world or connecting with colleagues in different offices, they’ve become a key part of our daily lives. And they will be for onboarders too, whether that’s because you’re joining remotely, speaking with remote employees or needing a reliable way to communicate with global teams.
Now, a lot of them do the basics well – you can see people’s faces, share screens and pop links in a chat box. And, honestly, onboarding should only be a small consideration in choosing your tool, because it’ll be used across the entire business. So that really means you’re picking based on the fit with your company culture and some of the more niche capabilities.
Here are a few examples of specific features that help these platforms stand out:
More than anyone else, new employees need to see and hear how different platforms work! Imagine they’re trying to figure out a CRM they’ve not used before, but they’ve got a series of handy videos in which an experienced team member guides them through it. They can pause it or just follow along and truly see how it all works.
All with the added bonus of seeing a colleague’s smiling face in the corner or at least hearing their friendly voice.
And from that colleague’s experience, Loom offers a low effort way of sharing knowledge, because they only need to share their screen, hit record and talk through a process they’re familiar with. Once they stop recording, they can just share the link, download the video and upload either to your knowledge base.
You can’t record a Loom video for every eventuality, and that’s why it’s crucial you pick the right messaging software! And really, you can’t look past Slack…
Whether it’s in individual conversations, where you’re sending chats, jumping on voice calls or screen sharing videos, or group channels where you’re crowdsourcing ideas or hopping on Huddles to have live voice conversations with up to 50 people.
Another string in Slack’s bow is its integration capabilities, allowing you to sync up and link up with the many other platforms new joiners might be using. HowNow’s Slack integration, for example, lets people search for and send resources from within their knowledge base directly in Slack chats and groups. They can even save responses to messages in HowNow, meaning that you’re cutting down on repeat questions and truly driving knowledge sharing.
The ultimate collaborative board for everyone you onboard! Miro allows you to map out processes, brainstorm, create frameworks or capture research on an infinite, interactive digital whiteboard.
If someone needs to understand the customer journey, map out the sales process or even just understand the company hierarchy, Miro is the ideal visualisation too. Especially given that they can attach little post-it comments to different steps where something is unclear. You can even hop on a call within boards to discuss those ideas together.
As a new employee, it’s really frustrating to be given a task or to familiarise yourself with a platform only to find it’s a shared account and the login details are tricky to track down. Password managers help you keep those together in a secure and shared space, while typically offering features like payment management or personal information storage.
Tools to consider
Again, this one’s more about how you work in general, but Zapier can be a huge help to new employees. If you’re not familiar with the tool, Zaps allow you to automate the things that slow you down, even if they happen between different apps! Here’s an example:
There are countless cases where Zaps might improve your onboarding process. Whether that means you’re notified when someone completes a task, meaning you can follow up faster and more meaningfully, or another link in the process happening automatically once another has been finished.
Feedback’s a two-way street, but there’s no point in that second lane if employees are lacking a route or vehicle to head in your direction. And you shouldn’t wait until the onboarding journey’s over to collect their thoughts, so you need to plan out feedback pit stops along the way.
Speak to one person, and you’ve got some excellent and insightful anecdotal evidence. As good as it is, it’s hardly enough to make huge changes to the onboarding process.
You fire over a survey to 30 people who joined in the past six months, and you’ve got some great statistics on the overall onboarding picture. The problem is that you’re lacking the detail that comes with speaking to people.
That’s why you normally find people using a two-pronged approach, combining surveys and conversations to get a true picture of the process.
Emma Leonis, Director of HR Transformation at LACE Partners, explains the importance of collecting data on how people feel and why we should be monitoring that at regular intervals.
“The types of desired ‘feeling’ may vary by moment in the employee’s onboarding journey. Again, this should be measured from both the employee and line manager’s point of view. Line Managers play a pivotal role in the onboarding process and overall employee engagement, so ensuring a good experience for this group is arguably as important – yet in my experience, it is often overlooked or, at best, is an after thought.
“If a line manager doesn’t feel they have access to the information they need to support their new team member (particularly in cases where there are first-time line managers), that is going to have an impact on both sets of experiences.”
As we mentioned, it’s those anecdotal stories and snippets that offer better insights into an individual’s onboarding experience. Whether you’re using those to support the survey numbers or share with key stakeholders, there are plenty of benefits to collecting qualitative feedback.
It helps if you ask open-ended questions, giving the new employee enough space to express their thoughts, praise and concerns. Conversations move fast, and so it’s probably a wise idea to record the session, if you all agree to it, of course!
Here are some ideas for the questions you can ask during these sessions:
Imagine you met your favourite actor and wasted that moment by asking them a stupid question! You’ve ruined that one opportunity and it’ll probably haunt you for a while. Your new employees might not be walking the red carpet, but you’ve still only got a few stops and moments to bend their ears. Use them wisely and ensure you’re following these best practices!
Collect feedback frequently: people feel differently at different stages of their onboarding process. Someone might be struggling in the first two weeks, but then they’re fine by month three when you finally choose to ask them for their thoughts. By that point, you’ve missed the opportunity to collect some insightful and critical feedback.
Now imagine that the majority of people feel the same during the first two weeks, having data to that point would allow you to make improvements. Without it, ignorance is far from bliss…
Get to the point: everyone likes to make a good first impression during the onboarding process, but even the most enthusiastic will struggle to make it through a 50-question survey. Keep it concise, ensure the questions are brief and make it simple enough that it’s not feeling like a chore.
Ask relevant questions: if you’re asking someone for their experiences using a tool that their department hasn’t even heard of, let alone used, you’re wasting everyone’s time. If they respond, they skew your data, and they’ve also lost those few seconds on an irrelevant question.
Ask different questions in different moments: Stella Haniel von Haimhausen, People Operations Manager at Personio, shared an excellent tip when we asked for her insights. At the end of week two, they send a survey asking for feedback around the company onboarding process in general, before collecting very different insights two weeks later. At the four-week mark, a survey’s sent that asks for more information on the person, whether they feel it’s the right job for them and similar questions.
Communicate when you use the feedback: if survey responses encourage you to make a positive change, let people know! It shows that you’re listening, that their answers were positive and encourages people to carry on sharing.
Numbers catch people’s eye! There’s a weight to them that those pieces of anecdotal evidence just don’t carry. Saying one person feels comfortable in their role is different to 94% of new employees strongly agreeing that they’re settling into the position. And if we switch that around, you can use your one-to-ones to explain some of the reasons people might be feeling that way.
So, it’s typically helpful to ask similar questions in a different way. Normally, this means some kind of answer scale, where you’re asking employees to rank something on a five-point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree or using numbers from one to 10.
Here are some of the questions or statements you might pose, prefixed by “on a scale of one to 10” or “do you disagree or agree with the following statements”:
Sometimes, employees really say it best when they say nothing at all! And by that, we mean that their performance metrics might tell you more about how effective onboarding has been.
We’re back with some more advice from Emma Leonis, Director of HR Transformation at LACE Partners. She explains the two types of performance insights we can use – alongside our experience data – to gain a holistic view of how effective onboarding has been.
Alongside all of this, there are other metrics that don’t link directly to onboarding but can paint a better picture of its impact. Whether it’s people sticking around or looking happy while they’re doing it, here are some things you can measure:
People setting off before they’ve even settled in is a big red flag! Especially if they’re citing issues with your culture, people or onboarding process as a reason. And what if other people are having the same experiences but can’t just up and leave, meaning they struggle through!
Well, we saw in our onboarding statistics that onboarding quality influences retention in the long-term too! 69% stick around for three years if they experience a smooth transition into the role, and that’s why you’ve got to understand why people leave during onboarding AND where onboarding affects turnover in that six month to three year period.
Exit interviews might be your best friend in these instances. When data points to a turnover issue, speak to the people leaving to understand their motivations. If the issues they raise concern you, it might be wise to speak with employees on those topics.
We can group these three tactics together because the principle is the same – are they satisfied, happy or engaged in the role or the company in general? Typically this involves those questions on a scale, but be sure to add some that ask what’s making them happy or unhappy!
If you’ve got an understanding of why, you can trace those back to the onboarding process. For example, if it’s a lack of client or product understanding, that might point to a gap in your new joiner pathway. If it’s a case of being disconnected from people in their team, you might evaluate whether there are enough social interactions in the onboarding journey.
This is one that you have to handle sensitively. There’s nothing to be gained by steaming into a meeting with Barry, the new sales rep, and asking why he’s only notched half as many calls as Linda, who’s been there for two years!
The thing is, onboarding is designed to get people close to productivity and a desired standard. Now, that standard has probably been set and influenced by other people in the same or similar roles. Understanding how quickly someone is performing compared to their established peers could be a great gauge of their progress – they might even be outperforming the old hands!
Maybe you don’t need to compare against other people at all. You might find it more effective to establish milestones and metrics to be met, ones that you discuss with the onboarder during the first few days. Whether they reach them ahead, on or behind schedule will give you a sense of how useful their onboarding has been.
And not just in the sense of whether people are finishing training or onboarding courses. There are so many metrics and touch points you can assess! How long is it taking people to finish certain parts of the course? Are there sections causing people to stumble and delay progress? Are certain tests in the process constantly re-taken and perhaps an indication of an issue?
How easy is it to fall into old habits or accidentally drop into a pitfall you really should have avoided!? Emma Leonis, Director of HR Transformation at LACE Partners, was also kind enough to recommend four common mistakes you should avoid as you’re measuring the impact of your onboarding efforts.
The UK’s fastest-growing apparel brand needed one place to connect all their resources and people, somewhere they could deliver consistent and scalable onboarding experiences for new employees.
They found it in HowNow! Discover how they used our all-in-one learning platform to engage more than 600 learners, encourage them to create more than 70% of learning content on the platform and deliver exceptional onboarding experiences.
So, what now? You’ve got the knowhow to build a brilliant onboarding program, but you’re missing the HowNow!
Our platform is packed with features that’ll help you welcome new people to the fold and get them up to speed in style – watch our on-demand product demo or book yourself in for a personal product tour.