This time is a uniquely difficult moment for onboarding new hires. Successful onboarding is never easy, but the complications and complexities of pandemic pressures and the challenges of remote and hybrid work environments have only raised the stakes—and made what was already a weak spot for many companies a genuine pain point.
A 2020 Workable survey found that remote onboarding was the biggest hiring challenge for HR professionals during the pandemic. Even as the shadow of COVID slowly recedes, the legacy of a newly diverse landscape of virtual, remote, and hybrid operational models isn’t going anywhere soon.
We’ve seen a lot of companies taking their existing in-person onboarding program and trying to virtualize it: simply applying what they’re already doing in a virtual environment. Inevitably and unavoidably, however, some of those powerful touchpoints—cultural elements, establishing connections, and community-building—that happen organically in-person fall flat in a virtual environment.
Now, more than two years into this new reality, growing numbers of companies are realizing that it’s simply not working. Some may have received negative feedback through surveys or are feeling the direct impact of attrition or poor retention. It always hurts when you’ve spent a lot of time and resources recruiting someone only to have them leave. And in a competitive hiring environment where everyone is so focused on identifying and recruiting talent and is making increasingly significant investments to get that talent in the door, the pain of losing a new hire is felt even more acutely.
Virtual or otherwise, the missing ingredient in so many onboarding programs is culture. The best programs are people-focused, consistent, experiential, and prioritize genuine human connection. They instill a strong sense of purpose and belonging, and they’re deeply rooted in a company’s unique organizational culture. The importance of tying culture into the onboarding process cannot be overstated.
What follows is an overview of strategies, priorities, and best practices for ensuring that company culture and the onboarding experience are connected—and designing and maintaining an onboarding program that can meet the challenges of today’s complicated world:
Candidate experience is a growing area of focus for companies. More decision makers are asking themselves smart questions like: “How do we create a positive experience when we are recruiting new talent?” Unfortunately, however, that focus on experience tends to fade away during the onboarding process.
Companies should be dedicating the same amount of energy and attention to creating a welcoming, connected concierge experience for new hires as they do for prospective candidates. Far too many onboarding programs are very procedural, focused on the process and not the person. Shift the focus from not only what you want new hires to know to include what you want them to feel and experience. Don’t just hit them with a firehose of content and forms; welcome them and make them feel like a part of the team.
Need tips for personalizing the onboarding experience? Check out our case study on maximizing engagement with new employees.
“There’s so much investment going into recruiting in this market, and companies are trying to get candidates in the door as quickly as possible. However, if those same candidates aren’t staying due to ineffective onboarding, organizations feel that pain acutely.”
Consultant and Engagement Lead
The best way to get new hires to where you want them to go is to have a clearly outlined “map” of how to get there. Adding layers of complexity won’t improve your new hire’s experience, but designing a thoughtful and well-designed onboarding process with key moments and milestones absolutely will.
This map should methodically and strategically shepherd each new hire through a well-thought-out process of engagement, enrichment, and connection building that will last months and end with them truly becoming part of your team.
Recognize that new hires are immersed in a whirlwind of information. They are taking in new experiences, building relationships, and adjusting to environments (virtual or otherwise). They won’t have the means or awareness to chart their own course, so help them along by making sure this journey is consistent and clearly defined.
Effective onboarding should be focused on both expectations and emotions. Don’t focus so much on giving your new hire the tools they need to succeed that you neglect the ties that will help them feel connected to their new professional home.
From group emails and welcome packages to introductory meetings with management and key personnel, small gestures can make a big difference to someone new. It’s all about building excitement and creating a sense of inclusion, making people feel valuable with opportunities to make early and meaningful contributions, and prioritizing clarity and connections to minimize anxiety and maximize a feeling of belonging.
The best onboarding programs include customizable elements and different tracks depending on the position and responsibilities of the hire. Senior management will have a different onboarding experience than an emerging professional.
Programs with built-in flexibility to accommodate and cater to different personas and demographics or age groups also help, elevating an impersonal process into a genuinely curated experience.
Don’t over-invest in slick software platforms or conflate a high-end technology solution for an effective onboarding program. Overreliance on technology is an all-too-common mistake, and even the best software solutions can’t replace a thoughtfully designed program of personal engagement and cultural integration.
That isn’t to say that technology can’t be valuable, but the tech should complement your onboarding, not replace it. Having content online is great, but it has to be accessible, easy to navigate, and showcase clear value so employees can visualize how it applies to them.
Yes, be streamlined, seamless and consistent with the help of tools and platforms that aid in onboarding. But don’t replace human interaction and relationships with tech.
While every onboarding program can and should be unique to the company creating it, all successful onboarding programs take new hires on a journey that follows certain foundational principles:
“An onboarding guide is one of the best tools a company can deploy to support the hybrid onboarding process. There should be a guide for new hires, as well as complementary guides for managers and peer mentors. The goal is to have all parties aligned on the experience and eliminate confusion.”
Consultant and Account Lead
Great onboarding programs don’t just happen: they take a significant investment of time and resources. Rooting your onboarding program in organizational culture and prioritizing relationship building and connection is the single best way to make that investment pay off.
The consistent emphasis should be on finding ways to forge connections and build relationships. In other words: people over process. Take steps to proactively alleviate the concerns or insecurities of new hires by providing consistent organizational support and check-ins at every stage of the process. That can help address what is so often missing in virtual onboarding: an intentional way for people to get to know each other and the organization better.
Providing new employees with an onboarding “checklist” they can use to help guide independent learning and engagement is another effective step. The overall goal is to be structured and supportive, with sufficient autonomy, flexibility, and freedom for new hires to learn, explore and connect at their own pace.
Giving and receiving constructive feedback is critically important to developing and refining an effective onboarding process that connects with new hires. But feedback doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
You must provide a safe space where feedback can be shared honestly and anonymously. Pair your new hire with an onboarding buddy or peer partner to periodically check in with them to make sure they’re comfortable and that things are moving forward in alignment with the onboarding process.
Finally, while everyone should be figuratively invested in onboarding and supporting new hires, personal accountability is critical. If everyone is responsible for onboarding, no one is. Make sure new hires have visibility into who oversees the onboarding program and have a continuous feedback loop activated so they know how, and when, to reach out to them.
At a time when virtual necessities make building meaningful connections arguably tougher than ever, sometimes all it takes to make a difference is having someone reach out and touch base to make sure that a new hire feels like part of the team.
At Blue Beyond, we’ve helped organizations rethink the processes and approaches they utilize in employee onboarding to address and remedy many of the pain points outlined above. Using Deep Listening, we get to the heart of where onboarding may fall short. Our consultants help architect strategies designed to give leaders and HR decision makers the tools and processes they need to bring talent into their ecosystems more efficiently and effectively.
For more insight into our approach, download our onboarding for remote employees tip guide or to learn what Blue Beyond can do for your company, set up a time to talk with us today.