Virtual Onboarding Needs Improving — Here’s How to Fix It

Ten Thousand Coffees Team -
April 4, 2022

Starting a new job, although exciting, can present challenges for both employees and employers who work in remote-first and hybrid work environments.

For new hires, there’s the excitement of a new opportunity, but there’s also anxiety. They often wonder, am I prepared to take on this role? How will I get along with my new coworkers? Who can I turn to if I need help? Will I feel isolated working remotely?

On the managers’ side, it can be a struggle to create genuine engagement without in-person interaction. There are no next-door cubicles to lean over to when new employees have a question and far fewer opportunities for informal learning interactions around the water cooler or at their new desk.

A strong onboarding program can increase employee retention by 82% and productivity by 70%. That’s why remote onboarding deserves special attention and preparation, especially since this new way is here to stay for many companies that have adopted remote-first and hybrid work models.

What remote onboarding misses

It’s easy to nail the “must-haves” of virtual onboarding. Managers can easily set up employees with software and logins, outline their daily duties, and get them to sign their new-hire paperwork. What’s far more difficult are the intangibles like creating a sense of belonging, exposing them to the company culture and helping them fit into the larger organization.

And in fairness, in-person onboarding programs were far from perfect. Initial virtual onboarding programs only further highlighted those flaws.

“Focus on three key dimensions: the organizational, the technical, and the social,” wrote Ron Carucci in a Harvard Business Review article about onboarding new employees. “By using this integrated approach, [companies] enable their employees to stay, and to thrive.

”New hires often feel lost in the shuffle, especially in a fully remote workplace. Oftentimes, new employees are joining a class of new hires which can include dozens to hundreds of new people being brought on at once. If they aren’t given any personal attention or opportunities to connect personally with coworkers or leadership, then they’ll never really buy into the organization or its values.

This problem is magnified for multi-time-zone or global organizations, where it’s possible a new person and their manager only have a couple of hours of overlapping work time. A lack of direction and someone to lean on in the initial weeks of a job can be off-putting and isolating.

And it’s important to realize that poor onboarding has an immediate impact. A professor at Westchester University found in her research “that many employees who quit within the first year were thinking about leaving within the first few weeks and actively looking elsewhere soon after.” Managers only have a short window to make a good impression.

How companies can improve onboarding programs

Communicate with employees before their start date

The time between when an employee accepts an offer and when they start is important. Yes, they’re not an official employee yet, but it’s helpful to open lines of communication and set expectations early. Help the new employee understand what to expect on their first day by providing an agenda. Tell them who their onboarding buddy is and what team they will be a part of. Check to make sure they have the right tools to get started on their first day.“

Use the time between your new hire’s offer acceptance and their first day to plan and ensure everything will be at their disposal on day 1,” according to an article from eLearning Industry. “That means you should send any devices (e.g., a laptop) well in advance.” This also includes other supplies, like a desk and office chair.

This type of preparation speaks to the technical aspect of onboarding and should be an easy one for companies to master with the right onboarding system in place.

Extend the length of onboarding

Many companies onboard for a 60- or 90-day period. But while three months might be enough time to learn the ropes of how to do a job, it takes much longer for an employee to truly become part of the team.

“At key intervals — three, six, and nine months — hiring managers should formally engage them in conversations about the organization’s history and brand, how performance is measured and rewarded, and how growth opportunities arise,” Carucci suggested in his HBR article.

This approach is far more holistic than a two- or three-month program and demonstrates a greater level of investment from a company into an employee’s growth and development.

Leverage technology to connect colleagues

A survey we conducted in the fall found that 62% of employees will leave their companies for more mentorship, development, and connectivity opportunities. Creating opportunities for connection right from the start is critical to retaining top talent.

Warm introductions, where a manager takes the initiative to introduce a coworker to the new employee, are best. It takes away the awkwardness of cold Slack-DMing or emailing a coworker and sets them up to make an immediate connection.

Connectivity solutions like ours can automate these informal connections and provide conversation guides and resources, taking the work off managers’ and people leaders’ plates.

Assign an onboarding buddy

A simple way to introduce mentorship into a new hire’s career experience is by assigning them an onboarding buddy. Onboarding buddies are meant to help new employees learn company culture quicker and provide an extra person who they can rely on for questions. New hire productivity increases by 56-97% when new employees have an onboarding buddy.

Quality mentorship is a way to make an employee feel cared for and fuel success well beyond the onboarding period. Introducing a new hire to a mentor early on shows your investment in their development. Mentors are often more senior members of an office, so they can help the new employee find their place in the organization and hone their skills.

“There is no question that mentorship is critical to the success of young people and key to the success of individuals early in career, mid-career, or even late stage,” said Mark Beckles, Vice President of Social Impact and Innovation at RBC.

Track engagement metrics

Working toward a better virtual onboarding process involves constant improvement. The best way to get feedback is to survey people who have passed through the program and tweak it. Of course, any surveys or feedback forms should be anonymous to gather the most honest feedback. Some key metrics to track include:

  • Role preparedness
  • Understanding of organization’s goals and values
  • Ease of meeting colleagues
  • Retention
  • Turnover

Invest in tools for remote onboarding

Our mentorship, networking and connectivity platform is built with the goal of keeping remote workers engaged. We offer tools to help create informal connections, launch a mentorship program, and a solution for remote onboarding. If you’re interested in overhauling your organization’s onboarding and employee engagement efforts, let’s chat.

Webinar

Virtual Onboarding Needs Improving — Here’s How to Fix It

Starting a new job, although exciting, can present challenges for both employees and employers who work in remote-first and hybrid work environments.

For new hires, there’s the excitement of a new opportunity, but there’s also anxiety. They often wonder, am I prepared to take on this role? How will I get along with my new coworkers? Who can I turn to if I need help? Will I feel isolated working remotely?

On the managers’ side, it can be a struggle to create genuine engagement without in-person interaction. There are no next-door cubicles to lean over to when new employees have a question and far fewer opportunities for informal learning interactions around the water cooler or at their new desk.

A strong onboarding program can increase employee retention by 82% and productivity by 70%. That’s why remote onboarding deserves special attention and preparation, especially since this new way is here to stay for many companies that have adopted remote-first and hybrid work models.

What remote onboarding misses

It’s easy to nail the “must-haves” of virtual onboarding. Managers can easily set up employees with software and logins, outline their daily duties, and get them to sign their new-hire paperwork. What’s far more difficult are the intangibles like creating a sense of belonging, exposing them to the company culture and helping them fit into the larger organization.

And in fairness, in-person onboarding programs were far from perfect. Initial virtual onboarding programs only further highlighted those flaws.

“Focus on three key dimensions: the organizational, the technical, and the social,” wrote Ron Carucci in a Harvard Business Review article about onboarding new employees. “By using this integrated approach, [companies] enable their employees to stay, and to thrive.

”New hires often feel lost in the shuffle, especially in a fully remote workplace. Oftentimes, new employees are joining a class of new hires which can include dozens to hundreds of new people being brought on at once. If they aren’t given any personal attention or opportunities to connect personally with coworkers or leadership, then they’ll never really buy into the organization or its values.

This problem is magnified for multi-time-zone or global organizations, where it’s possible a new person and their manager only have a couple of hours of overlapping work time. A lack of direction and someone to lean on in the initial weeks of a job can be off-putting and isolating.

And it’s important to realize that poor onboarding has an immediate impact. A professor at Westchester University found in her research “that many employees who quit within the first year were thinking about leaving within the first few weeks and actively looking elsewhere soon after.” Managers only have a short window to make a good impression.

How companies can improve onboarding programs

Communicate with employees before their start date

The time between when an employee accepts an offer and when they start is important. Yes, they’re not an official employee yet, but it’s helpful to open lines of communication and set expectations early. Help the new employee understand what to expect on their first day by providing an agenda. Tell them who their onboarding buddy is and what team they will be a part of. Check to make sure they have the right tools to get started on their first day.“

Use the time between your new hire’s offer acceptance and their first day to plan and ensure everything will be at their disposal on day 1,” according to an article from eLearning Industry. “That means you should send any devices (e.g., a laptop) well in advance.” This also includes other supplies, like a desk and office chair.

This type of preparation speaks to the technical aspect of onboarding and should be an easy one for companies to master with the right onboarding system in place.

Extend the length of onboarding

Many companies onboard for a 60- or 90-day period. But while three months might be enough time to learn the ropes of how to do a job, it takes much longer for an employee to truly become part of the team.

“At key intervals — three, six, and nine months — hiring managers should formally engage them in conversations about the organization’s history and brand, how performance is measured and rewarded, and how growth opportunities arise,” Carucci suggested in his HBR article.

This approach is far more holistic than a two- or three-month program and demonstrates a greater level of investment from a company into an employee’s growth and development.

Leverage technology to connect colleagues

A survey we conducted in the fall found that 62% of employees will leave their companies for more mentorship, development, and connectivity opportunities. Creating opportunities for connection right from the start is critical to retaining top talent.

Warm introductions, where a manager takes the initiative to introduce a coworker to the new employee, are best. It takes away the awkwardness of cold Slack-DMing or emailing a coworker and sets them up to make an immediate connection.

Connectivity solutions like ours can automate these informal connections and provide conversation guides and resources, taking the work off managers’ and people leaders’ plates.

Assign an onboarding buddy

A simple way to introduce mentorship into a new hire’s career experience is by assigning them an onboarding buddy. Onboarding buddies are meant to help new employees learn company culture quicker and provide an extra person who they can rely on for questions. New hire productivity increases by 56-97% when new employees have an onboarding buddy.

Quality mentorship is a way to make an employee feel cared for and fuel success well beyond the onboarding period. Introducing a new hire to a mentor early on shows your investment in their development. Mentors are often more senior members of an office, so they can help the new employee find their place in the organization and hone their skills.

“There is no question that mentorship is critical to the success of young people and key to the success of individuals early in career, mid-career, or even late stage,” said Mark Beckles, Vice President of Social Impact and Innovation at RBC.

Track engagement metrics

Working toward a better virtual onboarding process involves constant improvement. The best way to get feedback is to survey people who have passed through the program and tweak it. Of course, any surveys or feedback forms should be anonymous to gather the most honest feedback. Some key metrics to track include:

  • Role preparedness
  • Understanding of organization’s goals and values
  • Ease of meeting colleagues
  • Retention
  • Turnover

Invest in tools for remote onboarding

Our mentorship, networking and connectivity platform is built with the goal of keeping remote workers engaged. We offer tools to help create informal connections, launch a mentorship program, and a solution for remote onboarding. If you’re interested in overhauling your organization’s onboarding and employee engagement efforts, let’s chat.

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