Employee onboarding matters more than we think it does.  A successful employee onboarding program helps improve retention, employee engagement, satisfaction, and boost employee productivity levels. 

Employee onboarding is a series of activities that allow new hires to get to know the organization they’ll be working with, the new role they’ll be handling, and the new team they’ll be a part of.  

When employees join an organization, the initial days and weeks that they spend at the organization are instrumental in determining how far their association with the company will go and how successful it will be. 

It is through having a constructive onboarding mechanism in place, that hiring managers can nurture the curiosity, experience, excitement, and motivation that new joiners bring along and channelize these towards organizational success.


Source: Unsplash

Why is employee onboarding important?

“Most new employees decide whether they feel at home in a new job during the first 3 weeks”. Onboarding plays a critical role in a new hire's success and also becomes a crucial deciding factor for them to stay on and stay engaged with the organization. Following are a few points on why employee onboarding cannot be ignored:

  • A well-run onboarding program is a productivity booster. A well-conducted onboarding exercise allows new hires to quickly get up to speed with their new roles and teams and achieve better productivity at a relatively much faster rate than employees who have to figure out stuff on their own.


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  • Onboarding helps reduce stress. A well-managed employee onboarding exercise helps keep employees’ stress levels at bay. By welcoming them to the company, introducing them to their new team, providing information on various job-related aspects -  tools, facilities, etc. results in easing out any tension or nervousness that may exist and building a healthy work relationship. Facilitating good team relationships early will also help to reduce any tension in the future.
  • Onboarding can reduce turnover. Turnover is expensive, both in terms of cost involved and time & resources invested. A streamlined onboarding program can help organizations avoid this expense. Companies that invest in effective onboarding procedures are able to retain their new employees for good.


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  • Onboarding is a value addition to organizational culture. It is through an onboarding program that organizations can clearly highlight their key mission and vision to the new hires, and enable them to align themselves with the core value system of the company. Employees are an intrinsic part of any organization’s culture and an onboarding program shows new employees how they can contribute to the work culture through their actions, interactions, work styles, etc. 
  • Onboarding positively impacts the employer brand. Successful onboarding programs imply increased retention, higher employee engagement, greater employee productivity, a healthier work environment and all this leads to building happier teams; which in turn improves how your organization is perceived as an employer by potential hires and gives you a competitive advantage over your peer companies.


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Onboarding Remote Employees – The Challenge 

While employee onboarding is one of the most crucial factors that form the basis of employee experience, creating a great onboarding experience isn't always very easy. On the flip side, it could be really challenging and daunting for many companies, especially in these unsettling times, where we are all dependent on remote technology for getting every little thing to be conveyed and done. 

Organizations need to look at a number of aspects

  • What remote communication tools to use?
  • Ensure all vital information is shared.
  • Ensure a smooth flow of knowledge, questions, and answers. 
  • Identify the needs of new hires.
  • Build an emotional/human bond with a new team, especially now, when you don’t share the same physical proximity. 
  • Make new hires feel engaged and not isolated. 
  • Focus on building a strong “employee-culture” connection.

While the methods of onboarding might change for remote teams, the fact is that your new hires will still require the same level of guidance and assistance, as they would have, in normal, face to face onboarding programs. 

It is in times like these that creating and sustaining a positive experience for new employees becomes all the more important. 

Companies that leave on-boarding to chance experience failure rates of 50% when it comes to retaining new talent.

A sound onboarding plan for remote employees is imperative since they don't have as many opportunities to physically integrate and connect with the company, its structure, processes, and environment. How can you do it? 

How can you go about running a successful employee onboarding program online? Let’s look at some important steps involved.

Step 1 - Revisit your onboarding plan

The existing onboarding plan may require certain tweaks and changes when it comes to bringing aboard remote teams. Re-examine your onboarding exercise – elements, steps involved, etc. Focus on the core objective – is it providing an overview of the organization, or emphasizing on the products & services or role-related training, etc. 

Time is of much greater essence now, so be specific with how you want to go about the whole process, aim to keep making it a crisp exercise, sustaining its spirit and ethos. 

Step 2 – Run a pre-boarding session

Have you tried pre-boarding? Before you hold talks on the roles, tasks, KPIs, etc, welcome your new hires and introduce them to your business and its culture. Pre-boarding is gaining a lot of popularity these days. It’s an initiative that can boost speed and confidence, helping your new hires to get ready and get going. Pre-boarding could even include sending out a simple welcome email like a week or two before they start their job. Organizations can also 

  • Have a quick video call with the new hires, welcoming them to their new company (to break the ice).  
  • Share details on who the point of contact/buddy or mentor would be for the few days/weeks.
  • Send out a handbook or a presentation talking about the business, reporting lines, goals, vision, etc. 
  • Share FAQs, if any, that’ll help them get answers to some common questions around IT assistance, payroll queries, etc.
  • Send out a welcome kit (if it’s a part of your program) to the new hires, this could include stationery, notepads, calendars, etc. this also helps build a strong employer brand.
  • Make sure they have all the required equipment and resources needed to get started. 

All this is vital for communicating the company structure, creating a sense of goal alignment among employees, and enthusiasm to work together as a team. The objective of a pre-boarding is to mentally prepare your new hires about how will things be moving ahead from now.

Remember not to overwhelm them with information, the aim is to welcome them and build a connection not stress them out. 


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Step 3 - Find the right communication & task management tools 

What also needs to be given a serious thought is deciding on the tools to be used to support the remote onboarding program. There are a variety of software options available including remote communication platforms, learning management systems (LMS), and employee engagement tools. Pick the right employee onboarding software based on your needs and the comfort level of the new joiners. 

Run a testing exercise internally, prior to implementation and ensure your team members know how to troubleshoot common glitches. Depending on their requirement, organizations can use multiple software tools, however, make sure they do not go overboard with it, leaving the new employees confused and puzzled and creating virtual chaos. 

For example, if it’s just a simple routine check-in, a tool like Google chat can be used. For video calls, we have – Zoom, Google Meets, etc. If it also involves sharing information, documents, organizing, or prioritizing stuff, Slack comes in handy. There are also certain project management tools like Trello and Asana that can be useful. 

The need of the hour is to be prompt with your communication. Another useful software is ‘LogMeIn’ that facilitates remote access to applications and much more. 

Step 4 - Train your managers

Extraordinary times need extraordinary measures. These are definitely those times. To have a concrete remote onboarding plan in place is one thing, to have your managers ensure that their direct reportees are comfortable and being attended to, throughout the exercise, is another. We need to make sure both are taken care of. 

All new hires come from different backgrounds, have different personality traits, attitudes, working, and learning styles. Some may require more support based on their social, interaction, and emotional needs than others. 

Encourage and train your team of managers to not only address a technical issue or a work-related query but also to personalize the onboarding experience for every new joiner. It’s important for managers to be extra respectful and empathetic towards their needs, especially in these emotionally challenging times. 

A study by Enboarder states that 72% of employees said that one-to-one time with their managers was the most important part of any pre-boarding or onboarding process.

Managers can ask their new team members questions like what is preferred communication style or what do they expect from their onboarding, etc. The idea is to make them feel at ease with the whole process and build a healthy rapport with their managers.

New hires would also not know what is expected of them, therefore managers should be able to communicate that too. It’s up to managers to explain how they want individuals to work and engage with their new role and organization.

Step 5 - Build a personal connection

Given we are all working remotely and have a very limited scope of social/physical interaction (no water-cooler talks, or quick chats over coffee), a feeling of loneliness and self-isolation tends to creep in. 

Remote work creates a ‘human gap’ which needs to be filled in. This may become an even major issue for new employees, due to the lack of belongingness or association with the new organization in the initial days at least.  Therefore, managers/team leads should check up on their new team members, regularly. 

Staying connected through text messages, or even just a WhatsApp can do the trick. Managers can host a video call and have other team members join the call introducing themselves, or launch a quick virtual coffee chat session. 

All this would help mitigate the feeling of being left out and elevate employee morale and engagement. 


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Step 6 – Collect feedback from your new hires, hear them out

Bill Gates once said, “We all need people who will give us feedback, that’s how we improve”. Progressive organizations run all sorts of feedback programs like an E-sat survey, or a 360-degree feedback survey, etc. to enhance their understanding of employee experience and bring about change. 

Similarly, collecting feedback from new hires is also important and can be very useful. Collect feedback from your new hires on their onboarding experience (what was the best part, what did they struggle with, etc). and use their opinions and insights to improve your remote onboarding program as you go ahead. 

While doing so, organizations will be able to spot issues that need to be addressed and upgrade the experience for future new hires.

Companies can run a quick survey via Google Forms, to start with. There are also several platforms like Psyft, that run such surveys on an organization’s behalf and offer better and deeper analysis, ensuring response anonymity for more authentic results.  

Such quick and easy surveys will highlight your successes and shortcomings, as well as enable managers to identify areas that require additional training.

Conclusion

"Employees who had a negative onboarding experience are 2X more likely to look elsewhere for a new job in the near future."  You cannot leave your new hires to their laptops and PCs alone, that’s not how you nurture a competent team for the future. Businesses need to ensure that new employees understand every part of their role and also feel valued and connected at the same time. 

Ensure that your remote onboarding program makes them feel a part of the team and helps them understand how things are to be done. They are your future endorsers after all and their experience and performance will impact your bottom line.

This post originally appeared on SelectSoftware's blog where we write about the latest in HRTech.

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