By Julia Figliotti Riley
In early 2020, companies across the globe scrambled to transition their operations to reflect a dispersed, newly-remote workforce. Many of us thought this would be a temporary change, but hindsight and research have shown us otherwise: as of the publishing of this article, the World Health Organization still discourages gathering in closed or crowded spaces, and nearly 75% of COVID-remote companies are considering a hybrid model of operations even after the pandemic has ended. While your existing employees have had time to settle into this next normal, you’ll need more than a welcome packet to set up new hires and their managers for success.
The onboarding process is widely understood to be key for employee retention, and studies have shown that manager involvement plays a critical role in facilitating a successful experience. Yet in early 2020, only 30% of employees believed their managers to be effective at onboarding new employees. And that’s not necessarily a managerial or training issue: introducing a new hire to their colleagues, acting as a resource for questions and feedback, checking in on progress, and modeling and reinforcing the company culture are management responsibilities that make onboarding a challenge even in the best of times. Now, after over a year of distributed workforces and at-home offices, it’s time to accept this remote reality and reshape your existing program into a virtual onboarding experience that ensures both new hires and their managers will feel supported and empowered to succeed.
With so many of the world’s businesses operating remotely, it’s more crucial than ever to prioritize an onboarding program that orients new hires and sets them up for a positive, lasting employee experience. Here’s how you can align your onboarding program to 2021’s “business as usual” and help your people managers support incoming team members from before Day 1.
Provide a consistent, comprehensive framework
First and foremost, instead of creating an ad hoc experience for each new hire, every remote onboarding program should follow the same general journey. After all, it’s more than just a one-time-use process; onboarding new employees is an interactive experience that can last for months or more than a year, depending on the company, department, team, and role. When combined with the isolation that comes with remote operations – especially for new employees that have yet to meet their colleagues in person – having a go-to, scalable onboarding program can greatly lighten the load for everyone involved in welcoming a new hire to the team. For that reason, incorporate input from people managers as you build the framework of your onboarding program, and make sure there’s enough flexibility to allow for adaptation as the company (or the entire world) changes.
After all, a starting framework doesn’t necessarily mean a rigid, prescriptive onboarding experience every time. Craft a flexible virtual program for onboarding new employees and allow space for people managers to adjust it as needed to best support the goals of their respective teams and new hires. Beginning with a consistent, comprehensive, and cross-functional framework ensures new hire alignment on company objectives, while openness to configuration and flexibility allows managers to adjust their approach based on the preferences and learning styles of their new employees.
Deliver timely resources
Once your framework is in place, work with your people managers to ensure that every resource a new hire might need – from the employee contract to an overview of benefits – is delivered in a timely manner. It may be simplest to share relevant logins, training documents, and benefits enrollment information with your new hire through a bombardment of emails on their first day, or as a data dump of to-do lists and helpful resources for them to sift through on their own time. But this approach adds noise and chaos to an already challenging remote onboarding experience. By involving managers up front in the timeline of resource-sharing, you’ll empower a smoother onboarding journey and employee experience.
Adding strategy to your communications can benefit more than just your new hires. A collaborative communication strategy will ultimately help your people managers follow their new employee’s onboarding program, track their development as they acclimate to their role, and check in on progress toward new hire milestones. In addition, you can leverage automation features to reach and support managers who are onboarding new employees with manager-facing resources, like checklists and timelines, early performance management rubrics, and coaching guidelines. By delivering timely resources to both new hires and their new managers, you can ensure visibility and alignment between the new employee’s onboarding journey and the manager’s ideal milestones for that role.
Still weighing the benefits of a communication strategy against the convenience of bulk resource distribution? We live in a world where digital communication is prioritized as the most convenient way to share messaging. But sending multiple emails in a short period, or a singular message with every piece of necessary information inside, is more likely to lead to overwhelm and, ultimately, disengagement. And with studies showing that nearly 70% of employees are more likely to stay with a company after a great onboarding experience – and that employee turnover can be quite costly – it’s worth investing in the communication and delivery tools to help make onboarding a success.
To keep all of your resources organized and aligned to the framework of your onboarding program, consider the benefits of a communication planning tool, which enables the necessary messages to cut through the noise and reach new hires at the right time, driving engagement and action. Such a tool can help your team manage and measure communication campaigns across the organization, identify potential overlap or conflict, and make immediate adjustments to optimize outcomes.
Leverage digital tools
As you can see, building and implementing your onboarding program will be much easier if you invest in digital capabilities. In the past, having a WFH-friendly onboarding experience would have been a plus but not a necessity, and any disconnect between people managers and their new direct reports could be written off as a personality clash or lack of culture fit. These days, looking closer into the causes could be a company’s saving grace. If your workforce is remote and your program isn’t virtually accessible, if your people managers are struggling to connect with their new employees, or if your new hires aren’t engaged as they start in their new roles, then it’s probably time to rethink the onboarding experience to one that centers the main players involved.
In our distributed reality, both managers and new hires will need simple access to onboarding checklists and milestones, as well as the ability to easily communicate throughout the experience. Two-way feedback is integral to tracking milestone achievement, offering new hire support, and tweaking the program layout as needed. Utilize a content platform that includes a feedback functionality, allowing new hires to convey what’s resonating in their onboarding experience, what’s working, and what could be improved.
In addition, companies should invest in a strong, digital employee communication software and strategy, and encourage people managers to set up regular video check-ins with their new hires – as frequently as every day as they start in their role – to supplement the lack of in-person connection.
Onboarding new employees has always been integral to company success, and in this pandemic age it’s even more critical. It’s up to HR leaders and communication program owners to adapt existing practices to better align with our remote, distributed reality. With these suggestions, your organization can support managers who are onboarding new employees and ensure a positive, engaging, and action-driving experience for all of your new hires.