Virtual Onboarding: Creating Inclusive Environments for New Employees in a Remote and Hybrid World
May 27, 2022
The Great Resignation of the past 2+ years has both presented unforeseen challenges as well as opened up unprecedented opportunities for organizations: the chance to welcome new and returning employees into the fold. The upside of the recent upheaval in our workplaces is that employers can hire from a wider and deeper talent pool now that technology and tools are in place to allow employees to work from anywhere. We call it the Great Onboarding.
With some 11.5 million job openings currently on record, organizational onboarding practices can help lay the foundation for greater employee satisfaction and retention — starting from their very first day on the job.
This new era of remote and hybrid work is also transforming how companies conduct employee onboarding at the speed of light. How do organizations communicate their culture and values effectively and meaningfully from afar? How can HR help new hires feel grounded, recognized, and motivated even when they may not meet anyone in person for months — or ever? How can companies continue to build social capital, nurture connection and collaboration, and drive innovation among employees working remotely or in hybrid settings?
You have questions; we have solutions.
The Ultimate Importance of Onboarding
The effects of employee onboarding on engagement, productivity, and retention cannot be overstated. How you welcome a new hire and usher them into your company will have an enormous effect on how engaged they are and how quickly they reach their full potential and productivity. A report from BCG (Boston Consulting Group) looked at 22 HR practices such as managing employee work-life balance and improving company branding and found onboarding to have more impact than any efforts aside from effective recruiting in revenue growth and profit margin.
New employees desire immediate connection and require clear expectation setting. Understanding how their roles and responsibilities fit into the overall picture of the organization’s success allows employees to feel ingrained into the company dynamic from the outset. Onboarding is the first step for organizations to quickly and impactfully instill their critical culture and company mission while creating alignment in their ethos and goals.
How Do Virtual and In-Person Onboarding Differ?
In a 2020 survey by Workable, respondents in HR reported remote onboarding or training as the biggest hiring challenge during the pandemic, and it continues to test employers. As many of us are still figuring out our roles in the new world of work, it’s essential not to overlook the new employee experience.
We can successfully shorten the time to impact for new hires by implementing many of the same best practices we employ during in-person onboarding.
The goals of onboarding remain the same — sharing your company’s mission, making the employee feel welcomed and included, connecting them with their new bosses and colleagues, and providing the tools and training they need to succeed — but the mode changes. The best virtual onboarding experience breaks down the barriers to achieving outcomes for the individual and the business by elevating the essential human element that leads to greater inclusion and integration for the new employee. A social and collaborative virtual onboarding platform allows for sharing personal experiences and perspectives, encouraging meaningful debate and discussion, and developing team dynamics and even instincts.
One common concern is that a virtual onboarding experience will lack the empathy and excitement of welcoming a new team member in person. However, social and collaborative platforms that authentically and intentionally connect employees across organizations and provide access to peers, mentors, and managers help to recreate the warmth and connection that comes with in-person programs.
Which brings us to our next point…
What Should Be Included in a Virtual Onboarding Platform?
The best virtual onboarding experience is integrative and contextualized to the organization as well as the individual. Get into the mindset of the new hire — what did you want to know when you first started at your current company? What processes and protocols did you care about most? In what order should they have been presented so they had the most impact? How could your onboarding experience seamlessly transition into continuous learning? Gone are the days of the tick-the-box onboarding process; today’s teams require deeply tailored and participative experiences that address everything from tackling new technologies to ongoing on-the-job training.
An important reminder: You shouldn’t share everything with a hire immediately. Keep in mind the dangers of overwhelming a new employee and tailor your experiences to how individuals learn best. For example, some people prefer getting an overview of everything they will learn first, while others learn by diving deep into specific areas and building up their understanding. Allowing for some degree of personalization and self-direction empowers and engages new employees right away.
Social and collaborative learning platforms offer organizations the ability to structure a comprehensive, multilayered virtual onboarding experience that incorporates elements of in-person onboarding, such as coaching; peer-to-peer practice; team experiences; engagement with mentors, managers, and business leaders; learning in the context of work; formal and informal feedback; and more.
How Long Should a Virtual Onboarding Process Take?
Research shows the average onboarding program lasts 90 days, but a recent Gallup report reveals it typically takes new employees 12 months to reach their full performance potential. Onboarding new hires at an organization should be a strategic process that lasts at least one year, staffing and HR experts say, because how employers handle the first few days and months of a new employee’s experience is crucial to ensuring high retention.
Much like the onboarding process itself, learning should continue after the first 90 days. Giving training opportunities throughout employment and encouraging employees to learn new skills promotes a culture of learning within organizations — another crucial aspect of the new workplace that today’s workers want.
How Social and Collaborative Learning Platforms Are Transforming Virtual Onboarding
New employees crave connection — to their new company, their new colleagues, and their new collaborative goals. It’s not possible to over-communicate with new hires during their onboarding process — doing so remotely poses a challenge, but one that can be overcome with new innovations that even improve upon in-person exchanges.
Virtual onboarding programs that are delivered via a social and collaborative learning platform give organizations the ability to track the progress of their employees in impactful ways. Digital learning tools allow you to follow the advancement of a new hire, see if they are having trouble in specific areas, and stage interventions as needed. Employees can also track their own progress so that they can see where they may be struggling and ask for assistance.
The biggest way onboarding programs — virtual or otherwise — increase performance and productivity is by helping new hires get to work faster and with more confidence. With the right onboarding methods in place, new employees gain the insights and benefits that come from knowing their company inside and out and feeling they’re on sure footing to make valuable contributions. These assurances help create the type of employee who can approach their job from a 360-degree perspective, with the poise and certainty to make solid decisions and implement initiatives that result in positive outcomes for both the individual and the organization.
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Rishad Tobaccowala discussed his new book, Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data, and stories from his career as former Global Strategist and Chief Growth Officer of Publicis Groupe in this Book Club recording.