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5 ways to restore the human touch to digital onboarding


There’s no doubt that technology is changing the way we introduce, integrate and upskill new employees to the workplace. With the acceleration of automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and other cognitive technologies, digital transformation is taking hold across all aspects of HR and People Development.

Of course, digitisation brings with it benefits for organisations and the people who work for them. Just think back 15 years to the time-consuming, disjointed, often paper-based activities that have been replaced with intelligent, agile, data-driven systems. 

Onboarding is no exception and this crucial part of the employee experience is being transformed through digital technologies. In our new guide, we take a look at the top trends in digital onboarding to understand the opportunities available to businesses who incorporate digital aspects to their induction programmes.

However, digital doesn’t mean excluding the human focus; the best digital onboarding enhances the human elements and brings people together. After all, people aren’t robots, and introducing them to your organisation requires much more than simply information transfer.  

Restoring the human in digital 

We’ve identified 5 ways to restore the balance to your onboarding programme so digital doesn’t feel soulless and technology enables new learners to find their feet quickly and confidently.

1. Think people first

Digital isn’t about technology, it’s about people. Getting to understand the perspective of your new employees must be the starting point for any digital onboarding project. What are their needs, questions, concerns? How do they already interact online? What will accelerate their development and what could hold them back?

Armed with this research, you can create more effective digital content for your new starters. At Sponge, we begin with this deep investigation stage, putting people at the heart of onboarding, unleashing their potential and setting new employees up for success. Find out how we used this approach when we created a new global online induction for leading optical and hearing brand, Specsavers.

2. Embrace the emotional

People are the most important element in a digital solution and unlike machines, they’re emotional beings. And if you think about it, when you start a new job, or move to a new role within your existing company, emotions can run high, whether that’s excitement, nervousness or confusion. This isn’t something to ignore within the digital sphere, in fact, by speaking to people’s emotions, onboarding solutions will feel much more relevant, appropriate, and well, human!

Using video and animation is a great way to add emotion to digital content, particularly when it’s used to bring the stories of your organisation to life for new employees, or to show them others who have been through the same journey

3. Enable human interaction 

There’s no doubt that technology has increased choice and convenience in our lives, just think of how we all shop or consume services nowadays. However, you’ll know just how frustrating it can be when you’re interacting with a digital system that treats you like a robot.

In digital onboarding, think about how you can use technology to bring people together; what social elements can be integrated so that new employees feel part of the team? Also, consider how you can make digital elements more human-like. In our work with some of the world’s biggest companies, where new employees are dispersed around the world, we’ve explored the use of chatbots to answer new starter questions. This can feel much more intuitive (even friendlier) than searching through a digitised employee handbook for information. But remember, this kind of digital assistant is about supporting not replacing human interaction.

4. Empower with exploration

Exploration is part and parcel of being a human being. The desire to explore and discover is a powerful instinct and one that should be acknowledged within the onboarding process. When people are new to a job, organisation or environment, it’s natural for them to want to explore as they find their feet. Giving them the opportunity to do this within an immersive digital experience will make it feel much more human.

For example, we used this approach when designing a new online onboarding resource for Tetra Pak, the global leader in processing and packaging solutions. Rather than define the path that new employees should take through the experience, we created an interactive map, embedded with 360° videos for them to explore at their own pace. It gives people a sense of autonomy and choice, so they feel in control, not dictated to.

5. Inspire and excite

One of the common criticisms against digital onboarding is that while it is convenient and accessible, it can sometimes struggle to engage new employees and inspire them about their future within the business. This needn’t be the case, as digital onboarding can make a big contribution to engaging new people in the company story. By using technology in the right way, it’s possible to excite them and help them understand what’s most important to the organisation.

Interactive video is a powerful tool in this respect, enabling people to both explore and make decisions while learning about their new role. We used this technology with Toyota Motor Europe to inspire and inform new employees about the company’s core philosophy of ‘customer first’. The first-person style interactive video enables new starters to ‘see’ the customer experience from different perspectives

By restoring the human touch to digital onboarding, new employees will thrive quickly and want to stay for the long haul. And in turn, your business will reap the rewards through accelerated productivity, improved talent management, greater engagement and higher retention rates.