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7 dos and don’ts of digital onboarding


In an era of skills shortages, attracting and retaining talent has become something of a battlefield. A positive onboarding experience will give firms an edge. But it doesn’t happen by magic. It requires a strategy.

Here are 7 tips on what to do and what to avoid.

Do: inspire your new employees so they know they’ve joined an exciting organisation and understand your culture 

New hires bring with them enthusiasm and drive – harness it. This is the optimum moment to tap into their sense of anticipation by inspiring them about your company’s ethos. It’s often a missed opportunity, with ‘people’ and ‘culture’ only forming a small part in most onboarding strategies. Successful brands buck the trend.

Toyota wanted to instil its ‘customer first’ culture in new employees. Working with Sponge,  the company used an immersive, first person interactive video in its pan-European onboarding programme, so all new starters took the Toyota customer journey and could understand the customer value chain from beginning to end.

UK infrastructure firm, Story Contracting, introduced a 20-minute video for all new joiners, so they could learn about the firm’s culture in an engaging and welcoming way. The video featured clips from their new colleagues and an inspirational message from the company’s founder.

Do: use storytelling to bring the stories within your business to life

In a survey carried out by Sponge, L&D professionals said they want to deliver innovative learning and emotion in learning – but they feel they’re not doing it enough. Stories tick all the boxes. They have emotional pull, they can be used to illustrate company values, and, thanks to technology, they can place the learner at the heart of the story.

Sponge created a short, interactive virtual reality (VR) experience for UK delivery service, Royal Mail, as part of a wider initiative to raise awareness among its postal staff about the risk of dog attacks. Real stories were used in the immersive scenarios, in which the learner plays the role of an experienced employee who is guiding a new colleague on her first delivery round. Because the learning is experiential, it forces the learner to make decisions.

Do: make onboarding accessible ASAP through pre-boarding – and make it available more widely, as existing employees can benefit, too

Technology has made consistent learning accessible to all new recruits before Day 1. Use digital pre-boarding to instil culture, teach traditional induction topics and even ‘introduce’ work-mates. You want new joiners to turn up to work already feeling comfortable and confident. The learning can also be accessed by employees across the business who feel they need a refresher.

Sponge created a Global Online Induction for Specsavers, so that all new joiners are introduced to the company’s values. Consistent and cost-effective, it means 5,000 new staff each year are better prepared for work.

Don't: focus exclusively on compliance topics; and where you do make it engaging!

Compliance is the second most important onboarding goal, according to research by HCI and Kronos. The research also found that onboarding programs have a disproportionately large focus on compliance, to the detriment of other important topics.

The key to strong compliance is to have high quality learning that’s engaging and relevant so that it hits home. Working with Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, Sponge created 13 compliance modules that were either gamified, scenario-led or video-based. The programme was rolled out to 7,500 employees across 230 sites, with huge savings in time and money.

Don't: limit induction to the first week or month

Onboarding should have no ending. Rather, it is the first phase of continuous learning.

Learning reinforcement is the perfect partner for continuous onboarding. Delivered via a digital platform, knowledge is reinforced through repeated testing. Small chunks of learning are sent to employees every day.  It’s personalised and adaptive, using technology to identify and respond to each individual’s knowledge gaps. So, the learning is always relevant – and aligned to business needs.

Don't: forget your existing people, as they move into new roles

While most organisations provide onboarding for external new hires, many are neglecting their internal or transitional hires. Yet these employees are taking on new roles too, so will equally require onboarding.

In drawing up your onboarding strategy, make sure it includes support for staff taking on new jobs or being promoted within the organisation. This is vital for performance – and for retaining top talent.

And finally, a very important ‘do’ …

make sure that new employees can access the learning on their device of choice

Digital allows onboarding to fit in with how we live and work today. New hires will feel happier on a device they use all the time and more likely to tap into the learning voluntarily as well as at work.