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Home / Resources / Building unforgettable onboarding for the hybrid workplace.

Building unforgettable onboarding for the hybrid workplace.

Author: Bethany Chudley Date:

In this article, Beth Chudley, a Lead Learning Experience Consultant at Sponge, draws on insights from client projects to spotlight what new hires often think but don’t say about onboarding. From pre-day one doubts to feeling unprepared, she outlines key pain points and the steps you can take to turn generic onboarding into an unforgettable first touchpoint.

Unforgettable onboarding in a hybrid world.

Onboarding can make or break employee experience. While it’s imperative to get it right, it’s becoming increasingly more challenging in a hybrid world. Learning designers run the risk of striving for equality between home and office workers but falling short in delivering what each learner needs to thrive.

This article explores some of the key insights gathered from recently onboarded employees from organisations across industries, along with what you can do to combat onboarding blues!

“I don’t know if I’ve made the right choice.”

We’ve all experienced that feeling of excitement when you receive the call to say “you’ve got the job!”. Naturally, the sense of achievement outweighs any underlying feelings of uncertainty. But as time goes on, there’s a realisation that a career move and feelings of ambiguity and uncertainty come hand in hand. We start to question this life changing event, asking ourselves “is this the right move for me?”, “will it be everything I’m hoping or expecting it to be?”, or “does the company align with my values?”.

These feelings of doubt can have a huge impact on the mindset in which people approach their first days or weeks at a company -if they make it that far! With 65% of employers having experienced job seekers accepting an offer but not turning up on the first day, these feelings can manifest with very real consequences. Getting ahead of these emotions can set both you and your new employees up for success.

Win hearts and minds… and do it quickly!

The best way to win your employees hearts and minds is to connect with them as early as you can and combat those feelings of doubt. Preboarding can often be a vital step in the onboarding experience. Helping employees to feel guided through the process of getting set up at an organisation is key to building excitement and leaving your learners counting down the days until they start at your organisation.

For L&D teams, building more in-depth preboarding may raise concerns around more content, more budget, and more resource requirements. However, effective preboarding doesn’t need to be overwhelming or expensive. Focus on balancing your practical elements with building your employee’s excitement, considering what they really need to know before that day one. Something as simple as a series of scheduled emails from the HR team or the new employees line manager can be an effective way to keep new hires excited about their new role and ensuring a smooth landing when the internal onboarding begins.

“I don’t know what I should be doing.”

A well-structured and documented approach to onboarding should be the bare minimum for any organisation. But, far too often onboarding – even at global, corporate clients – consists of a HR session covering an organisation’s mission and values and a basic IT setup. The rest of a new starter’s experience is then subject to the quality and preparedness of individual managers.

A comprehensive onboarding process that covers organisational mission, values, processes and culture sets up new hires for success. Ideally, companies would have a well-structured approach to onboarding and documentation that provides this foundation. However, in practice, many organisations, including some of our global clients, have tended to rely primarily on a basic HR orientation and IT setup, leaving much of a new employee’s early experience at an organisation down to the capacity and plans of individual managers. While understandable given limited bandwidth, enhancing the consistency and support resources for onboarding company-wide can strengthen new hire engagement, productivity and retention.

A study by Brandon Hall found that organisations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%. Even a fraction of that impact would result in huge business value. So, how do organisations create onboarding that ‘wows’ new employees?

Create a crystal-clear onboarding process.

Creating an onboarding itinerary, sharing it with the new starter, and ensuring it remains accessible and in one place is vital for onboarding. Get it right and it becomes a valuable resource your people can rely on for the entirety of their first year. That onboarding itinerary should consist of more than a session on the mission and values and an IT setup. It should be blended and holistic: think about traditional onboarding elements alongside opportunities to meet the team, shadow colleagues, meet customers, explore products, practicing key tasks, completing mandatory training and more.

Finally, think about scaffolding the onboarding journey. Scaffolding refers to structuring training and development so that new information, skills, and processes are introduced gradually in order of complexity. When scaffolding the onboarding journey, the employee's knowledge and abilities are built up in a progressive way, similar to a scaffold that provides increasing support.

In the onboarding context, this means:

  1. First introducing new hires to basic company concepts, tools, and workflows. These fundamentals form the base that additional knowledge will be built upon.
  2. Next, building on those basics by teaching systems and tasks with a slightly higher degree of difficulty or more steps
  3. Later, introducing more advanced, intricate processes now that foundational skills have been established.
  4. Finally, allowing new hires to apply and demonstrate all they have learned in increasingly holistic and autonomous work, since a strong framework of understanding has been scaffolding into place incrementally over time.

By structuring onboarding from simple to complex, new hires have the requisite knowledge to grasp more challenging material as onboarding progresses.

“I don’t know who to talk to and where to get answers.”

A formal buddy or mentoring system is a component of an onboarding experience that, when done well, can have a hugely positive impact. In fact, 85% of Fortune 500 companies use formal mentoring programmes as part of their onboarding. However, new employees can receive an inconsistent experience depending on their mentor. For that reason, mentors or buddies will also require support to ensure that the mentoring experience is as pleasant and beneficial as possible. When done right, a mentor or buddy system for new hires can go a long way toward helping them to feel integrated into a team – and can provide the perfect space and setting to ask questions.

Build connections within, and across, teams.

Over the first few weeks, new employees will naturally form connections and learn from their community. Creating opportunities throughout the onboarding process for new hires to meet and engage with other functions across the organisation will help them to feel like part of a team wider than their immediate colleagues. Moreover, doing this will help to build a culture of social learning throughout the organisation. To really cement this feeling for new employees, consider how you can bring learners together across the organisation via onboarding cohorts, providing them with an immediate community of which they can be a part of for their whole career.

“I feel unprepared to do my actual job.”

We can all acknowledge that a new starter isn’t going to be as productive as a tenured employee for 6-12 months at the very least. However, onboarding needs to set them up to be productive relatively quickly.

So, how can you do that?

Empower your people to thrive.

We know that often one team might be responsible for an org-wide onboarding, and an altogether separate team looks after functional or role-specific onboarding. But the design of these two separate experiences needs to be more aligned . Whether that’s ensuring that the difficulty curve upon finishing org-wide onboarding isn’t too extreme or that there is a familiarity and continuity in terms of language and approach, it’s important that a new starter doesn’t feel like they are out of the onboarding frying pan and into the performance fire. Practise and feedback need to be central to your onboarding strategy. What opportunities are you creating for people to practise and receive feedback? And how are you scaffolding that to increase independence and confidence?

In summary, effective onboarding is critical for employee experience, particularly in today's hybrid work environment. To set new hires up for success:

  • Start onboarding early with preboarding. Get employees excited and address doubts before day one.
  • Create a clear onboarding schedule that goes beyond the basics. Introduce concepts in order of complexity.
  • Facilitate connections through buddies and mentors, while breaking down organisational silos.
  • Align organisation-wide and role-specific training, focusing on practice and feedback.
  • Empower independence while providing support to build confidence.

The goal of onboarding should not just be to get through the initial phases, but to actively empower new hires to thrive in their roles. By transforming onboarding into a progressive learning journey tailored to individual needs, organisations can enable employee success in hybrid workplaces.

Ready to take onboarding at your organisation to the next level? Why not explore our unforgettable onboarding solutions or dig into your org’s learning ecosystem with our expert consultancy.