Onboarding is a critical part of the talent acquisition process. Still, it has become arguably more challenging for employers over the past few years as more employees are being hired—and onboarded—remotely.
The onboarding process is the first step in acclimating new employees to their jobs, colleagues, and the company culture. Done well, it can start employees down a pathway to success and a long and mutually rewarding relationship with the company. Done poorly and it can lead to inefficiencies, errors, and turnover.
HR and business management experts point to several gaps that can occur during the onboarding process and offer advice on how to close those gaps.
Confusing Onboarding With Orientation
Onboarding is not the same as orientation, says Ben Lamarche, HR Manager at Lock Search Group. “Orientation is more of a time-limited administrative process, mostly involving paperwork and other HR processes. Onboarding is long-term, with the goal of inculcating company culture, training, job shadowing, etc., to support new hires’ transition into the new roles,” he says. Both processes are important, but one should be distinct from the other.
Doing Too Much in Too Little Time
Think about the typical first day on the job experience. A new employee is inundated with an onslaught of information from multiple sources. In addition to the formal onboarding process, they’re also taking in inputs from various other sources—colleagues, customers, computer systems, etc.
“On an employee’s first day, the goal should be to welcome them warmly,” says Lucas Diegues, HR Business Partner at Revelo, a technology company offering an online platform for U.S. companies to hire Latin America-based remote software developers. “Don’t waste your time or theirs by throwing information at them that they’ll probably forget later,” he advises. “Getting slammed with information can be tiring and generate negative feelings.” Ideally, Diegues says, “At the end of an employee’s first day, their main takeaway from onboarding should be, ‘I made a good decision to join this company, and I know whom to turn to if I have any questions.’”
Onboarding, in fact, isn’t a first-day, or one-day, experience. It’s a process that can take days, weeks, or even months, depending on the organization and the employee’s role.
Failing to Recognize That Onboarding is an Ongoing Process
Creating an ongoing onboarding experience for your employees is important, Diegues says.
“This allows them to continually learn about the company culture, organizational structure, products/services, etc. It can help them adapt and will likely extend their enthusiasm about their role within the company.”
At Revature, says VP and head of HR Carol Baxter, “a successful onboarding is one that never ends.” Onboarding, she says, should be viewed as “a continuum that blends into training and upskilling, and not as something that concludes after an employee’s first month on the job.
Especially considering that the onboarding process is ongoing, communication is important. New employees need to understand what the process will involve, what will be expected of them, and the time commitment required.
Create an organized schedule, suggests Glenn W. Richardson II, founder, and CEO of Rhodium Talent Advisors. “As the saying goes, ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.’ Take the time to develop a plan that outlines when specific trainings and tasks should be completed by HR, the new hire’s manager, and the new hire.”
Ensure everyone involved in the orientation process knows their role and what they are responsible for covering. Involve employees’ direct supervisors and managers to help make an early connection and to demonstrate cohesiveness across the leadership, HR, and line management.
Lack of Access to Needed Resources
The lack of access to needed resources can be a particular problem in remote environments, but wherever the employee is located, it’s important to ensure that they will have access to the information and materials they need to hit the ground running. Encountering problems logging in to systems or getting access to needed resources can be frustrating and send a signal that the new employee isn’t valued or important.
Failing to Focus on the Culture
Archie Payne, President of CalTek Staffing, says he’s seen too many instances of companies where “onboarding seems to stop and end with giving the new hire the employee handbook and reviewing the workplace policies and rules.”
That’s important, but it’s only part of the culture, Payne says. “It’s also crucial to explain the company values and mission, the team dynamic, the typical workflow and structure of a workday, the management style and approach to employee feedback, and everything else that will impact how they engage with their new workplace and team.”
Limited Attention to Social Needs
Gallup research has consistently pointed to the importance of friendships in the workplace—specifically the importance of having a “best friend” at work. When you consider how much time the typical employee spends in the workplace, it’s easy to see why these relationships are so important to a successful tenure.
Helping employees develop these relationships starts on their first day on the job. Take the time to include some socialization and attention to social needs during those early days and weeks. This might include organizing a “meet and greet” with colleagues, taking the new hire out to lunch, or just coming together informally to get to know each other. Even employees in remote environments can engage in these types of activities via Zoom or similar technology, or by taking a trip into the office to meet colleagues and others face-to-face.
There are some additional things that employers can do to make the onboarding process a rewarding one.
Additional Best Practices in Onboarding
Don’t wait until the employee’s official first day on the job to let them know they’re welcome and that you’re looking forward to them joining the company, suggests Richardson. “By engaging with them beforehand, you can provide clear expectations and essential paperwork to avoid a sluggish start,” he says. “Plus, why not take it a step further and ask them to fill out a fun get-to-know-you form to share with their new colleagues? This simple gesture can go a long way toward fostering a friendly, welcoming work environment.”
Especially in remote or hybrid environments, Richardson says, leverage technology tools effectively. Online tutorials, videos, or digital Learning Management Systems can be used to provide an engaging learning experience,” he says. “And don’t forget to consider any potential language barriers or technical challenges faced by each employee during the onboarding process,” he adds.
Finally, gather feedback from new employees about the process and any recommendations they might have for improvement.
Taking the time to do onboarding well can pay big dividends, says Baxter. “Helping these employees grow within the organization makes them want to stay longer, and can prevent a revolving door of hires and terminations.” The facts speak for themselves, she says, pointing to Revature’s 95% retention rate after two years.
Approach your onboarding process strategically, understanding the gaps that may exist, acting to close those gaps and seeking ongoing feedback from employees about what worked well and what might be improved for future new hires.